In wake of gay suicides, DU leaders rally community against harassment

In the wake of the recent spate of gay youth suicides prompted by harassment that have rocked the country, Chancellor Robert Coombe and Provost Gregg Kvistad at the University of Denver have issued a letter to the faculty, staff and students. The authors celebrate diversity and tolerance at the university and warns against discriminatory and bullying behavior. They also encourage members of the DU community to intervene in any such behavior they encounter.

“There is no place at DU for words or actions that disrespect, discriminate, harass, or otherwise diminish or endanger others. We therefore call on our entire campus community – DU students, faculty, staff, and administrators – to refrain from behavior that excludes or intimidates others whatever their identities, and to intervene to prevent such behavior if it threatens to occur.”

Six gay teens in high school and college have killed themselves in recent weeks after being harassed. The most widely reported of the deaths perhaps was that of 18-year-old Rutgers music student Tyler Clementi who jumped from the George Washington bridge after his roommate secretly videotaped him having a tryst in his dorm room and then loaded the video onto the internet.

The DU letter:

As has been reported in the national and local press, there have a spate of youth suicides in the past few weeks by people targeted with specific or ongoing anti-LGBT bullying and harassment. A just released national survey report in which DU students, staff and faculty participated (www.campuspride.org) sadly documents that the exclusion, intimidation, and devaluation of LGBTIQ classmates and colleagues is not occasional or uncommon at campuses across the United States.

The University of Denver is fully committed to an active engagement of all of our community members. Our diversity of perspectives, experiences, and identities is not just tolerated at DU, it is celebrated as creating the intellectual vibrancy that is fundamental to the University’s mission (see www.du.edu/chancellor/diversityStatement.html). There is no place at DU for words or actions that disrespect, discriminate, harass, or otherwise diminish or endanger others. We therefore call on our entire campus community – DU students, faculty, staff, and administrators – to refrain from behavior that excludes or intimidates others whatever their identities, and to intervene to prevent such behavior if it threatens to occur.

We do have resources at the University that are available for you or someone you know who needs support in the face of recent events, and we encourage you to use them. They include:

• The Center for Multicultural Excellence (CME) supports broad equity and LGBTIQ & Ally specific programs and campus organizations, including Queer & Ally (Q&A) trainings. Multicultural Center (Asbury & University), (303)871-4614; www.du.edu/lgbtiqa.

• DU’s Health & Counseling Center offers group and one-on-one counseling to address specific issues and/or improve the overall academic experience. Ritchie Center 3rd Fl North, (303)871-3853; www.du.edu/duhealth/counseling.

• GVESS provides prevention and response training and resources for those affected by interpersonal violence, including sexual assault. Nelson Hall 103, (303)871-2220, www.du.edu/studentlife/Sexual_Assault.

• The Office of the Chaplain is available to the entire DU community regardless of faith affiliation, or no affiliation at all. Driscoll South 29, (303)871-4488; www.du.edu/studentlife/religiouslife.

• Campus Safety partners with campus constituents to prevent and respond to situations that put the campus community at risk. In emergencies, dial 911 and then (303)841-3000. General inquiries (303)871-2334; www.du.edu/campussafety.

As the new academic year continues, we invite you to take advantage of these resources and the wide array of campus programs and activities to learn about the rich diversity of our University of Denver community.

Sincerely,
Robert Coombe
Chancellor

Gregg Kvistad
Provost

The Campus Pride survey mentioned in the letter lists the disturbing trends it found in polling roughly 6,000 LGBT students, faculty, staff and administrators at universities across the country.

• Lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer (LGBQ) respondents experienced significantly greater harassment and discrimination than their heterosexual allies, and those who identified as transmasculine, transfeminine, and gender non-conforming (GNC) experienced significantly higher rates of harassment than men and women

• LGBQ students were more likely than heterosexual students to have seriously considered leaving their institution as a result of harassment and discrimination.

• LGBQ Respondents of Color were more likely than their LGBQ White counterparts to indicate race as the basis for harassment, and were significantly less likely than LGBQ White respondents to feel very comfortable or comfortable in their classes (60%, 65%, respectively).

• Respondents who identified as transmasculine, transfeminine, and gender non-conforming have more negative perceptions of campus climate when compared with those who identify within the gender binary.

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network performed a similar study of roughly 7,000 middle and high school students and found that nearly nine out of ten LGBT students experienced harassment at school and nearly two-thirds felt unsafe there because of their sexual orientation.

• 84.6% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 40.1% reported being physically harassed and 18.8% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.

• 63.7% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 27.2% reported being physically harassed and 12.5% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their gender expression.

• 72.4% heard homophobic remarks, such as “faggot” or “dyke,” frequently or often at school.

• Nearly two-thirds (61.1%) of students reported that they felt unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation, and more than a third (39.9%) felt unsafe because of their gender expression.

• 29.1% of LGBT students missed a class at least once and 30.0% missed at least one day of school in the past month because of safety concerns, compared to only 8.0% and 6.7%, respectively, of a national sample of secondary school students.

• The reported grade point average of students who were more frequently harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender expression was almost half a grade lower than for students who were less often harassed (2.7 vs. 3.1).

• Increased levels of victimization were related to increased levels of depression and anxiety and decreased levels of self-esteem.

• Being out in school had positive and negative repercussions for LGBT students – outness was related to higher levels of victimization, but also higher levels of psychological well-being.

Colorado Spring-based national Christian group Focus on the Family has called into question the results of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network survey. As recently as August, Focus representatives suggested the findings were slanted by the authors of the report in order to push a gay agenda in schools.

The conservative Christian group Focus on the Family is accusing national gay advocacy groups of using bullying-prevention initiatives at public schools to introduce the viewpoint that homosexuality is normal. Focus on the Family education expert Candi Cushman told The Denver Post in Saturday’s editions that the Christian group supports bullying prevention but that the issue “is being hijacked by activists.”

“We feel more and more that activists are being deceptive in using anti-bullying rhetoric to introduce their viewpoints, while the viewpoint of Christian students and parents are increasingly belittled,” Cushman said.

The Coalition that produced the survey and school booklet for Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network includes the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Counseling Association, American Association of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, American Psychological Association, American School Counselor Association, American School Health Association, Interfaith Alliance Foundation, National Association of School Psychologists, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Association of Social Workers, National Education Association, and School Social Work Association of America.

Hat tip to Toweleroad.

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