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Statement on Anti-Gay Speech

Dear Colleagues

Yesterday we spent a part of our day in a ceremony to express our sadness at the brutal and senseless loss of life of academic colleagues. The ceremony also provided us a means to join together as a community in shared consolation and sympathy. We acknowledged that such tragic events will have a lasting impact on the lives of the Virginia Tech survivors, but they also raise our own fears of violence and loss of personal safety. Consequently, as each of us continues to process the horrible happenings on the campuses of Virginia Tech this week and UW-Seattle last month, the next several days will be a time of extreme sensitivity to violence and loss.

I have long felt that hate-speech is a form of violence that can be as devastating as physical violence. Hate-speech is language that is, or can be perceived as, threatening violence or death. Hate-speech demeans a person or a group of people and calls into question their right to exist. Sadly, yesterday as we grieved over the impact of one form of violence, another took place. Someone wrote a note challenging the right of existence of people who are Gay or Lesbian. The note was in reaction to the Day of Silence, a time set aside to bring attention to anti-Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transexual (LGBT) bullying, harassment and discrimination in schools. This student-led action observes the day in silence to echo the silence that LGBT and ally students face everyday. Perhaps the person who wrote the note did not intend a threat, perhaps she or he only wanted to express a personal opinion about homosexuality. Or perhaps not. Regardless, the note had the effect of threatening Gays and Lesbians on the UWT campus.

UWT is a space where diverse people come together to learn and work in community. Neither violence nor threats nor hate-speech is acceptable in such a community. As the Chancellor noted in a previous letter to the campus, "A university campus provides a safe place to explore differences and to learn about the lives of others. The principles of civil discussion and debate are fundamental to a great university and to a great society." We may have differing views of one another, but, as educators and learners, our job is to engage in responsible and respectful discussion to resolve our differences or to civilly agree to disagree. Whether or not you accept or condone Gays and Lesbians, they are people within our community - just as I am and you are. They have a right to be a part of the UWT community and to express their views, just as you and I both do. Moreover, their views deserve the same respectful consideration as do others' views in civil discussions. This is the mark of a non-violent community.

So, if you are worried about violence and your safety as a result of the horrible murders on two campuses recently, consider that your role in stopping it begins with civil discourse and standing up for those who are being silenced for fear of violence. Consider also that we are all very sensitive now, so choose your words and actions carefully. Be gentle with one another, and look out for each other. That too is the mark of a non-violent community. I hope it is the mark of our UWT community.

Sharon Parker
Assistant Chancellor for Equity and Diversity

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