I am the Outreach Coordinator for the University of Montana's Lambda Alliance, and also the Outreach Assistant for the Student Assault Resource Center at U of M. Here in Montana, gender identity and sexual orientation are not included in hate crimes legislation. This November, there were two University related gay bashings in one weekend. One involved a gay male student attacked by a group of young men (possibly students also) while on his regular evening jog and the other was a lesbian woman who was harrassed, followed, and attacked by four women after a home football game. In light of these events, it was surprising to see how few people even within the LGBT and ally community knew that Montana Law does not consider either of these crimes to be hate crimes.
UM Lambda Alliance worked with the Western Montana Gay and Lesbian Community Center, Forward Montana, and over 30 other local organizations to put on "WE ARE MISSOULA: STAND UP, SPEAK OUT!" on 26 November 2007. The event was to kick-off an ongoing effort and committment to unifying our Missoula community, educate people as to what rights they must demand to get, and to make sure everyone knows that "Hate is not a Missoula value", as said by Missoula Mayor John Engen. **For more info about the rally, check out-- http://4and20blackbirds.wordpress.com/2007/11/29/we-are-missoula-stand-up-speak-out/
In continuing the momentum spurred by the rally, I represented UM Lambda Alliance on a panel discussion help by the UM Multicultural Alliance. While it was a small group in attendance, it was one of key stakeholders from around campus as well. We discussed violence and hate in Missoula and at our University.
I also had the National Coalition Building Institue come into a Lambda Alliance meeting and give an Ally Building Workshop. As LGBT individuals and supporters, we took a look at internalized homophobia and heterocentrism and how they affect our lives and interactions with others. It was much more difficult to listen to everyone's stories of mistreatment, violence, and hate than I could have imagined. The fact that of the 30+ young people in the room, only a handful said they had never personally been subjected to hate, breaks my heart.
I am currently working with the Student Assault Resource Center (SARC), the Lambda Alliance, the Dean of Students, Residence Life, and Public Safety here at the University of Montana in putting together an effective way of reporting hate. We are also working on social marketing campaigns to let everyone know that hate exists on so many levels--from verbal harrassment to physical violence--and not to stay silent about any of it. I am looking at working with other student organizations dealing with religion, country of origin, and ability to find ways to reach out to their members who could be subjected to hate also.
My part in We Are Missoula is at the University level. The University of Montana has no Queer Studies program, and the Lambda Alliance has had little institutional support over the years. We need to demand support not just from the University, both also from the greater Missoula community.