by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
In 2011, one could argue that school Gay-Straight Alliance clubs were on the front lines of the anti-bullying war. State by state, GSAs and the kids who join them (and their supporters) have had to fight for the right to exist as school clubs, as well as make the uphill climb of trying to change the hearts and minds of bigoted administrators, parents, and other youth who have been led astray by hate speech. Fortunately, most of the time, the GSA kids are successful.
And they are brave. Earlier this year, when Heather Myer-Love, president of the University of Washington, Bothell GSA, learned that the anti-Gay slur 'FAGS' had been scrawled onto a campus map, she was offended. Meyer-Love decided right then and there that she would not let this hateful language thrive on campus. It was time for action.
'For me, this is a compromise and a breach of safety for my community. And as the Gay-Straight Alliance president, I feel it is my responsibility to ensure that everyone in this community is treated with respect,' Meyer-Love told the Bothell Reporter. 'And that's why I took the stance to say, 'Look, we're here, and we're not gonna tolerate this.'
Meyer-Love spearheaded a 'Not on Our Campus' campaign, where GSA students tabled at campus common areas for four days, speaking with students about the incident.
According to Meyer-Love, nearly 200 people signed three large posters with their names and messages of anti-hate.
During the tabling efforts, Meyer-Love wore a button with a slash through the words 'HATE CRIMES.'
'We want to educate people who may tolerate hate, and listen to people who don't tolerate it,' she said. 'It's been amazing. It's been received really well.'
The GSA's vice president, Drue Nyenhuis, also a senior at Bothell UW, said the incident made him second-guess the good nature of the campus.
'It reminded me of regressing back to juvenile, high-school age,' he told the Bothell Reporter. 'That's not the respectful, higher-level academic setting that we're in. We're performing at a better level.'
According to Meyer-Love, she discussed the matter with Freddie Hensen, president of the Associated Students of UW-Bothell (AS UW-B).
The graffiti had been written steps away from his office. Luckily, according to news reports, only a few people had seen the writing as it was immediately removed from the wall.
Meyer-Love says that, due to the fact that two members of the AS UW-B are openly Gay, this incident may have been an attack against them.
Following her meeting with Hensen, Meyer-Love met with UW Bothell Chancellor Kenyon Chan about the matter.
Chan noted, in an email to students and faculty, 'although this offense was targeted at our LGBT community, it is an insult to all of us. I hope all of you will join me in commenting on the 'wall' and signing the commitment. It will demonstrate to those who were wounded by this single act of hate that this community stands with them.'
According to school officials, the school reported the incident to Campus Safety and the Bothell Police Department for investigation.
Vice Chancellor Richard Penny told the Bothell Reporter this is the first anti-Gay incident that the administration has heard of, and noted he was 'proud & of our students, the way they're turning what was certainly a very, very unfortunate and regrettable event' into an educational dialogue through the campaign.
The UW-Bothell GSA isn't finished just yet, said Meyer-Love. The group is planning a zero-tolerance campaign in January with guest speakers, music, and more.
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