HARVARD STUDENTS have been less tolerant on gay rights than on any other issue. Students who would not consider using racial epithets still belittle the efforts of gay activists; some show their intolerance by pelting gay students with food as they try to make announcements in dining halls. Yet the struggle for gay rights is fundamentally no different from the quest for minority rights. We hope 1981-82 will be remembered as the year when undergraduate abandoned their disrespect for and harrassment of gay students and instead mobilized with gays in their quest for a formal University policy forbidding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
The Faculty Council quashed the request of the Gay Students Association (GSA) for such a policy late last spring; that denial came just months after administrators stopped the GSA from including leaflets in spring term registration packets by discovering a new policy forbidding student groups from distributing leaflets in the packets. In both cases, the University stopped GSA members from asserting their rights with particularly fallacious justification.
In denying the request for a formal non-discrimination policy, the council argued primarily that no such statute was necessary. Instead, members felt the statement that they issued deploring all harrasment on campus would suffice to quell gay students' fears. But clearly, as GSA leaders stressed later, a statement without a formal University policy does not make them fell secure on campus. Telling gay students in writing that the University believes in non-discrimination would hurt no one; in spurning such a reasonable request, the council rejected an attempt merely to help gays rise above second-class citizenship.
In spite of the defeat, the GSA has pledged to redouble its efforts to secure the non-discrimination policy, and has indicated it will seek a faculty member to propose the measure during a public Faculty meeting. That gesture would force all those who would deny the GSA its rights to come out of the closet. The Faculty should acknowledge the legitimacy of the GSA request by supporting it, and students-gay or straight-should join the fight by talking to professors and lobbying for the non-discrimination policy.
Already many straight students have come to the aid of the GSA; a petition of "Straights for Gays" collected hundreds of signatures favoring the GSA measure last spring. Now all students should mobilize behind the GSA. Without pressure from all students, the University's intolerance towards gay students will persist and a large segment of the community will be denied the rights it deserves.