Howard University group responds to anti-gay threats
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Howard University group responds to anti-gay threats

[At the beginning of February, 2001, reporter Lou Chibbaro of The Washington Blade called GLAA Political Vice President Rick Rosendall about a story he was working on concerning a gay law student at Howard University who had reported receiving hate email from an anonymous student at Howard calling him a variety of hateful slurs and threatening to commit a hate crime against him. The target of the threats, Lethan Wilks, who is of mixed African American and Korean ancestry, indicated that the sender of the messages used vicious anti-gay and anti-Asian epithets and accused Wilks of destroying the reputation of Howard by giving people the impression it welcomed "fags." Wilks said that Howard's computer lab had investigated and determined that the sender of the messages was on the Howard campus, but Wilks felt that Howard's administrators weren't doing all they could to look into the matter.

[Rosendall forwarded the information to Tiffany Cook-King and Sterling Washington of the Bisexual, Lesbian, and Gay Organization of Students at Howard (BLAGOSAH) and urged them to contact Wilks. After consulting with Wilks, the leaders of BLAGOSAH sent a letter to Howard University President H. Patrick Swygert urging him to take action. As additional weeks passed without a response from Swygert, Wilks became increasingly frustrated and spoke to a television news reporter for local ABC affiliate News Channel 7. That report aired on February 27. In the meantime, Swygert had met with BLAGOSAH leaders on February 26. Swygert issued a statement to all Howard employees, faculty, and students on the afternoon of February 28 quoting the statement of non-discrimination from the Howard University Student Handbook, decrying the use of the University's Internet resources to send hate mail, and pledging that the University would work with the Metropolitan Police Department to apprehend the perpetrator. Representatives of BLAGOSAH, GLAA, and the Human Rights Campaign thanked President Swygert for his response and urged him to speak on the subject during his remarks at Howard's Charter Day Convocation on March 2, which he did.

[The investigation into the threats is continuing. GLAA President Bob Summersgill has also noted that the non-discrimination statement on the University's website is hard to find and is missing several of the protected categories in the DC Human Rights Law, including sexual orientation. At an oversight hearing on the Office of Human Rights on February 28, DC Councilmember Jim Graham expressed strong support for the efforts to make the campus safe for all students and to apprehend a suspect in the case; Jim also has been in communication with BLAGOSAH and President Swygert since the matter first came to light. Philip Pannell, Mayor Williams' GLBT liaison, has also provided assistance. Below are highlights of the correspondence between the various parties since the threats became known in early February.]

Items on this page:

  1. BLAGOSAH Urges H.U. President Swygert to Act 02/08/01
  2. Rosendall Thanks Wilks for Coming Forward 02/28/01
  3. BLAGOSAH Describes Meeting with Swygert 02/28/01
  4. Swygert Issues Statement to Howard Employees, Faculty, and Students 02/28/01
  5. Rosendall congratulates BLAGOSAH 03/01/01
  6. Summersgill (GLAA) Thanks Swygert 03/01/01
  7. Payne (HRC) Thanks Swygert 03/01/01
  8. Summersgill Alerts BLAGOSAH on H.U. non-discrimination statement 03/01/01
  9. BLAGOSAH Thanks Swygert for Statement at Convocation 03/02/01


BLAGOSAH Urges H.U. President Swygert to Act

From: Blagosah[SMTP:blagosah@yahoo.com]
To: H. Patrick Swygert
Sent: Thursday, February 08, 2001 3:29 PM
Subject: Anonymous threats at Howard

President Swygert,

Attached is an e-mail that we received yesterday. The Bisexual, Lesbian, and Gay Organization of Students at Howard (BLAGOSAH) is deeply troubled by the threats directed at Lethan Wilks, a law student here at Howard University. We sincerely hope that you will become personally involved in finding a resolution to this situation. If you are unable to attend to this matter personally, BLAGOSAH asks that you appoint a representative from your office, who will work with us to resolve this issue. We kindly request that you provide BLAGOSAH officials with the name and contact information for that representative no later than Friday, February 16th. Such action will save the University needless time and resources in the future.

In addition, BLAGOSAH asks that you remind the student population, faculty, and staff that University policy forbids the mistreatment of and discrimination against students on the basis of sexual orientation. The March 2nd convocation provides an excellent oppportunity to reiterate and clarify the University's position on this issue.

Please let us know if you have any additional questions or need to contact Mr. Wilks.

