Brainstorming strategies to convince the administration to amend Boston University’s anti-discrimination policy to ban sexual orientation-related biases, 40 students met last night to try and end a 20-year battle for gay rights.
Members of Spectrum — the gay, bisexual and transgender student group — in conjunction with the Student Union, reviewed previous efforts to change the policy, seeking to make this year’s outcome different.
“I hate that we have to do this as an activist thing,” said Emily Lyman, president of Spectrum. “Past efforts have been blocked by a letter from someone in the lower administration, and no one pursued it. We must be persistent, persistent, persistent!
“The problem is that these are not treated the same way as incidents concerning race or religion. They are labeled ‘roommate disputes’ or ‘personal problems’ or not addressed at all.”
The speakers were not aware of any definite protocol in place for changing policy. Such a change would be up to the discretion of the Board of Trustees.
Last year, College of Arts and Sciences senior and Student Union Executive Vice President Simon Laing presented a similar request to the Office of the Provost, which was denied on the grounds that this form of discrimination is already protected by state and city law. Lyman questioned how the Public Accommodations Law and the Housing Anti-Discrimination Law apply to students or student groups.
School of Education Senior Patrick Donovan, Student Union Vice President of Safety Services, asked, “Why does the school need anti-discrimination policies related to race or religion if they are banned as well under state and city statutes? This is not an oversight.”
Donovan said while the addition might not be legally required, it is “simply symbolic.”
“The current policy says to prospective students, as well as faculty, staff, and people enrolled, that if you are black, white or brown, we will respect you. If you are a man or a woman, or any religion or background, we will respect you. But if you are a gay or lesbian, we do not respect you.”
Donovan explained heterosexual graduate students working as teaching assistants can find housing for themselves and their spouses, but that it is much more difficult for homosexual graduates and their partners to find accommodations. He also alluded to domestic partner benefits enjoyed by married faculty, staff or TAs which are not offered to homosexual couples.
CAS junior Nick Florio, Spectrum vice president, examined the way current complaints of discrimination can be handled. Individuals who feel they are the victims of discrimination under the current policy may file a report with the Office of the Vice President and the Dean of Students, but those complaining of bias against their sexual orientation are not given a way to file a report.
Florio related his own experience with bias. During his freshman year, Florio’s roommate knew he was gay, but they didn’t get along well and didn’t discuss the issue. When Florio was later informed his roommate had been making derogatory statements concerning his sexuality, he approached the Hall Director, only to find the roommate had requested to be moved into other housing.
Florio did not get the support he sought from the administration, either. After weeks, he was finally allowed to move into Shelton Hall, avoiding what he described as an “unsafe situation.” The longer the process took, “the more uncomfortable it got.”
Before being moved, he was required to prepare a case report detailing every incident involved and every discussion made with the residence office. He was then put on a waiting list for available housing.
Melicia Laroco, Spectrum’s Public Relations officer, said she has felt discrimination firsthand.
“Coming home one night, I had kissed my date on the cheek,” she said. “Seeing this, a group of very large men approached and began to harass us with some words I would not care to repeat, including the four-letter ‘c-word.’”
When asked why she did not report the incident to the Boston University Police Department, Laroco said she felt there was an “air of unwantedness” discouraging her from coming forward.
“The Common Ground presentation shouts how the school accepts everyone and is so diverse,” she said. “But the point is that they don’t embrace everyone.”
Donovan used these incidents to illustrate the need for a specific clause in the anti-discrimination policy. He suggested a lack of open and explicit support from the school is tied to the high gay teen suicide rate.
The fact that the University had rejected previous proposals by calling them too inclusive generated further discussion.
“The school brought bestiality and pedophilia into arguments for gay rights, alleging the clause would protect people to do anything they want to whomever they want,” Donovan said.
“These are not sexual orientations. They are the abuse of animals and children. Homosexuality implies consensual behavior,” Lyman argued.
“We are trying to bring enough people into action so when BU says this addition condones bestiality and pedophilia, people will be there to say, ‘No! This argument does not hold water,’” Donovan said.
Jasmine Smith, a Spectrum member, agreed with Donovan’s call for mass support.
“If everyone is listening, their outrageous excuses are not going to be accepted,” she said.
The meeting emphasized the need for more visibility and support.
“We started out with some momentum, but we are going to lose it if people don’t care,” Laroco said. “If you are a heterosexual male, but people believe you to be gay … you could be discriminated against because of what people think. It does not matter if you are gay or straight or whatever. … Everyone is going to be attracted to someone, so this isn’t about being gay. It is about human rights.”
The latest rationale given to the group by the University said sexual orientation and identity are sensitive issues that need to be self-disclosed, and need to be addressed by each individual. Donovan’s responded, saying, “There is a difference between doing the bare legal minimum, and doing what you should be doing.”
Donovan speculated that the University’s response would probably say that no one can tell sexual orientation from an application, and there is no way prospective students can be discriminated against. However, audience members said many applicants mention their orientation in essays and personal statements, and might therefore be considered in a different light by admission officials.
“By adding a sexual orientation clause, they would be endorsing homosexuality, which they do not want to do,” Lyman said.
Plans for further action include an informational website, along with letter and e-mail campaigns geared toward Trustees and administrators. Pin and flyer distribution, petitions and rallies, as well as calls to parents were also suggested.
The BU Faculty Handbook states that “it is the policy of Boston University to promote equal opportunity through a positive, continuing program or specific practices in educational programs and employment designed to ensure the full realization of equal opportunity without regard to race, color, national or ethnic origin, religion, sex, age, disability, or veteran status.”
Currently, Boston University is listed as 16th out of 331 colleges evaluated by The Princeton Review as being gay-friendly. Spectrum members invited interested individuals to attend meetings held at 7:30 p.m. in the GSU Student Lounge.