Maine GayNet - Bates brass inks pact with gay supporters

Monday October 27, 1997

Bates brass inks pact with gay supporters

Sun-Journal Staff Writer
CLICK HERE to see the contract

LEWISTON - It took five hours of chanting, drumming and communicating Friday, but a group of administrators and gay and lesbian supporters at Bates College began to see eye to eye.

Students and some faculty members staged a sit-in demonstration at Lane Hall Friday morning to drum up support for a contract they hope will help begin to eradicate what they perceive as homophobia at the school.

"The sit-in was very, very powerful," said Bates junior Rachel Simons. "We had 200 people there. They were chanting to drum beats, and it was very empowering for the students and the faculty who are on our side."

At a forum on the college campus Thursday night, a coalition of gay and lesbian students and faculty members presented ofocials from the Dean of Students office with a contract listing several demands.

The contract consists of four major points its developers believe are necessary to bridge the gap between homosexual groups and the Bates administration.

Gay and lesbian supporters want administrators at the school to develop, "within a reasonable amount of time," a curriculum at the school where gay and lesbian lifestyles are addressed.

"There are very few classes that talk about homosexuality," Simons said. "If we had a clear curriculum, that would be one step toward getting rid of homophobia at Bates.Classroom discussion is very important."

The contract also demands funding for speakers and presentations at National Coming Out Weekend activities at Bates in the future.

And the developers of the contract want the school to provide sensitivity training at the school and for Bates alumni to recognize the homosexual population at the college through publications and other forms of communication.

"We want them to acknowledge that gay students exist and gay alumni exist," Simons said. Celeste Branham, dean of students, said she could not sign the document. "We felt we could not guarantee implementation," Branham said.

On Friday, as students began to gather at Lane Hall, drumming and chanting, the lines of communication began to open. Branham eventually helped the group of gay and lesbian supporters reword the contract.

"Everyone was involved, and the meeting was extremely successful," Simons said. "Finally, the Dean of Students office signed the contract."

"Our effort has been to continue the dialogue with students," Branham said. "Now we have to act upon the needs we have committed to on paper."

Simons called Friday's meeting and the signing of the contract a "big step" in eliminating homophobia at Bates, but she cautioned that the school still has a long.way to go.

"It's definite progress. We are very enthused, but we also don't want to lose sight of the fact that this is only a loose contract," she said. "There's a lot of homophobia at Bates and a lot of it is in the Dean of Students office."

The rift between gay and lesbian supporters and administrators at Bates has existed for a long time, those involved in the recent discussions said. But the issue came to a head two weeks ago during campus activities held as part of National Coming Out Weekend.

Administrators said a communication problem resulted in slogans and drawings dealing with gay pride being removed from walkways by Bates security officers. Branham later apologized for ordering the removal of the scrawlings and the symbols were returned shortly after they had been erased.

Some students called Branham's actions a "hate crime" while others saw the situation as part of "blatantly homophobic" policies at the school.

At the time, Branham said her office planned to fully review the events surrounding Coming Out Weekend and the college's policies concerning gay and lesbian activities.

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