Tiffany Cook-King and
Sterling Washington,

Facilitators of BLAGOSAH


Rosendall Thanks Wilks for Coming Forward

From: Rick Rosendall
To: Lethan Wilks; Blagosah
Cc: H. Patrick Swygert; Jim Graham; Philip Pannell; others
Sent: Wednesday, February 28, 2001
Subject: News 7 story on threats at Howard

Congratulations and thanks to Lethan Wilks for his courage in coming forward publicly about the hateful threats he has received by email from an anonymous fellow student at Howard University. The story on News 7 last night mentioned BLAGOSAH's letter to President Swygert and that he had not yet responded. Perhaps he will respond now due to the publicity. The best way to combat hate is to expose it to the light of day where it can be seen for what it is. This is not easy for the targets of that hate, so thank you Mr. Wilks -- and also to the members of BLAGOSAH for their efforts at Howard.

Best, Rick Rosendall
Political Vice President
Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, DC


BLAGOSAH Describes Meeting with Swygert

From: Blagosah
To: Rick Rosendall
Cc: Lethan Wilks; H. Patrick Swygert; Jim Graham; Philip Pannell; others
Sent: Wednesday, February 28, 2001 11:52 PM
Subject: Re: News 7 story on threats at Howard

Many thanks, Rick.

Actually, BLAGOSAH officials met with President Swygert Monday afternoon. It was a fairly successful meeting. President Swygert agreed with us that this issue is important and that no student at the University should endure what Lethan has. BLAGOSAH also agreed the serve as a liaison between Howard and Mr. Wilks since there has been a communications breakdown.

This afternoon, President Swygert sent an e-mail to the students, faculty, and staff concerning this situation. He reiterated the University's commitment to provide educational and employment opportunities free from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender, or marital status. In addition, the e-mail addressed the administration's distress with the three hate messages that were sent to Mr. Wilks and the administration's resolve to fully prosecute the perpetrator(s). This is a major step forward for the University and we have thanked President Swygert for this important first step. We have pasted a copy of his e-mail at the very bottom of this message.

BLAGOSAH will continue to urge the President to verbally warn the student body, faculty, and staff that threats and discrimination against GLBT students and University employees will not be tolerated. At this point, we do not know if President Swygert will make a public (verbal) statement or when such a statement would be made. BLAGOSAH has suggested to the President that he make a statement at this Friday's Charter Day celebration. Hopefully, he will agree to do this.

We will keep you all posted on the outcome of our efforts.

Tiffany Cook-King and
Sterling Washington,

Facilitators of BLAGOSAH


Swygert Issues Statement to Howard Employees, Faculty, and Students

From: H. Patrick Swygert
To: AllEmployees; Faculty; AllStudents
Sent: 2/28/01 2:23 PM
Subject: Letter from the President

Dear Colleagues:

The Howard University Student Handbook provides, in part -

Howard University (the "University") reaffirms its commitment to provide opportunities in education and employment free from illegal discrimination based upon gender, sexual orientation, or marital status. In furtherance of this commitment, the University strives to maintain an environment in which all its members of the University Community are: (a) judged and rewarded solely on the basis of relevant factors such as ability, experience, effort, and performance; and (b) provided conditions for employment and educational pursuits that are free from gender-based coercion, intimidation, or exploitation.

The statement above, though found in the Student Handbook, applies to all members of our community and should make clear to everyone our commitment to create a community free of discrimination or harassment of any kind. We are all, therefore, distressed to learn that someone used Internet resources at the University to send three hate messages to a Howard University student. Our distress will not hinder nor defeat our resolve to use our resources and those of the Metropolitan Police Department and the U.S. Attorney's Office to identify and prosecute the perpetrator(s). Let us, each of us, also resolve to do whatever we can to bring about and sustain our community of scholars and students in a setting free of fear and harassment.

Sincerely,

H. Patrick Swygert
President


Rosendall congratulates BLAGOSAH

From: Rick Rosendall
To: Blagosah
Cc: H. Patrick Swygert; Lethan Wilks; Jim Graham; Philip Pannell; others
Sent: Thursday, March 01, 2001 10:18 AM
Subject: News 7 story on threats at Howard

Sterling,

Congratulations on BLAGOSAH's efforts to make the Howard campus a safer place for all, and thanks to President Sywgert for addressing this matter, also to Councilmember Graham for raising the issue in his oversight capacity on human rights, and most of all to Lethan himself for stepping forward. I think that a public statement by Swygert at the upcoming convocation reaffirming the University's repudiation of intolerance would be most salutary.

It was good to see you at the Mayor's GLBT Advisory Committee meeting last night. Let's continue working together.

