Gay and bisexual students living in Peabody Hall have reportedly been the victims of vicious harassment, ranging from graffiti on doors to death threats.
According to Temple Police detectives, the most recent wave of incidents began in early December of 2001. In February, detectives became actively involved in the matter as a response to an escalating situation in which freshman Evan Sorg was targeted.
The only details police would confirm was the fact that the problem started in December, and that Sorg was targeted.
Sorg was surprised at the harassment he encountered, which began when words like “gay” and “fag” were written on the marker board outside his door.
He said he contacted campus police when anonymous notes were passed under the door that said, “I’m going to kill you, f—ing faggot.”
“I never faced any discrimination until I came here,” said Sorg, who had come out as a homosexual in high school.
Sorg, who serves on the judicial board for Johnson and Hardwick Hall and Peabody Hall, added that Temple’s reputation for diversity was a major factor in his decision to attend the University:
“That’s why I sought it out,” he said. “Most of the people don’t have a problem with me. I believe it’s only one or two kids that are doing it.”
Sorg, who still lives in the freshman-only Peabody, is currently seeking an apartment off-campus.
In an unrelated incident occurring this past week, another student reported being verbally threatened after a confrontation with someone he said had been harassing him for weeks with anti-gay written messages and verbal taunts.
The student, who requested not to be identified by name, said the person he confronted began yelling, “f— you” and “I’m going to kill you.”
At a recent meeting of the gay and lesbian student group S-FLAG (Student Friends of Gays and Lesbians), several students stated that they felt that there was an atmosphere of homophobia in Peabody.
Freshman Tifani Katof said that she and a friend have suffered ongoing verbal abuse by other students in Peabody. Katof organized Temple’s “Bisexuality Education Month,” an extended program of activities designed to raise awareness about the unique situation faced by the bisexual community. According to Katof, bisexuals are often misunderstood by gays, as well as by heterosexuals.
Although the administration at Peabody responded to the recent harassment with a program aimed at promoting tolerance between bisexual, gay and heterosexual students, Katof contended that it had no effect on the problem.
“The dorms were not very supportive of our situation. We went to the RA and RD a few times, and they only got a program together after the police got involved,” she said.
The programs implemented by Peabody Resident Director Johnetta Gblah and Resident Assistant Matt Daley included mandatory floor meetings about harassment and an educational event that was advertised as a general discussion about sex.
Gblah explained that the administrators wanted to attract an audience that might not necessarily attend if the event was billed as a discussion of gay issues. Gay and lesbian students voiced mixed reactions about the effectiveness of the meeting.
“If you create a community environment, people will not need to resort to this kind of harassment,” Gblah said. She added that the anonymous and random nature of many of the incidents leaves the administration feeling helpless.
“We really are doing everything we can about this situation,” she said.
None of the students interviewed said that they felt threatened living in Peabody, but one resident, who asked not to be identified, felt the dorm had a negative atmosphere.
“I don’t feel unsafe, but in a way I feel ostracized and singled out by this,” he said.
According to Temple Police, reports of harassment of gays and lesbians on campus are relatively rare.
Sources at Sullivan Hall Counseling Services said that they have only seen two cases of gay or lesbian students seeking help for problems with harassment in the past three years, both occurring in the last few months.
Mike Hanowitz, a therapist at the counseling center, said, “no one on campus should have to contend with one second of harassment.”
He encouraged anyone who experiences harassment to report it to the police. Hanowitz is involved in two programs at Temple that focus on education about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues.
Safe Space Meetings are a forum where faculty, counselors, women’s studies experts, housing staff and Temple President David Adamany come together to discuss concerns and problems of the community.
The Safe Zone Program is part of a national effort that offers specialized training about sexual minority issues to members of staff and faculty. In addition to its regular counseling services, Sullivan Hall also offers group sessions for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students.
David Hand can be reached at email@example.com