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Homophobic Graffiti Continues in Walker Two Years Later, Culprit Remains at Large

By Manisha Padi

Homophobic graffiti and posters have been found in and around the men’s bathroom in the basement of the Walker Memorial Building multiple times over the past few weeks — the latest in a string of incidents dating back at least two years, according to police reports. The messages are particularly disturbing because of their proximity to the Rainbow Lounge, a safe haven for Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, and Transgender MIT community members.

The graffiti, which states, “Homosexuality may be politically correct, but it will never be biologically correct,” was found on a blackboard in the men’s room on Sept. 8, 12, and 19, according to MIT police reports. The same message was seen written in this location in October of last year, but the frequency of the postings has increased from once a month last year to about once a week this year, according to Abigail Francis, project coordinator of the LBGT Services. Graphic posters accusing lesbians of being “jealous” of male genitalia, and gay men of spreading AIDS were also seen both inside and outside the bathroom.

Although the graffiti has been a main concern for both the campus police and the LBGT Issues Group, no progress has been made in catching the offender. Following a surge of similar graffiti in October of last year, a Hate Speech and Harassment Subcommittee of the LBGT Issues Group was formed, and met to discuss possible solutions. “We are looking into putting into place a variety of security measures, such as a card reader at the men’s room door and security cameras around the building,” said Police Chief John DiFava.

Members of the LBGT community are outraged by these persistent and offensive messages. “It’s shocking, especially for people who are just coming out or are uncomfortable with their sexuality to go into the men’s room and see something like this,” said Sylvain Bruni G. “It makes them doubt themselves.”

“We are trying to create a comfortable place for all students to study, and this type of incident, which thwarts that goal, is completely unacceptable,” DiFava.

“We can’t even tell whether or not the perpetrator is a member of the MIT community; Walker Memorial is on Memorial Drive and open to the public,” said DiFava. The campus police are nearly certain, however, that the same person is responsible for all the incidents. “The most important thing is that we are taking it very seriously,” said Lieutenant Albert J. Pierce of the MIT campus police. “We have a higher standard [at MIT] for the quality of life of all our community members. If we find the criminal, we will make sure to prosecute him to the fullest extent.”

The posting, however, most likely would not qualify as hate speech under Massachusetts law, since the way the arguments are presented is protected under right of free speech, DiFava said.

“Anonymous comments like this can’t be considered free speech,” said Francis, and DiFava called the poster a “coward” for not being able to speak his mind straight to the LBGT community.

“Even if it is legal, it is not acceptable,” said Sean Delmore, graduate assistant for the Rainbow Lounge. If state law isn’t being violated, the MIT Committee on Discipline can still ban the perpetrator from entering campus and impose other sanctions. Security can be tightened only to a certain extent because of privacy issues. For example, cameras can’t be installed in bathrooms, making it difficult to catch the offender in the act. “Once he is caught, the perpetrator will certainly not go unpunished,” said Pierce.

The most likely way the poster will be caught is with help from the community. “I cannot stress enough how helpful it would be for everyone who sees this sort of graffiti to report it immediately to the campus police,” said DiFava. “It’s important, however, to not confront a suspect yourself.” DiFava said that anyone who sees such graffiti or suspicious activity in the Walker Memorial should either tell Rainbow Lounge staff or directly contact Campus Police by dialing 617-253-1212 or 100 from a campus phone.