Can Harvard Combat Homophobia?

Several alleged hate crimes targeting LGBT individuals on campus have called into question the level of tolerance at Harvard—generally touted as a liberal haven accepting of people of all identities and backgrounds—and the administration’s ability to adequately address these issues.

Noting the lack of institutional resources for LGBT affiliates, Harvard Queer Students and Allies Co-Chair Emma Q. Wang ’12 says that it is important for the University not to fall into complacency when it comes to ensuring a welcoming environment for LGBT people.

“While the general sentiment is that Harvard is a safe and liberal place, that sort of mindset can lend itself to apathy and lack of concern for engaging in LGBT activism,” Wang says, adding that the relative comfort of Harvard makes it easy to disregard the everyday reality of homophobia.

While presidents at many universities have sent letters or exhibited other signs of support, Harvard does not even have a funded resource center or paid staff dedicated to the LGBT community on campus, according to Wang.

“If Harvard is going to get positive attention for being a leading institution for academic study, it also needs to be forthcoming in information in order to conduct itself as a role model institution,” she says.

Sam J. Bakkila ’11-’12 agrees that this rift in communication has made it more difficult for the LGBT community to confront homophobia.

“People are forgetting that hate crimes really do make people feel vulnerable and targeted, and what the response has to do is make that targeted population feel comfortable and safe again,” he says.

Increased resources on campus would better equip the University when responding to LGBT hate crimes, Bakkila says. He hopes that increased awareness of homophobic acts at Harvard will lead to wider critical discussion of the implicit homophobia that the LGBT community faces on a daily basis.

A SEMESTER OF ANXIETY

A series of LGBT youth suicides in the fall brought LGBT issues to the public eye nationwide—and even on a liberal campus like Harvard, recent incidents have highlighted the persisting discrimination.

In late November, 36 LGBT-related books in Lamont Library were damaged with what was presumed to be urine, and the incident was subsequently investigated as a hate crime because of the books’ subject matter.

Though it was revealed on Monday that the damage had actually been the result of an accident and not a hate crime, the incident nevertheless struck a chord with the LGBT community.

Much earlier in the semester, a student was pursued by three men, allegedly not Harvard affiliates, who taunted him with names like “fag” and “queer.” While he was not harmed, the incident disconcerted members and allies of the LGBT community.

About a month later in October, a student from the Graduate School of Design returned to his room one evening to find the words “kill the fag” scrawled across his door in large black letters. Though a HUPD report was not released to the Harvard community, residents of the dorm—informed of the event by building administrators—were shocked that the incident took place within student housing.

“A dorm is a community where everyone is supposed to feel safe, and with that one act, someone undermined months of building a community,” says Drew H. Coyne, a Harvard School of Education student who lives in the dorm and adds that it was the least likely place he would have expected to encounter homophobia.

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