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Students and leaders in the local gay community discussed violence against gays and at a monthly community meeting of the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Supporters' Alliance, titled "Confronting Hate Crimes."

Andrea L. Hildebran, public education director of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Directors (GLAD) and Jos A. Pars-Avila, staff psychotherapist at the Fenway Community Health Center, spoke to an audience of about 30 in the Adams House Lower Common Room.

In the wake of a rash of hate crimes against gays--BGLTSA Co-Chair Adam A. Sofen '01 cited the October murder of 21-year-old Matthew Shepard in Wyoming, Alabama resident Billy Jack Gaither's violent death last month after being beaten with an axe handle, and last week's attack on a gay student at Tufts College leaving an off-campus party--Hildebran and Pars-Avila discussed their professional experiences with anti-gay violence.

"The fact is there is a whole lot of violence" that people at work, at school and in their neighborhoods are vulnerable to, Hildebran said.

Hildebran, who helps run a hotline that deals with sexual orientation, HIV and the law, said small slurs and insults can be indicators of more violent acts such as the Shepard and Gaither incidents.

The definition of hate crimes is a blurry one, she said, and effecting positive change through legislative and institutional means is frustrating but ultimately worth it.

Pars-Avila, a victim advocate in the Violence Recovery Program (VRP) at the Fenway Community Health Center, spoke about his experiences in the past two years at VRP, where he said he has heard "way too many" horror stories.

"Laws on the books do not guarantee that you're going to be protected," he added.

Following the two speakers, Sofen, who is also a Crimson editor, moderated a wide-ranging discussion with the speakers and members of the audience.

Students shared their experiences with hostility towards gays at Harvard. Several students said they had been placed with roommates with anti-gay beliefs during their first year at Harvard. One bisexual student said she had been placed with three roommates with Christian fundamentalist beliefs, while another had a roommate who told her she was "going to hell" because she was a lesbian.

"The administration here could be a lot more helpful on these issues than they are," said Luke C. Platzer '00.

Several solutions were offered to improve gay rights and relations within the College, including working for a more positive administration and directly confronting anti-gay personal remarks. One student suggested that the administration inform first-year students during the orientation period that the use of the word "faggot" is not acceptable.

"Massachusetts is one of the better states (in terms of gay relations)," said Pars-Avila, but "We're still far from an ideal society (in terms of gay rights)."

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