Best,

Rick Rosendall
V.P. for Political Affairs
Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, DC
www.glaa.org


Summersgill (GLAA) Thanks Swygert

Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance
P.O. Box 75265
Washington, D.C. 20013
202-667-5139

March 1, 2001

President H. Patrick Swygert
Howard University
2400 Sixth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20059

Dear President Swygert:

Thank you for expressing your distress at the three hate messages that were sent to Mr. Lethan Wilks and the administration's resolve to fully prosecute the perpetrator(s).

We also appreciate your restatement of the University's commitment to non-discrimination. We hope that you will take advantage of the opportunity to repeat this message when you speak at tomorrow's Charter Day Convocation.

A strong and visible condemnation of hate and commitment to support for the principle, policy and practice of non-discrimination at Howard University will well serve the University, the students, the city and you.

We hope that you will take advantage of this opportunity to show off Howard University as a place where hate and discrimination will not be tolerated.

Thank you,

Bob Summersgill
President

cc: Lethan Wilks
Tiffany Cook-King
Sterling Washington


Payne (HRC) Thanks Swygert

Human Rights Campaign
919 18th Street, NW, Suite 800
Washington, DC 20006
202-216-1544
www.hrc.org

March 1, 2001

President H. Patrick Swygert
Howard University
2400 Sixth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006

Dear President Swygert:

Thank you for expressing your discontent at the hate messages sent to Lethan Wilks. It is so important to address the fact that you are committed to non-discrimination based on sexual orientation. We hope that you will take advantage of the opportunity to say this at the Charter Day Convocation tomorrow.

I am an African American lesbian that works for the largest political gay/lesbian organization in the United States doing outreach to people of color. I can not begin to explain how much your commitment to non-discrimination is supported. If there is any assistance we can give you as you publicly spread that message, please feel free to contact me.

I would love to see more dialogue occur on campus to alleviate the fears/concerns that people have about gays and lesbians. Particularly in my own community, because we don't have time to hate each other over sexual orientation. I listened to you recently on Politically Incorrect and agreed 100% about a Howard student representing throughout the world when they come from Howard. That being the case, means you definitely can set the tone as to how African American gays and lesbians can be at home in their own community. My organization, the Human Rights Campaign envisions an America where lesbian and gay people are ensured of their basic equal rights - and can be open, honest and safe at home, at work, and in the community. Well, safety comes from not tolerating hate in the community. Thank you for speaking on the issue and I hope to hear from you soon about more dialogue on campus concerning this issue.

Sincerely,

Donna Payne
Constituent Field Organizer
Human Rights Campaign

cc: Lethan Wilks
Tiffany Cook-King
Sterling Washington


Summersgill Alerts BLAGOSAH on H.U. non-discrimination statement

From: Bob Summersgill
To: Blagosah
Cc: H. Patrick Swygert; Lethan Wilks; Jim Graham; Philip Pannell; others
Sent: Thursday, March 01, 2001 3:35 PM
Subject: Re: News 7 story on threats at Howard

I have been looking through Howard University's web site for a statement of non-discrimination. I was not able to find one, except for a statement on the application form which must be downloaded and viewed with Acrobat.

That statement is:

Howard University is committed to equal opportunity and treatment in all aspects of its relations with faculty, students, and staff members, without regard to race, color, national origin, sex, marital status, religion, age, or handicap. The requirement not to discriminate in education programs and activities extends to employment and to admission.

Direct inquiries regarding accessibility for handicapped persons, equal opportunity, and Title IX to the Office of the Assistant Vice President for Human Resource Management at (202) 806-5770.

Unfortunately, this statement doesn't include sexual orientation, nor several other categories which Howard University is responsible to protect under the DC Human Rights Law.

The categories that should be included are: race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, family responsibilities, political affiliation, source of income, or disability.

It would be useful, and a good idea, for Howard University to explicitly recognize all of these categories, and prominently display the non-discrimination policy on the web site, and other all official publications.

-Bob Summersgill
Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance


BLAGOSAH Thanks Swygert for Statement at Convocation

From: Blagosah
To: H. Patrick Swygert
Cc: Lethan Wilks; GLAA; Jim Graham; Philip Pannell; others
Sent: Friday, March 02, 2001 6:22 PM
Subject: Thank You for Today's Public Statement

President Swygert,

Thank you for publicly denouncing not only the e-mail threats that were sent to Mr. Wilks, but also the use of University equipment to send hate messages. Your statement at this morning's Charter Day Convocation reflected the spirit and vision in which this University was founded. It was a major step towards making Howard University a safer environment for all its students and employees.

We look forward to assisting the administration in its investigation to find the perpetrator(s).

Tiffany Cook-King and
Sterling A. Washington,

Facilitators of BLAGOSAH


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