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Anti-Gay Statements Written in Bathroom In Walker Memorial

By Marie Y. Thibault

An anti-gay slogan was found on Sept. 12 in a bathroom near the Rainbow Lounge in Walker Memorial. The incident is the most recent in a year-long series of anti-gay graffiti that has appeared in the same place on campus. The Rainbow Lounge houses student groups addressing lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgendered issues as well as a library of LBGT-related literature and films.

The slogan started with the sentence: “Homosexuality may be politically correct, but it will never be BIOLOGICALLY correct,” and proceeded to graphically describe homosexual sexual acts, ending with, “Small wonder that’s a prime vector for contracting AIDS. Enjoy.....”

MIT Police have increased patrols in the affected areas but will have to catch an offender in the act to open an investigation, said Police Chief John DiFava.

James A. Nadeau G, who reported the Sept. 12 incident, said that the slogan was written at the top of a blackboard in the basement men’s bathroom in Walker and would have required a chair to reach. He said that this made him think that someone “really, really wanted to write it.”

Sylvain Bruni G, vice-president of the Rainbow Lounge, said that such writings had been found in the same bathroom for over a year. He said that he believed they were all written by the same person, since it always seemed to be in the same style and handwriting. He also said that he has never seen this sort of writing anywhere else.

Bruni said that he personally did not feel threatened by the writings. However, he said that he can understand how intimidating this message would be to others who are looking to MIT for acceptance. “It is outrageous,” he said, and it could affect others “really deeply.”

Recent incidents not typical

The slogans found in the Walker basement bathroom are difficult to handle, Bruni said, because of the intellectual style they adopt. The separation between free speech and hate speech is a fine line, he said.

Nadeau said the writing struck him because it was not “derivative and puerile,” but seemed to want to make an intellectual statement.

The graffiti has not been categorized as hate speech, DiFava said, although he said he felt these incidents differed from free speech because a person desiring an intellectual discussion would use more important venues than bathroom walls to promote his or her opinions.

The previous incidents in the Walker basement bathroom were documented with pictures of the writings and statements from people in or around the bathroom.

Following Nadeau’s discovery of the most recent incident, pictures were taken of the writings and were added to documentation of similar incidents. Anti-gay slogans in other locations around campus are in the process of being documented right now, said Abigail Francis, project coordinator of Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, and Transgendered Services, Resources, and Outreach.

DiFava said that there is a zero tolerance policy for such writings, and they are removed as soon as possible after documentation.

Photographs, statements, and surveillance can be compiled into evidence, DiFava said, which can be brought to court. It would be up to the court to decide whether charges could be pressed.

He said that there is such a thing as a graffiti fingerprint, where writings are compared by an expert, allowing an offender to be linked to other incidents.

Responses to incidents planned

Francis said that according to MIT’s non-discrimination policy, everyone has the right to work and feel welcomed in their own space. The writings’ close proximity to the Rainbow Lounge, she said, may cause people to feel threatened in a space reserved to make them feel welcome.

The MIT police have been helpful, she said, by increasing their patrols of Walker. The writings have not appeared for a week, something she believes is because of the increased police presence.

Thomas E. Robinson, program coordinator for Student Life Programs, said that last year he reported similar incidents to the campus police. At that time, a security system guarding against intruders was installed in the Rainbow Lounge. Robinson was an interim director of the LBGT office last year.

Francis said that a Hate Speech and Harassment Subcommittee of the LBGT Issues group will be formed to find an approach to hate crimes. This group will also be concerned with hate speech against race and gender.

Bruni said that the group should address what can be done in response to hate speech, both by the community and by the police. The distinction between hate speech and free speech should be examined, and contacting more administrators about these incidents should be a goal, he said.

A diversity speakers bureau may be formed in response to these incidents, Francis said. Because the incidents are not common, the focus should be kept on positive messages, she said.

The LBGT office now makes the LBGT “You are welcome here” stickers available to students. Any defaced or damaged stickers should be reported, Francis said, as part of a new effort to keep track of discriminatory behavior.

The writings are a “real act of cowardice,” DiFava said, but the good news is that the “community as a whole finds this very, very distasteful … and is being extremely vigilant.”