Homophobic incident sparks institutional conversation

Homophobic hate speech written on a desk reminds students and allies of the harsh reality of queerphobia.

Lydia Meier and sabine Benda

Content warning: details of violent, homophobic messaging

A Hamline student was shocked to find homophobic hate speech scrawled on a desk in their classroom in Klas Center earlier this month.

The class taught by Laura Dougherty, Assistant Professor for the Theatre Arts, department  was discussing the empowerment of portraying love and intimacy between same-sex partners in the play “Angels in America” when the harsh writing was found during a Nov. 3 class period. 

“As we’re having a conversation about that being a radically political act in art, somebody raised their hand, and said, ‘Laura? On the table in front of me it says…‘kill all gays’ [and] the room went still,” Dougherty said.

When it was discovered, Dougherty decided to keep the class going and together in the space, given what they were talking about. 

Since the incident, Dougherty, who teaches this introduction theatre course, has worked with Hamline administrative staff to formulate an email response to all undergraduate students.

Charlie VanGuilder, a Hamline junior in Dougherty’s class, says the class removed the message from the table after discovering it.

“It was a very shocking thing to see at a university like this where we are so inclusive and open and supportive. But when something like this happens it caused me to wonder who could’ve done this and how did it go unnoticed for so long,” VanGuilder wrote in an email to the Oracle.

Klas 208 is a room that other classes and teams also use as a space, which makes it hard to determine and investigate who is responsible or has information on the incident.   

VanGuilder, a member of Hamline Football, says his team meets in the classroom every Tuesday and Thursday. 

“I specifically remember on [Nov. 3] no one had sat there,” he said. “So it could’ve been there on Wednesday or even Tuesday night.”

The class has 23 students ranging in majors and areas of interest. Cam Fotsch is a sophomore transfer student in the class.

“As bad as it might sound, as a trans/queer person I am not new to hateful LGBTQ+ rhetoric, but it is always alarming to see something like that in a class that I love and feel totally comfortable in,” Fotsch told the Oracle in an email.

Dougherty also emphasized the frustration and pain that students felt.

“It’s the end of the semester … everybody’s tired, everybody has some assignment they’re late on, and as they struggle through their days on a gray cloudy day, the last thing they need in addition is their humanity attacked and threatened,” she said.

Dougherty was committed to continued discussion. The following week, t. aaron hans, Hamline’s Sexualities and Gender Diversity Program Director, spoke with the class. Dougherty also took steps to communicate with a wider Hamline audience.

“I called a meeting with the VP of Inclusive Excellence [David Everett], my Dean [Marcela Kostihova], the Head of Athletics [Jason Verdugo] … and said what if the response comes from us?” Dougherty said. “At least the community [will] know that there are names, and faces and people saying, we all take responsibility for this space.”

On Nov. 15, the Dean of Students office informed the undergraduate student body of the incident in an email. 

The email condemned the message as a “generalized homophobic threat,” expressed support for Hamline’s LGBTQIA+ community, included resources and emphasized a commitment to inclusivity. An administrative investigation was unable to determine a perpetrator. 

“Language has weight, language is action, language holds meaning. This threatening act has no place at Hamline and is not a reflection of the community we choose or want to be,” the email read. 

It was signed by the HUSC Executive Committee, Dougherty, Everett, hans, Verdugo and Dean of Students Patti Kersten.

“If we make enough noise… people who want to say those things, and feel those things won’t feel at home here,” Dougherty said. “If you are spewing hate and threatening the lives of other people… even if it’s one person among us, that represents all of us, and we need to let people know that’s not who we are.” 

Fotsch appreciates how the incident was handled, especially in the harsh reality of a world where queerphobia still exists. 

“It’s hard to deal with queerphobia in a school that prides itself on acceptance (or anywhere for that matter), but I am glad to know that this incident was not disregarded but listened to by faculty. Overall I am confident that the staff here is supportive and embracing – I just think some students haven’t quite gotten the memo,” Fotsch said.


Additional resources both on and off campus are:

Sexualities & Gender Diversity Programs at Hamline – call or email t. aaron hans at 651-523-2380, tahans@hamline.edu

Hamline Counseling and Health Services – 651-523-2204, counselinghealth@hamline.edu

Outfront MN – www.outfront.org

Trevor Project – www.trevor.org

Trans Lifeline – translifeline.org, (877) 565-8860