Two sophomores in Jonathan Edwards College apologized to the board of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Co-op Friday for sending out a campus-wide e-mail that included ostensibly homophobic content during last month’s National Coming Out Day.
Matthew Brimer ’09 and Will Wilson ’09 — who identifies himself as bisexual — met with Co-op members, Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg, JE Master Gary Haller and JE Dean Kyle Farley. The two students said the e-mail was meant to be humorous, not offensive, and LGBT leaders said they appreciated the opportunity to confront the senders.
Brimer said he and Wilson included outlandish statements in the e-mail to try to make their playful intent obvious. Wilson said they regret that some students took the message personally.
“We do feel really bad that the e-mail was taken the way it was and that a lot of people were hurt,” Wilson said. “[And] we do stand by the fact that the e-mail was not intended to harm or offend anybody.”
At Farley’s suggestion, Brimer and Wilson requested a meeting with the Co-op board in order to apologize and address board members’ fears that the e-mail was an example of hate speech targeting gay students, Brimer said.
Co-op Coordinator Anna Wipfler ’09 said board members shared their personal reactions to the e-mail with Brimer and Wilson at the meeting. Co-op members said they were upset that the e-mail and related flyers that the pair posted around campus put a damper on the National Coming Out Day activities.
Wipfler said she thinks the meeting helped each side understand the other’s point of view.
“All I had hoped for from the meeting was to meet these people and understand where they were coming from and share with them the effects that they had on us,” Wipfler said. “It was a really respectful meeting and a really positive two hour-long discussion.”
But Kevin Davis ’08 said he thinks the impersonal and anonymous nature of the e-mail made it difficult to take as a joke.
“When those kinds of jokes are being made with other gay people or other friends who are clearly not homophobic, then they are not offensive,” Davis said. “I’m not a big fan of that kind of humor, but I guess that is a context when it wouldn’t be offensive.”
The e-mail, sent on Oct. 11, was signed by the National Organization to Gain Acceptance for Your Sins, or N.O.G.A.Y.S., and condemned homosexuality as a sin. Last week, Yale College Assistant Dean Jill Cutler said the student from whose account the message was sent will be sent to the Yale College Executive Committee — the top disciplinary body for undergraduates — for violating the Undergraduate Regulations by sending a campus-wide e-mail. The student was referred to ExComm by Information Technology Services, not by the Dean’s Office, Cutler said.
Brimer — who will appear before ExComm — said he thinks his case was referred to the Committee for reasons beyond a violation of Undergraduate Regulations.
“We all know [unauthorized mass] e-mails are sent out all the time,” he said. “I guess the reason that this particular case went through was due to the nature of the e-mail itself.”
Wilson said he does not know whether he will also be referred to ExComm, but he thinks it is unfair for the University to single out Brimer for sending a campus-wide e-mail since other student groups do so frequently and are not punished.
Trachtenberg said she will not be involved in further discussions between the JE students and the LGBT Co-op. Brimer, Wilson and other students who may have been involved in writing the e-mail and posters will not be punished by JE administrators, Haller said.
The JE master said that although Brimer and Wilson are members of “The Men of JE” — a society that organizes acts of mischief — others who may have assisted the senders are not in the group, and the society takes no responsibility for the e-mail or posters.