ENMU gay rights group planning demonstration

Russell Anglin

A new gay rights advocacy group at Eastern New Mexico University is planning a demonstration Friday to discourage bullying and harassment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual individuals.

Students for Equality, a chartered student organization founded by Robert Johnston, 18, a freshman political science major from Albuquerque, will participate in the National Day of Silence, an event sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

Participants take a vow of silence from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday. Half the student cafeteria is reserved for students who want to participate in a silent lunch.

The campus organization is also hosting a rally at 6:30 p.m. today at the Dallan Sanders Patio of the Campus Union Building in preparation for the day of silence.

Johnston said this is the group’s first official event since becoming a chartered campus organization in March. He said he decided the university needed a gay advocacy organization after realizing one was not already in place.

“I was speaking with friends and I learned that there was a gay/straight alliance at Eastern prior to me coming here. There was a falling out with the members and it just kind of faded away, so I thought there really needs to be some sort of advocacy group for this, so me and a few friends … we all started the organization and we’re at about 25, 30 members now,” Johnston said. “We stand for people not being judged based on their sexual preference or any kind of, just any judgment really … just accepting people for people.”

He said the group’s purpose and the point of Friday’s demonstration is promoting tolerance.

“It’s really just, regardless of whether or not you agree with somebody’s choices on being gay, straight, transsexual or whatever, it’s just to make sure that there’s no hate speech involved. You don’t have to agree but you don’t have to put somebody down,” Johnston said.

Johnston said his idea to form the organization has been met with both support and criticism.

“There are people that have told me since I started this organization that, you know, they told me ‘Stop being so gay, this is stupid, blah blah blah,’” Johnston said. “The funny thing about it is I’m not gay so I don’t understand why they would target me like that, not that that would be bad anyway.”

ENMU President Steve Gamble explained that in order to become a chartered organization, a student group needs to submit a membership form to the university. The group also needs a faculty sponsor.

In this case, education professor Jerry Everhart agreed to sponsor Students for Equality. Everhart could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Achieving chartered status means a student group can petition the Associated Students of Eastern New Mexico University for money, as well as hold meetings and functions in campus facilities for free.

Gamble said he was not aware of the Students for Equality organization, but said he considered student groups an important part of campus culture.

“Long ago, I think we realized that if we can get a student involved in a campus organization that the chances of retaining that student are greatly increased, because it gives them something outside of the classroom to relate with,” Gamble said. “We try to support our campus organizations very strongly.”