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Gay Morgan student says fraternity case left him 'broken,' yet stronger

When Brian Stewart accused a local fraternity chapter at Morgan State University of discriminating against him for being gay late last year, the university stressed its commitment to diversity and began investigating.

The two results, Stewart said this week, were that the Alpha Iota chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi was placed on probation for breaking university discrimination policies, and Stewart became an even bigger target of harassment on the school's Baltimore campus.

"I had figures — hidden by the shadows of a campus residence hall and the night sky -- yell threats to me intentionally calling me a [gay slur] as I walked to my car one night," Stewart wrote Tuesday in an online essay, his first extended comments on the matter since filing the complaint in October. "I didn't feel safe anymore. The place I called home for the past four years, the institution that I loved and 'bled orange and blue' for, wasn't safe for me and wasn't a place I could call home anymore."

In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, the 21-year-old Annapolis native said the discrimination case and the threats he began receiving as a result completely changed his life -- leaving him depressed, unable to eat and failing academically. But they also allowed him to refocus on what he wanted out of life, he said, and inspired him to leave Baltimore for a semester to escape tensions on campus.

Stewart, a former White House intern, said he wrote the online essay because he is finally in a good place again after participating in a Semester at Sea program that allowed him to clear his head and think clearly about the discrimination case for the first time since news of it broke nationally and he started taking intense heat for it.

"I really left the situation in the Pacific Ocean," he said. "That's when I really let go and moved on."

After being on the study abroad program's cruise ship, which traveled to 12 countries and had a gay-inclusive culture on board, Stewart said he feels better about returning to Morgan for another year to finish out his undergraduate career. He is now considering going to graduate school to study public policy with a concentration in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender studies, and is thinking of pursuing a career in academia making college campuses around the country more accepting of LGBT students.

After all, he's somewhat of a "subject matter expert" now who could relate to other students facing problems, he said.

Stewart first brought his discrimination claim against the Alpha Iota chapter -- members of which could not be reached for comment -- in October, citing as proof social-media posts between fraternity members that allegedly used gay slurs in discussing Stewart's application to join the brotherhood.

News of a university investigation into the claim broke in The Baltimore Sun and other local media, and the story went national. It also began rapidly circulating around campus, Stewart said.

In December, the university announced a disciplinary panel had determined Alpha Iota had violated university policies on discrimination, and placed the fraternity on probation through the fall of 2015. Among the conditions of the probation were that the chapter could not participate in events on campus or host its own events on or off campus.

Calls and emails to the fraternity this week were not returned.

Some students at the time organized campus-wide discussions about discrimination against gay people, and the university said it was taking the situation seriously.

Still, Stewart says he was left adrift, increasingly feeling targeted by other students who were angry about his complaint.

He began not eating, dropping weight and thinking about committing suicide, he wrote in his online essay. People shouted slurs at him and posted derogatory comments on social media. The threats got so aggressive, he said, that mentors advised him to adopt a new schedule and avoid walking on campus alone.

"I developed a buddy system with friends walking to and from class," Stewart wrote. Being on campus made him nervous, especially at night, and his grades began to suffer. By the end of the term, he had failed three classes, he said.

Stewart even received threatening messages from off campus, he wrote, including in letters from prisoners at local correctional institutions who had read about his story.

Today, Stewart said he is "doing better" thanks to his semester abroad, counseling and generally coming to terms with himself. In addition to the hatred he's experienced, he's also received lots of support, he said.

Still, there are issues that remain, he said.

Stewart calls out university officials in his essay for not doing more to address inequality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students on the Morgan State campus, and complains the school's Office of Diversity & Equal Employment Opportunity has still not produced findings in its own investigation of the discrimination he alleged.

Stewart wrote that the school has also sent the "wrong message" with its response to his case by allowing Alpha Iota members to continue participating in campus events in violation of the fraternity's probation but with no repercussions.

"We do not have a campus environment that is free from discrimination, and students who attend the University are not shy from sharing this," Stewart wrote. "Are we moving in the right direction? Perhaps, but likely because the University has been under the public spotlight due to my complaint."

Clinton Coleman, a university spokesman, confirmed the Office of Diversity investigation is still ongoing, and said staff turnover in the office has unfortunately slowed the process.

Coleman said Alpha Iota held one forum on "diversity and inclusion" on the campus as part of their probation, but the university is not aware of any other events held by the group.

Coleman otherwise declined to comment on Stewart's essay and his claims of additional harassment.

The university said in December that three students in the fraternity also faced judicial review in the case, but has not said what discipline, if any, the individual students received.

Stewart said at this point, he doesn't care if the fraternity or its members are disciplined further. He just wants a clearer message to be sent by the university that discrimination against LGBT students is unacceptable.

"It's not about the fraternity," he said. "It's about what's right on campus and on campuses nationwide."

 

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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