Campus News

LGBTQ+ students face repeated instances of homophobia on campus

LGBTQ+ students face repeated instances of homophobia

Commentary: As SU continues to grapple with a stream of anti-gay incidents this year, a bid to bring Moms for Liberty to campus only ignites concerns.

Syracuse college student looks out over campus from their dorm room unsure of their safety on the campus.
Samantha Currier

On Feb. 24 of this year, a Syracuse University employee reported homophobic graffiti in the men’s bathroom on the third and fourth floors of Watson Hall. Ten days later, a Watson Hall resident reported hearing homophobic slurs on the third floor of the dorm building.

More incidents unfolded as Haudenosaunee and LGBTQ+ pride flags were stolen from the front of Hendricks Chapel. In Lawrinson Hall, there were reports of a derogatory note with a homophobic slur slid under a resident’s door.

In roughly two months, there were four homophobic bias-related incidents on the Syracuse campus — the same amount reported in for the span of 2019-2022, according to the University’s Bias Incident Investigation Tracker.

Yet, this semester, the LGBTQ+ student population finds itself once again grappling with the reality that their campus safe space may not be as safe as they hoped.

As reported in The Daily Orange, the SU College Republicans student organization planned to host the infamously homophobic Moms for Liberty group in Watson Hall — the same building where hateful rhetoric surfaced only months prior.

Moms for Liberty is a self-proclaimed “parental rights” group based in Florida known for their conservative platform and rhetoric.

In 2022, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) labeled the organization an “extremist group.” Similarly, the LGBTQ+ advocacy group GLAAD notes the group supports “book bans, classroom censorship and bans on teaching about slavery, race, racism and LGBT people and history.”

The group has publicly shared anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric multiple times, including calling gender dysphoria a “mental health disorder that is being normalized by predators across the USA” on Twitter. Also, its members have loudly voiced their support for Florida’s restrictive “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

Within a day of The DO article’s release, SU officials denied the bid to allow Moms for Liberty to meet on campus, stating that student organizations cannot make space reservations for outside entities’ meetings, as per a statement from an SU spokesperson. But even the notion of allowing the Moms of Liberty to gather on SU’s campus still has implications.

As a Floridian going to school in New York, I had a sense that the homophobic laws and talking points would not follow me. However, seeing the Moms for Liberty organization almost come to campus raises serious concerns for the safety and freedoms of the LGBTQ+ student population, especially given the past homophobic incidents on campus.

One student, Caroline Look, lived in Watson Hall during the spring semester, where they were hurt but not surprised that such incidents could occur at SU.

“I obviously knew that hate is everywhere, but seeing it and hearing it not only at your university but also your place of residence — where you sleep, where you relax — is just terrifying,” Look said.

What irked students like Look was not only that homophobic incidents could happen on campus but that the university response could be so lackluster.

Those living in Watson Hall were not notified of the homophobic graffiti until four days later. The incident was not added to the university’s Bias Incident Reports site until nearly a week after the graffiti was discovered.

In the Department of Public Safety’s February email update, Chief Craig Stone briefly mentioned the incident, but Look said the move felt performative and inadequate. The email was sent on March 6, more than a week after the incident.

“[The response] was pulled together super last minute,” she said. “They don’t want the bad press, so they wanted to get it out there, but then they also wanted to keep it hush-hush.”

In addition to the DPS email, Chief Student Experience Officer Allen Groves sent an email to students on March 2 detailing the bias reporting protocol. Also, the Bias Response Team and Office of Student Living met with more than 30 students a few days after the incident to discuss the bias incident report.

SU Student Association president Will Treloar, who identifies as queer, similarly believed the administration’s response to the incidents was insufficient.

“I feel like there was an announcement about it that definitely riled up a lot of fear amongst students, and then at no point did we get something that was there to resolve it,” Treloar said. “We didn’t receive communication that could help put our minds at ease once it was resolved.”

While Treloar noted that specific procedural processes are purposefully kept from the public for a good reason, the lack of communication following these incidents put students at a disadvantage.

“What can be released — anything that could put a student’s mind at ease — should be,” Treloar said. “The University knows it’s resolved, but the students don’t, so we have to walk around day-to-day with this kind of anxiety over our heads.”

The proposal to bring Moms for Liberty onto campus comes at a time when more and more conservative states are enacting homophobic laws targeting LGBTQ+ education, LGBTQ+ freedom in schools and transgender access to Gender Affirming Care, to name a few.

The ramifications of Florida banning LGBTQ+ education, Tennessee banning drag shows and Texas attacking folks seeking gender-affirming care extend beyond conservative-leaning states and into college campuses where students within the community believed they were safe.

Jorge Castillo, director of SU’s LGBTQ+ Resource Center, said the onslaught of anti-LGBTQ+ bills and rhetoric across the country creates “a political climate making it okay for people to be jerks, to be racist, to be anti-LGBTQ+ so casually and openly.”

The response to the Watson Hall graffiti did not sit well with Castillo, who resonates with the feeling of exhaustion for many within the LGBTQ+ population on and off campus.

“I feel like I keep having similar conversations with other people regarding other issues while queer folks end up getting the short end of the stick,” Castillo said.

Look adds to that, pointing out how much more needs to be done to account for the homophobia permeating around the university.

“Being gay in 2023 is scary enough already, but living in an environment where people don’t think you should be alive and have rights is terrifying.”

Treloar, for his part, said he hopes to shape a culture in student government and at Syracuse that is “welcoming towards queer students constantly, making sure that it is prominent, and pride is prominent on-campus, that events are prominent on-campus and that the narrative surrounding queer students is one of positivity and celebration.”

Student Association may be unable to prevent future homophobic incidents or fully solve University issues regarding communication and incident response. Still, it is part of a solution to a problem impacting an LGBTQ+ community that is vulnerable and reeling from these on-campus and national hateful sentiments and actions.

The incidents at Watson Hall and across campus to close out the spring semester were not one-off events or an anomaly but a reality.

The attempt to bring Moms for Liberty on campus is only a sampling of how homophobic rhetoric currently circulating in the country can infiltrate SU.

The current national climate only makes it easier than ever for individuals to be bolder about their homophobia and discrimination.

Looking forward, it is up to those within the administration and campus community to take a serious stance, pushing for and implementing real change that will address these homophobic acts and ideologies moving forward and help foster an environment that protects the mental and physical well-being of the LGBTQ+ community here.