‘Safer Spaces’ addresses hate crimes, campus climate

April 10, 2006

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has launched a multifaceted effort designed to combat hate crime and promote a more welcoming climate for its Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community.

The campaign, titled "Safer Spaces," consists of a series of events, activities and advertising pieces, as well as the sale of T-shirts that read "gay? fine by me."

In addition to building awareness and promoting tolerance, the campaign is designed to explore the roots and results of anti-gay attitudes and behaviors. The longer-term goal is to develop a broader anti-hate coalition of campus organizations and departments, and carry the campaign through the next academic year.

"One of the things we're very aware of is that there's a clear correlation between increased violence against LGBT people and heightened political rhetoric," says Eric Trekell, director of the LGBT Campus Center. "That kind of rhetoric will become increasingly heavy in the run-up to the November election, when Wisconsinites will be voting on the amendment to ban civil unions and gay marriage."

Trekell says that a broad-based effort by members of the LGBT community and their straight allies is needed in the wake of several troubling incidents directed at LGBT community members on campus and in the community earlier this year.

Among them were a verbal assault on Dayton Street, an alleged hate crime incident in Ogg Hall, an alleged hate crime incident at East Towne Mall and a "kiss-in" contest at West Towne Mall, which many members of the UW-Madison community felt was exclusionary.

As part of the campaign, the LGBT Campus Center will hold a viewing of "Family Fundamentals" by Arthur Dong. The film takes viewers into the lives of families in which parents actively oppose homosexuality, despite having gay kids themselves. The film will be shown at 7 p.m. on Monday, April 10, in Room 1111 of the Mosse Humanities Building, 455 N. Park St.

In addition, actor and political activist George Takei will visit campus to talk about coming out publicly, how his experiences as a Japanese American have shaped his views on equality and about being gay on the television show "Star Trek." The event will take place at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 18, in Room 3650 of the Humanities Building.

The Safer Spaces campaign will culminate on Wednesday, April 26, with the National Day of Silence. Events will include a presence at the All-Campus Party on at noon on Library Mall, a "silent pizza lunch," a 4:30 p.m. march to the state Capitol and a rally in collaboration with local gay-straight alliances from area high schools.

The Day of Silence, a project of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) in collaboration with the United States Student Association (USSA) and Gay-Straight Alliances on high school and college campuses across the nation, is a student-led day of action on which those who support making anti-LGBT bias unacceptable in schools take a daylong vow of silence to recognize and protest the discrimination and harassment.

Everyone with a "gay? fine by me." T-shirt will be encouraged to wear it on April 26.

A distinct campaign in University Housing called "Hate Has No Home Here" has also been under way since before spring break. Each residence hall has been holding a special event or series of meetings promoting tolerance and respect around the message "I believe in creating supportive spaces for all people."

The Safer Spaces initiative is funded by the UW-Madison LGBT Campus Center, the Office of the Provost and the Office of the Dean of Students. Co-sponsors of the initiative events include University Housing, the UW All Greek Council, UW Allies, Students for Equality and the Human Rights Campaign.

T-shirts are available for $10 at the LGBT Campus Center on the second floor of Memorial Union. For more information on events, call (608) 265-3344.