1988: Focus on Homosexuality

Homophobic incidents rise

On October 21, 1988 The Observer published a multi-page "Focus" section on homosexuality.

By Will Allison, published October 21, 1988

Anti-gay graffiti found in a campus restroom.

Anti-gay graffiti found in a campus restroom. Photo by Brian Menz. Click image for larger version. Note: This photo was recreated by combining phrases written on various bathroom stalls.

During the 1986-87 school year, bricks were thrown at the door of an allegedly gay student in Tyler House. Derogatory remarks were written on the door.

A student receives no bid last fall from a fraternity which initially showed great interest in him. He is later informed that the decision not to pledge him hinged on questions about his sexual orientation.

Also last fall, The Observer receives a rash of letters characterizing homosexuals as "physiologically ill" and "immoral."

This fall posters were put up in Pierce House announcing the school year's first meeting of the Lesbian Gay Student Union. "The signs were up less than five minutes," said resident director Andrea Leonard.

This semester a group of suite occupants demanded that the University move them because they didn't want to live with an allegedly gay suite mate. They claimed to fear contracting AIDS from using the same shower facilities—a medical near-impossibility based on current knowledge.

Gay bashing. Racism. Anti-Semitism. In whatever form, it al)* pears that prejudice and intolerance are making a comeback on American college campuses. Nowhere this more evident than in the crease of homophobic incidents those acts of bigotry and violence directed at gays and lesbians.

Kevin Berrill, Director of Campus Projects at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Washington DC, notes that there has been an "increase of reports of anti-gay incidents on campuses." Considering the rise of racist and anti-Semitic incidents as well, Berrill believes, "...One could infer that there has been a decrease in respect for differences among students."

One cause of this intolerance toward gays may be the growing concern over AIDS. With the disease came the fear of those who may carry it, and many homophobic acts have been linked to AIDS.

At the University of Chicago, anti-gay students placed a classified advertisement in a newspaper pretending to seek gay companionship. When gays responded, letters were sent to their family and friends exposing them as homosexuals and warning that they may be carriers of the AIDS virus. There were also death threats to some of the gay students.

Berrill suggested another cause for the rise of homophobia. He believes the recent high visibility of gays makes them vulnerable to "bigots and bashers" in the short run. Berrill hopes, however, that this visibility will pave the road to tolerance in the long run.

Jerry Bores, a gay CWRU staff member and Assistant Controller for Student Accounts Receivables and Student Loans, concurs. "Gays are more vocal at CWRU today," he said. "The University forums on prejudice have also brought attention to the issue."

CWRU is not the only university in Ohio experiencing homophobic intolerance. The September 23 issue of The Oberlin Review said that "Two incidents of harassment of gay students on campus were reported..." The Oberlin College Lesbian Gay Bisexual Union is currently seeking channels of recourse for such incidents.

On the graduate level, however, there appears to be more tolerance than on the undergraduate level at CWRU. "I haven't come across any blatant homophobia at the law school," said gay law student D.J. Hallett. "Any homophobic treatment you'll receive here is going to be very subtle."

On the national and international levels, instances of homophobia haven't been confined to college campuses. A. Damien Martin, director of the Hetrick-Martin Institute for gay and lesbian youth, cited several disturbing examples in a recent New York Time editorial:

"In 1982, the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart published a pamphlet about the Bible in which he said that 'God is saying here that not only is the homosexual worthy of death, but perhaps also those who approve of homosexuality.'

"In 1986, the Vatican issued a pastoral letter that stated that violence against homosexuals is understandable.'

"Last year, the Republican leadership of the New York Senate blocked a bill to increase penalties for bias-related violence because the bill condemned attacks on people because of their sexual orientation. The legislators claimed to be afraid of sending the wrong message."

Cleveland has not been immune to this wave of homophobia. Aubrey Wertheim is the director of the Lesbian-Gay Community Service Center, the first gay and lesbian organization recognized by the city and the largest gay-lesbian social service agency in Cleveland.

Cleveland has had "isolated assaults and killings," said Wertheim. "There have been some bashings at Edgewater (a west side park)."

Wertheim said there are "occasional pick-up cases. The best known example was the Miller attack outside of Isis, the local women's bar, about four years ago." Two lesbians were picked up, assaulted, and then shot. One of the women died, and the murderer has never been caught.

"The community is so closeted though," said Wertheim, "Instances of homophobia are not easy to find."