A safe haven

Brianne Carlon

Despite some verbal harassment incidents, Kent State still considered LGBT-friendly

Credit: Ben Breier

Does it have the major I want? Do I like the campus? How much will it cost? Will I like living in the dorms? More importantly – is the university gay-friendly?

Many students have lots of questions when attempting to choose a college. However, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students may have extra concerns to add to the list.

“Kent State is a very progressive university for Ohio,” Pride! Kent President Christopher Taylor said.

The school was named Number Five on Fusion magazine’s list of the top five most gay-friendly universities in Ohio.

Pride! is an LGBT and allies group on campus with a focus on providing a safe haven for LGBT students to attend, Taylor said. The group also encourages these students to become socially and politically involved on campus.

Dave Burrington, junior dance performance major, said he has had no negative experiences pertaining to his sexuality.

“I was in P.E. classes and the guys in there didn’t even say anything,” he said. “I like to think we’ve grown up.”

However, Jae Lerer, community service and financial liaison for Pride!, said he has experienced countless derogatory comments.

“There has been a lot of verbal abuse from people I do not even know,” he said.

Taylor experienced slanderous threats from students his freshman year, which he reported to the residence hall director. The situation was handled well, he said.

At the time, Taylor said he felt security could not handle the situation because they did not know what to do.

Now security and resident assistants have sensitivity and diversity training, Lerer said.

Although he feels safe on campus, Lerer said he would go straight to the police, then to the dean of student affairs and even to President Carol Cartwright if he did receive any threats.

The last physical attack reported at Kent State was the gay-bashing of Kent State student Mikell Nagy in 2001. He was attacked after being called a faggot outside a Denny’s restaurant, according to Gay People’s Chronicle. The attacker was not a Kent State student.

Pride! and Delta Lambda Phi, a national social fraternity for gay, bisexual and progressive men, reacted by assembling a rally to speak out against gay-bashing. Three hundred people attended.

“I am sure there have been some attacks since then that have not been reported because of intimidation or fear,” Lerer said.

Pride! created the Safe Zone program, which provides LGBT students with many places on campus where they can feel comfortable discussing anything on their mind without being judged, Lerer said.

“Walking through the door you feel safer because the sticker is there,” Burrington said.

Each Safe Zone area, which includes offices, classrooms and resident assistant residence hall rooms, will be marked this year by a black and white pamphlet on the outside of the door.

The Women’s Resource Center is one of 400 Safe Zone locations on campus.

“We don’t judge anyone,” said Hilda Pettit, coordinator of the Women’s Resource Center. “We serve everybody and are very friendly.”

The center welcomes men to share concerns as well as offering a significant amount of literature dedicated to LGBT issues, Pettit said.

There are still some issues that aggravate the LGBT community at Kent State.

“I’ll voice my opinion if someone uses the word ‘gay’ as a put down or something to be ashamed of,” Burrington said.

Taylor said he finds it offensive when people say “That’s so gay,” even if they are joking.

Also, Kent State is currently the only major university left in Ohio without a LGBT resource center.

“For us not to have that is a travesty,” Lerer said.

Taylor said it is Pride!’s top priority this year to establish an LGBT resource center.

Anyone who feels they have experienced harassment can visit the Pride! office in Room 237 of the Student Center and file a complaint, which the office will follow up on, Taylor said.

“There have been no complaints of harassment so far this year – but I do expect to get some,” he said.

Contact features reporter Brianne Carlon at [email protected].