Gay faculty form group to support, encourage others in community

Ben Burke

In the wake of Iowa State’s Awareness Days 2000, a faculty support organization for homosexual faculty has reformed.

The IMRU group, aimed at ISU faculty, graduate students, nontraditional students and the Ames community, has recently reorganized after a hiatus.

John Chapman, organizer of IMRU, said he wants the group to be an informal way for people to meet.

“We’re going to keep this as a no-pressure social group. We want the gatherings to be a chance to get out and meet people in the community,” he said.

Some faculty members have differing opinions about the climate at Iowa State for LGBT faculty members.

Jackie Blount, associate professor of curriculum and instruction, said she feels accepted by her co-workers.

“I think I’m in an unusually good position,” she said. “My department and colleagues always welcome my partner and me to all department events and social gatherings.”

However, Blount said this positive environment is not always the case.

“In some departments, there is a bad climate, and many will not risk stepping forward,” she said. “Some people are having a terrible time and experience extreme emotional stress. They are overtly harassed by their colleagues. They feel so at risk they completely withdraw.”

A discriminatory climate at Iowa State was charged in 1995 when Roy Higginson, former professor of English and faculty adviser to GLSO (Gay and Lesbian Student Organization), filed a lawsuit against the Department of English for homophobia when he was denied tenure.

Higginson won the lawsuit and was rewarded $325,000.

“The case occurred at the end of October and early November; I was on the witness stand for six hours,” said Higginson, who has since moved to California. “I wouldn’t have filed the lawsuit if I didn’t feel the need.”

Paul Tanaka, director of University Legal Services, said the university maintains there was no wrongdoing on its part.

“The university believes the decision in the case was unfortunate, and they do not believe any discrimination occurred,” he said.

Faye Whitaker, assistant provost at Iowa State, said she thinks the ISU administration is open and affirming to LGBT faculty and staff.

“I think that if an individual decided to be open about themselves, they would be disappointed or happy because there would be no reaction,” she said. “Their co-workers would congratulate them on their ability to be open about who they are.”

Andrew Bock, library assistant at Parks Library, said the campus has remained the same in relation to LGBT issues for faculty and staff.

“Things have not really changed in the past 10 years I have been here,” he said. “I have always been open about who I am and assumed everyone knew. I expect respect, and I receive it — although I have received a few odd comments in the past.”

While Bock said he feels comfortable in his position, he acknowledged that others may not.

“Other merit employees I know have received bad comments from their co-workers,” he said.

However, Bock said he experiences discrimination in a way other than verbal comments at Iowa State.

“My partner and I both work for the university, but we do not get partner benefits,” he said. “We have to pay the full rate for insurance. We can receive nothing more than rates for a single employee.”

While some said negative conditions exist at Iowa State for LGBT faculty and staff, Jeff Sorensen, systems analyst at the ISU Computation Center and staff adviser for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Ally Alliance, said he has had a positive employment experience at Iowa State.

“Not only have my supervisors been open and accepting, they have been affirming and shown an interest in LGBTA issues and activities,” he said.

But Sorensen said as a whole, there are mixed feelings by LGBT faculty and staff on the ISU campus about how tolerant university officials are.

“Not everyone is as lucky; some people will not come out in fear as it can affect chances for tenure,” he said. “I really believe that it’s the upper levels in each department that sets the tone for its members.”

Sorensen said support from other faculty members is very important to LGBT faculty.

“It comes down to whether or not staff and faculty are willing to take a chance. It could be bad in a department with a homophobic dean,” he said. “It is very important for allies to support their LGBT co-workers because they are in a safer position to speak out.”

Currently, IMRU is the only faculty organization aimed specifically for LGBT individuals. Chapman said IMRU can have a positive effect on people who are otherwise afraid to be open about who they are.

“This group is something that can help people to deal with who they are,” he said. “Perhaps now, they won’t have to put so much energy into thinking bad things and thoughts about something that is completely normal.”