Intolerance not tolerated

GVL Photo Illustration / Eric Coulter
This is for the bully story. The names are Nate Mehmed and Jimmy Dean.

GVL Photo Illustration / Eric Coulter This is for the bully story. The names are Nate Mehmed and Jimmy Dean.

Samantha Butcher

In the wake of seven recent LGBT youth suicides, the Grand Valley State University campus has united in a show of support for the LGBT community.

In the past month, seven LGBT teens across the country were reported to have committed suicide as a result of bullying and intolerance. In Michigan, Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shrivell took a voluntary leave of absence last month after harassing an openly gay University of Michigan student body president on his blog, “Chris Armstrong Watch.”

Amy Simpson, president of Out ‘N’ About, said national issues such as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; the Defense of Marriage Act and insufficient anti-discrimination laws also weigh heavily on the community.

“People need to be given a reason to have hope for their future, and there are a lot of forces in this nation fighting against the rights of these kids,” she said.

The university’s anti-discrimination policy bars discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender, which includes gender identity and expression. Last year there were 27 bias incidents on campus, 16 of which targeted somebody’s sexual orientation.

“I wouldn’t say that there is a pervasive number of complaints, particularly for a university our size,” said Dwight Hamilton, vice president for affirmative action in the Inclusion and Equity Division. “Obviously, however, even one incident is too many.”

Hamilton said that he expects more incidents will be reported now that awareness has increased.

It is the responsibility of everyone on campus, not just those who have been targeted by bias, to report incidents, Colette Seguin Beighley said. Beighley is the assistant director of the LGBT Resource Center.

“Grand Valley’s values of inclusiveness and community call every member on our campus to stand against bias,” she said. “Bias incidents take many forms. They may be words, signs, symbols, threats or actions, making a gay joke, writing a derogatory word on a whiteboard. They include intimidation, vandalism, destruction of property, harassment and expressions of hate or hostility and, most importantly, they have an adverse impact on our learning and living environments here at GVSU.”

GVSU President Thomas J. Haas said he has made inclusion and acceptance on campus a priority. He addressed the recent suicides in an e-mail sent out to students Friday afternoon.

“To members of our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities who may be struggling, I want you to know that you are not alone,” he wrote.

Beighley said she believes that GVSU is a welcoming environment.

“Without a doubt, I can say that Grand Valley State University is committed to inclusion of all our students – including the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. That message is clear from the President’s office down and reflected in our policies,” she said. “However, Grand Valley is not a perfect place. Individual students have individual experiences. What I know for sure is that administration really cares and actively seeks ways to support the LGBT communities.”

Mary Jo Thiel, a GVSU counselor who specializes in LGBT issues, said the university has a number of resources on campus for students who may be struggling. Among those are the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Counseling Center, the LGBT Resource Center and the Allies and Advocates program. There is also a Team on Bias, which addresses discrimination on campus.

“The effect of all of these resources is to greatly increase the amount of visible support on campus for the LGBT community,” she said. “Visible is a key word here because LGBT students have to be able to easily and frequently see signs and symbols that the campus is not only safe but welcoming.”

There are also a number of off-campus resources for students who feel attacked for their sexual orientation or gender identity. In downtown Grand Rapids, the Gay and Lesbian Community Network provides support for members of the LGBT community. Nationally, the Trevor Project, the Pride Institute, the Triangle Foundation and GLAAD can provide resources.

Bias incidents can be reported to any student services building or public safety officer, or online at

Anyone considering taking their own life should contact a counseling center or call 911 immediately.

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