Vandalism of a poster inviting students to a meeting of the Gay-Straight Alliance is being investigated as a hate crime. Club members found a handmade poster hanging near the campus pool vandalized with disparaging anti-gay words just before spring break.
Tammy Nguyen, vice president of the GSA, said the member drew purple hearts around the hateful words then brought it to Nguyen’s attention.
“When I got over there, I saw people staring at it,” Nguyen said. “They had nothing to say. They just looked at each other, then back at the poster.”
The poster was taken down and brought to the club membership’s attention after classes resumed following spring break. Nguyen said a lot of the members and the advisors had something to say about it. The Gay-Straight Alliance, an ASO-sponsored organization, exists to provide a safe place for LGBT students and their allies to meet and raise awareness of the issues surrounding them. One of those is the issue of anti-gay sentiment and harassment.
Diana Cortes is the president of the Gay-Straight Alliance.
“It’s frustrating,” she said. “We’re on a college campus where people should be grown up. They should be mature enough to know things aren’t high school. They should realize that this was a childish thing to do.”
Alan Wade, one of the club advisors, said it turned his stomach whenever he hears of things like this occurring.
“I think it’s sad and that is says more about those who wrote on our sign than it does us,” he said.
Nguyen said this kind of reaction was unusual in recent years.
“I’ve been in GSA for over three years and I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said. “I’ve seen our posters torn down, I’ve seen other things, but not this.”
Nguyen said that the vandalism, although disturbing, was also timely, and the GSA would address it.
“We’ll talk about this during Day of Silence, which at Southwestern College is on Thursday, April 18,” she said. “Hopefully that will bring more awareness to the campus.”
Wade said awareness of the vandalism would help bring attention to their needs, but pointed out that the school could do more – something he said he has brought to the college’s attention again and again.
“[This vandalism] demonstrates a need for a permanent safe space on campus for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning and intersexed students, and our student allies,” he said.
Cortes also thinks that going public with the vandalism during Day of Silence will be more effective than getting the administration involved.
“Really, what can [the administration] do?” she said. “It’s not like there’s a camera that saw what happened. We’re not going to be able to find out who did this. It’s better to bring this up then, or bring it to people’s attention during other events.”
Lillian Leopold, SWC’s chief public information officer, said the administration is taking the vandalism seriously.
“Southwestern College does, in fact, consider this a hate crime and it stepping up its efforts to fully investigate this incident,” she said. “The safety and protection of all members of the Gay-Straight Alliance, and with all student groups on campus, is priority one.”
Leopold said that members of the administration would be in contact with the club’s officers and advisors to explain procedures regarding the college’s Standards of Student Conduct. She said that SWC has had a written policy in place to deal with situations like these.
“The Administrative Procedure for Policy 5500 addresses hate crimes,” she said.
Item 12 in Policy 5500 describes this as a violation of standards of student conduct:
“Engaging in harassing or discriminatory behavior based on race, sex, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age, national origin, disability, or any other status protected by law.”
California Penal Code 422.6 PC also forbids hate crimes. State law treats the act of damaging, defacing or destroying property as part of a hate crime is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in a county jail, a maximum fine of $5,000 and up to 400 hours of community service.
Nguyen said the feeling created by the vandalism was “overwhelming.” She said the poster itself was harmless and could not have offended anyone.
“It was just advertising a regular meeting,” she said. “I’ve spoken to people on campus who aren’t members of the GSA and they can’t believe things like this still go on. It’s such a diverse campus and a lot of people were really surprised.”
Wade said anti-gay vandalism was inexcusable anywhere, but particularly egregious on a college campus.
“College is a place where our differences are hashed out via meaningful dialogue rather than cowardly vandalism,” he said.
Nguyen said the campus needs to know this happened.
“I wanted this issue to be something that people should be aware of,” she said. “And it’s still going on. We need people to be aware that hatred of gays is still a problem.”
Leopold said open, honest dialogue would be necessary.
“The most effective way to combat intolerance is through education and advocacy,” she said. “It is a matter of having students, faculty, staff and administration continuing to work together to ensure a safe learning environment.”
Cortes insisted that anti-gay sentiment wouldn’t stop the Gay-Straight Alliance.
“This isn’t going to hold us back,” she said. “It’s going to make us stronger. We’re not going to give up. We’re going to keep putting up our posters and making ourselves noticeable.”