Responses to Beyond the Silence

Beyond the Silence was written by Ellen H. Brown for CWRU Magazine's Summer 2002 issue. The full article is also available in PDF format.

For readability, this article uses "gay" synonymously with "gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT)."

I applaud the magazine for publishing the article on the realities of being gay at CWRU. However, there was a point with which I must take issue. Glenn Nicholls was quoted as saying that hate speech or graffiti with anti-gay content requires a balancing act, as the University is obligated to protect free speech. I have to ask: If someone used a more familiar epithet concerning a person of African-American heritage, or of the Jewish faith, would the response be as tentative? I am saddened that the University apparently believes that some hate speech is less harmful than others. We need to educate the young people of our country that intolerance against anyone who is different from ourselves is not acceptable under any circumstances. Universities and colleges have a moral responsibility to treat anti-gay bias as aggressively as any other bias.

John Bradley (GRS '88, theater), New York City

I agree that we would like to see CWRU, as well as universities across the country, become more tolerant of LGBT issues (and other issues). However, I do not agree that we can tolerate "hate" messages on campus as a means of allowing for "free speech." Although free speech is a well-known American right, should we have a lax response to hate crimes or hate messages sprawled across campus? My opinion: absolutely not.

Feel free to have a different opinion than mine, and express it in a non-hateful manner. I will listen. Don't ask me to look the other way when someone behaves badly, all in the name of freedom. My definition of freedom does not exclude the concept of respect. And I certainly cannot advocate that our campus adopt such a definition.

A strong message ought to be sent. Our vice-president for student affairs is not sending that message. He is promoting the hostility he insists does not exist. Hate is not freedom.

Mary Beth Lipka, Staff member, CWRU

"When a short-haired woman was walking across campus, a male student hurled these words at her across an open green: 'You're a f***ing dyke!'" As a homosexual, I feel obliged to ask: What would the reaction have been, and what disciplinary action taken, had the word been "nigger" or "kike"? From their omission in the listing of this assault, I am left to conclude there were neither from other students, faculty, etc., who witnessed this example of homophobia.

How is it the University still tolerates this kind of behavior? One of my most pleasant memories of WRU's graduate school was a relationship I had there. Was it because I lived with the more mature, or more diverse, population in the Graduate House that I was spared such abuse? This is not childishness; it is pure, unadulterated hatred. It has no place anywhere, but most particularly not in a university of CWRU's caliber.

Possibly more alarming is the story of the law student who chose the law school because there were "fewer queers and fags than at other schools." A law student. One can only hope he flunked out and is not going to be able to practice law against us. What kind of representation could we expect at his hands?

CWRU has the obligation to protect all of its students and to ensure that all have equal opportunity. It should set the standard, leading by example. Punishing such behavior as the woman was a victim of, and showing that homosexual faculty and staff are treated equally are two obvious ways to do so. I was active in the New York Alumni Association for many years, trying to encourage prospective students to attend CWRU. I can only hope they weren't exposed to such intolerable behavior.

John H. Turner (GRS '64, theater), Indianapolis

Glenn Nicholls, vice-president for student affairs, responds: I applaud CWRU Magazine for publishing "Beyond the Silence," as well as the letters in this section. Both serve to reinforce the importance of this issue and the value of open dialogue on our campus. The three letters above identify numerous points with which I agree completely, including fostering understanding and tolerance, the responsibility to ensure all of our students are valued and treated equitably, and that responses to anti-gay bias should be just as firm as responses to any other harmful bias.

I regret that my choice of words at the end of the article gave the impression to some readers that this is not the case. Hate crimes and hateful behavior should be and are responded to as what they are, unacceptable on this campus. It is also true that our campus is committed to the free and open exchange of opinions and ideas. In those exchanges, it is inevitable, and at times invaluable, that there will be disagreements and even conflict. Ideas that some cherish will be unimportant to others, and some strongly held opinions will even be offensive to others. When speech is restricted, the result is usually negative. For example, one prominent campus adopted a speech code and found the vast majority of complaints were filed against the very group the code was designed to protect. The balance to be struck is to address hateful behavior while protecting free speech, even speech that we disagree with.

What a wonderful piece, "Beyond the Silence." I must say that I am happy to see some progress has been made on this issue since I was at CWRU. I am happy to hear that the University is attempting to do something. But mostly, I wanted to acknowledge you for taking the time to publish this.

