After an alleged gay-bashing incident at the SUNY Stony Brook Student Union on the eve of the anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s murder, Army recruiters have been temporarily kicked off campus pending an investigation.
The Oct. 12 incident, according to members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Alliance, began after the group and Army recruiters set up adjacent tables in the Union. An 18-year-old freshman manning the Gay Alliance table contends that two uniformed Army recruiters muttered “freak,” “faggot” and “AIDS-infected bastard” without making eye contact with him. The remarks, says the freshman, were easily audible because the tables were side by side.
The student says he was studying when he heard the first comment and ignored it. Then, he says, came a second, a third and a fourth. “I did not even whisper a word to them,” he says. “I was terrified of them.”
The freshman, who talked with the Long Island Voice only after being assured he wouldn’t be identified, says, “The last comment was when I coughed.” He says one of the recruiters said, “Maybe you shouldn’t have swallowed all that cum last night.”
Stony Brook spokesman Patrick Calabria confirmed shortly after the alleged incident that a harassment complaint was filed with university officials. “There will be no recruiting on campus by the Army,” Calabria said at the time, “until we have the meeting face to face [with the Army] and find out what happened.”
A meeting did take place on Oct. 25, says Calabria, who adds that school officials plan to look for “additional information about the complaint, including potential eyewitness accounts.”
Army spokesman Maj. Gregory T. Nell, a battalion executive officer, refuses to name the recruiters allegedly involved in the incident. “The issue will be resolved between us and the university,” Nell says, adding, “Our soldiers are very professional, and they always act in a professional manner.”
Not according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a national watchdog group that tracks gay-bashing in the military. The group says the Army ranks second, just behind the Navy, in the number of complaints filed against it for alleged gay-bashing. Last year, says C. Dixon Osburn, an official of the network, 122 of the 400 such complaints filed were leveled against Army personnel.
Osburn points out that the targets of the gay bashing aren’t necessarily gay. Rather, he says, some are taunted with sexual epithets, harassed or even become victims of death threats whether or not they’re gay. He adds that gay bashing generally exists only where commanders tolerate it. In places where commanders put the word out in no uncertain terms that it won’t be tolerated, he says, the number of reported incidents is lower.
The Army can discipline gay-bashing soldiers with letters of reprimand, reduction in rank or financial fines or, in serious cases, administrative discharges.
But Stony Brook has to step carefully through this minefield of investigating the alleged incident. Under the federal Solomon Amendment, it could face the loss of federal funding, including student aid, if it bans Army recruiters from campus.
Calabria declines to address that issue, saying, “I wouldn’t presume to answer that until we know that there’s an action needs to be taken.” The Army, he insists, is working “cooperatively” with the university on the investigation, with a follow-up meeting scheduled for the week of Nov. 15. The temporary ban, however, remains in effect, he says.