Last Friday, someone left a threatening note under the door of the school's LGBT Center. And, the day before, anti-gay graffiti was found on a wall by the center.
It's gratifying that so many students expressed their outrage or disgust at these incidents, just as others expressed concern in October after some students attending a meeting in the Center found a note that read, "You will feel the wrath of Allah/ Your thoughts are immoral/ homosexuality is a sin/ Allah says you must pay."
I don't want to imply that the students who spoke up against the expressions of bigotry, or the expressions of bigotry themselves, represent prevalent attitudes at Montclair State University. However, I must say that, as much as I'm on the side of the students who denounced the bigotry, I also realize that such bigotry will always exist, even if only in a few people, on most campuses.
While Montclair has its contingent of "non-traditional" students, most of its students go there immediately, or within a couple of years, after graduating high school. And it's traditionally been a school in which most of the students live on campus.
What that means is that there are lots of 18-to-22-year old males living on campus, and others who share off-campus housing. While some see their horizons broadened through exposure to people unlike any they knew in high school, others are out to prove that their thing is bigger than the other guy's. And, among those young men are undoubtedly some who are wrestling with their sexuality or gender identity--and, perhaps more important, their place in the world as young men.
You might say that the same is true of high school boys. You'd be right about that. However, the key difference is that at most high schools, students don't live on campus. Some might hang out together after school, but that is not the same as sharing a living space, bathrooms, common recreation areas and meals. You might think of them as families in which nobody is quite an adult.
In such an environment, some young men will hypermasculinize themselves. They engage in things like beard-growing contests, binge drinking and all sorts of other mindless stunts. And, unfortunately, their attempts to prove their manhood will result in some of them committing violence--sometimes sexual, and sometimes against female students.
In such an atmosphere, in which a cariacture of masculinity is aspired to and worshipped, one is bound to find homophobia and transphobia (particularly against male-to-female transgenders). Their antipathy toward gays has nothing to do with religious sentiment, even though they may cloak it in actual or imagined mandates from God, Allah or whatever deity-of-choice.
Among such young men are at least a few who have some inkling that they're not quite heterosexual or cisgendered. And we all know that few people "overcompensate" more than those who are in the closet.
So...As much as I admire and respect those students who denounced those expressions of bigotry, and as much as I support those who educate and advocate for greater acceptance of LGBT people, I realize that it's probably not possible to rid any campus of homophobia or transphobia--at least as long as so many young men in late adolescence are cooped up together.