Richard Wortman (LAW '87), Los Angeles

The good news of the new leadership at CWRU, which the summer edition of CWRU Magazine brought to us, was, in my opinion, more than offset by the article "Beyond the Silence." As this article states, it is about "what the University is doing to make the campus a more accepting place" for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students, faculty, and staff.

Since the magazine is a publication of the University, I assume the article expresses the position of the University and the new leader—President Hundert. If the article was to welcome these students and to say that every effort was being made to turn them away from antisocial and anti-Christian behavior, I would be writing to applaud the University's efforts.

However, the article indicates that efforts are and will be made to welcome, recognize, and make them comfortable.

In light of this, please remove my name from the alumni contributors and do not in the future call me.

James S. Price (ADL '46), Advance, North Carolina

After I finished reading my copy of the spring 2002 CWRU Magazine back in May, I was excited to find that the next issue would have a story on the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered community at CWRU. I anxiously awaited the next issue and was not disappointed. As a past president (1993 to 1995) of the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Alliance (now Spectrum) at CWRU, I can't tell you how much a story could mean to so very many people--students, faculty, staff, and alumni alike. It has been my impression that, while the administration of CWRU has always been tolerant and protective of the GLBT students, staff, and faculty, the issues surrounding the GLBT community's needs for equality also so often get pushed under the rug.

While I was a student, I tried hard to make the GLBA a recognized and respected group on campus, among both students and the administration. We worked to establish a presence, so that people in the CWRU community who were just coming to grips with their own sexuality, as it may differ from others, would have somewhere to turn, so that they would know there was a safe and accepting place for them. I believe we made a good start, and it is my impression that the current leaders of the Spectrum group have done very well indeed. We worked often with the Dean of Student Affairs and President Agnar Pytte and found willing ears; although, as far as policy goes, nothing ever seemed to truly get accomplished. In particular, we worked to bring domestic partnership benefits to the faculty, staff, and students of the University. I graduated without seeing that come to fruition, but was gratified to see in the article that, two years ago, the University began to offer such benefits. It is my hope that they will soon equal the benefits of the spouses of heterosexual students, faculty, and staff of CWRU.

If CWRU wants to be on the leading edge of higher education, it must recognize that tomorrow's students and faculty will require of it leading-edge thinking. I'd like to encourage and challenge the CWRU administration to take those steps in attempts to bring equality to all its faculty, staff, and students; to make bold statements that will allow gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people to feel that CWRU is a safe place for them; and, in doing so, to challenge CWRU's peer universities to do the same.

Christopher J. Hinkle (CWR '96)

"Beyond the Silence" touched me deeply. I graduated in 1975 as an undergraduate at CWRU. I began to come out to myself in my senior year (and at the same time was "pinned" to a woman). That the University acknowledges, let alone discusses, that there are GLBT students is a huge step forward.

Back in the day, we were actively working to stop the Vietnam War, we embraced environmental causes, we stood against racism—in short, we were good Midwestern liberals. However, when it came to being out, to embracing gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning causes, the University was not so progressive. The '70s may have been all about bringing in everyone under the big tent, but the tent did not seem to have a rainbow section. I was not out at CWRU. My friends, some of whom, like me, realized their gayness later in life, were not out. There were brave brothers and sisters who were out in the '70s, and I, like most "straight" students, steered way clear of them and their cause.

How sad and ironic that the period in life in which the most phenomenal growth in my spirit and my world occurred, also was a period when I felt utterly alone in, and frightened of, my sexuality.

Even though I live with a partner of twenty years, even though I am out on the job, out in a supportive church, out to my family, out to my other GLBTQ brothers and sisters, I look back on my University days as a great lost opportunity. The truth lies somewhere between history, geography, and personal dynamics, and the truth is that what might have been a time of real coming to terms with me was more a time of total escape from who I was. I still suffer the negative effects of living large and in the closet—transparent as it might have been—while at CWRU.

Your article and website touched a raw nerve. For that I am eternally grateful.

David J. Habert (WRC '75), San Francisco

I enjoyed reading "Beyond the Silence." I think this is an important place for the University Health Service to play a role as well. A number of years back, when I was asked to see a transgender student for a complication of her gender reassignment surgery, I found that I needed to learn much more about this area--and so I did. I embarked on what turned out to be a fascinating learning experience for me. Then, I felt obligated to go further and put this to use, by giving a talk titled "The Primary Care of the Transgender Student" at the Annual Meeting of the American College Health Association. I still think that sensitivity to trans issues is not as far reaching as for other GLB issues.

Eleanor Davidson, Director, CWRU's University Health Service