Police: Gay Colo. College Student Body President Faked Hate Crimes
The openly gay student body president of a college in Durango, Colorado, has been accused of falsifying reports of anti-gay harassment to police.
Fort Lewis College student Alray Nelson stepped down from his post as student body president just prior to being placed under arrest on suspicion of filing false reports, local newspaper the Durango Herald reported on Nov. 17.
Alray had made several claims, including that he had received threatening e-mails and notes, and that he had been drugged. "During the course of our investigation, we determined that these incidents did not occur, and there is evidence to believe that Alray filed false reports with multiple law-enforcement agencies," said Durango PD Det. Alex Hutchison.
"The feeling on campus is one of deep disappointment. There were a lot of people who have very high hopes for president Nelson," said college spokesperson Mitch Davis.
Nelson, a Navajo, was the college’s second American Indian student president. He was active in GLBT equality causes.
The Durango Herald said that police had stepped up patrols in the vicinity of Nelson’s home after the reports were filed. "The Durango Police Department investigates all bias-motivated crimes very seriously," Hutchinson told the media.
In October, Nelson was the subject of messages posted at the Durango Herald’s online site, the article said. The messages demanded Nelson’s impeachment and attacked him on the basis of his sexuality and his race, an Oct. 20 Durango Herald article said. The college community rallied around Nelson, and the city’s mayor, Michael Rendon, took the newspaper to task for the comments, saying, "There’s a fine line between freedom of speech and hate speech." The comments were deleted on the same day they were posted.
The online attacks against Nelson were not dissimilar to those posted by a former Mich. assistant attorney general, Andrew Shirvell, calling for the resignation or impeachment of openly gay University of Michigan student body president Chris Armstrong. Shirvell accused Armstrong of being a racist, hosting orgies, and seeking to "recruit" heterosexual fellow students into a gay "lifestyle."
Shirvell’s harassment of Armstrong spilled out of the online realm and into the real world when Shirvell began to appear at university functions where Armstrong was present. On at least one occasion, Shirvell took video footage of Armstrong’s home. Shirvell eventually lost his job.
Although talk radio hosts and religious conservatives frequently lambast colleges and universities as hotbeds of liberalism, the picture painted by a recently released report on the experiences of GLBT college students is starkly different. As reported in a Sept. 27 EDGE article, "The 2010 State of Higher Education for LGBT People reports on the experiences of nearly 6,000 students, faculty, staff and administrators in all 50 states. It shows significant harassment of students and a lack of safety and inclusiveness, even among those supposedly "welcoming" institutions."
Added the EDGE article, "The survey’s key findings included these shocking statistics:
• A quarter of respondents reported experiencing harassment. More than 80 percent of those said sexual orientation was the reason.
• Just under 40 percent of transgender respondents reported harassment and 87 percent of them blamed their gender identity or expression.
• A third of those surveyed have seriously considered leaving their institution because of the challenging climate.
• More than half said they hide their sexual or gender identity to avoid intimidation.
• More than a third reported they fear for their physical safety.
"LGBT people of color suffer a double whammy," the article added. "They are significantly less likely to feel comfortable on campus because of racism and homophobia."
"National research has consistently shown that LGBT youth in kindergarten through high school encounter alarming rates of harassment, discrimination and bullying. There has never been a comprehensive national study to document what happens when these youth go to college until now," Shane Windmeyer, Executive Director of Campus Pride, told GLBT publication Bay Windows.
The report’s lead author, Sue Rankin, told the media, "Unequivocally, The 2010 State of Higher Education for LGBT People demonstrates that LGBTQQ students, faculty and staff experience a ’chilly’ campus climate of harassment and far less than welcoming campus communities.
"This comprehensive report provides substantive research and the necessary recommendations to assist administrators, educators, advocates, activists, student leaders and elected officials in making university and college campuses safer and more accepting for all of its community members."
Alray Nelson is due in court to answer to misdemeanor charges next month. The college has taken no disciplinary action against him as yet.