UPDATED: Includes new information from LGBTSS Director Anthony Garrison-Engbrecht and clarification about the BIRT meeting addressed in the previous version of this article.
Three student workers from the LGBT Student Services office were engaged in a verbal altercation with an LMU employee from the Alumni Relations office between 9 a.m and 12 p.m. on Palm Walk near the Von der Ahe building on Thursday, April 14, according to a Gender-Sexuality Alliance press release.
Senior biology major Catalina Ibarra and senior business majors Kaii Blanton and Cosette Carleo noticed that signs put up for Rainbow Week, or LGBTQ+ Awareness Week, by LGBT Student Services (LGBTSS) had been removed and placed behind a garbage can, according to Carleo.
As Blaton, Carleo and Ibarra attempted to replace the signs, an employee from the Alumni Relations office, whose name has not yet been made available to the public, allegedly approached the students about LGBTQ+ issues and voiced opinions on differing sexualities, expressing that anti-LGBTQ+ signs should be put up in place of the students’ signs. The employee also referred to one of the students as a man, even though that student had informed the employee that they identify as gender neutral, according to Carleo.
As of Tuesday April 19, multiple attempts were made to contact the employee in question, through the Alumni Relations office, email, phone and a social media account appearing to belong to the employee. At the time of print production on Tuesday, no responses were received.
The Bias Incident Response Team (BIRT) met and released a statement on April 15, notifying the LMU community that BIRT, along with Public Safety and the Los Angeles Police Department, is looking into the events of April 14 as reported by the three students. BIRT also clarified that the investigation will continue as two separate incidents, the first being the removal of the LGBT signs and the second being the employee and students’ confrontation.
“The University stands behind its statement of non-discrimination, which prohibits unwelcome, harassing conduct on the basis of several classifications, including gender identity and sexual orientation.” said John Kiralla, the executive director of marketing and communications and BIRT member, on April 14, before BIRT had met.
ASLMU responded to the incident through social media, encouraging the LMU community to treat each other with respect. ASLMU is still looking into the events that took place last Thursday.
“I’ve really only experienced love and acceptance upon coming out to new people, but this lady told me that I was wrong and unnatural. That shook me to my core,” Carleo said.
Anthony Garrison-Engbrecht, director of leadership programs and LGBTSS, responded to the alleged events on April 14 via phone call.
We are going to do everything we can to investigate and respond appropriately to the actions. I feel whenever there is a trust broken by our community we have to try to restore that. Some of that is by dialogue and some of that is by healing.”
In the original statement given by the Gender-Sexuality Alliance (GSA), they claimed that LGBTSS was not funded by the University.
The GSA press release asserted that LMU has created an unsafe environment for LGBTQ+ and minority students.
LGBTSS and Carleo hosted a community discussion on Friday in the Bird’s Nest. The focus of the community gathering was on the issues LGBTQ+ students face in schools and how students felt about the reported incident the day before. They also began the early stages of planning for solidarity events in conjunction with other departments. LGBTSS held an academic dialogue on Monday with a workshop on harmful language.
Two upcoming events were planned in response to the incident. Students will be holding a silent protest on the UHall bridge Wednesday, April 20, at 11:45 a.m. LGBTSS and the Theology Department will also be hosting an interfaith panel discussion on the different religious views of the LGBTQ+ community and diversity on Friday. The time for the panel is to be determined.