Northeastern Illinois University students Robin Matthies, 26, and Anne Mothkovich, 24, didn't expect the planning of the school's Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Alliance's (GLBA) 2003 Coming Out Ball to be such a big deal. After all, 2002's ball was, according to Matthies, 'one of the most successful evening events' in the history of the school. Having enjoyed such success with only two weeks to advertise the 2002 party, Matthies, president of the group, and Mothkovich, its secretary, figured that several months of advertising this time around would result in even larger crowds for the 2003 edition.
But the women didn't count on running into what they say was the opposition of Gary Gaspard, Northeastern's student body president, whom Matthies and Mothkovich claim vowed to singlehandedly stop the event from taking place. And even though the GLBA won its internal battle with Northeastern's student government and will sponsor the 2003 Coming Out Ball on Oct. 10, the women allege that Gaspard agreed to approve the event after he was 'strongly urged' by both the Dean of Students and the Director of Student Affairs to drop his vociferous opposition.
'Aside from the Women's Studies department and the Sociology department, Northeastern is really not that gay and lesbian friendly,' says Matthies. 'I wish it was safer here.'
The women told Windy City Times that after the Northeastern GLBA followed standard university procedures for approval of the Coming Out Ball, including the presentation of a detailed budget to a committee of student governors who then vote to approve or deny the event, Gaspard reportedly stated publicly that he and his supporters on the student government 'had a right to be biased' against the event, and that he would personally veto the proposed budget for the Ball—thereby killing the event—even if the other student governors voted to pass it.
Matthies told Windy City Times that when she took Gaspard aside to attempt to reason with him, he backed off his original contention that the event's budget was too high by reportedly stating, 'My friends (on the student government) voted a certain way, and I have to talk to them before I decide what to do.'
Matthies and Mothkovich claim that Gaspard blamed Northeastern's Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance (which has close ties to the GLBA) for his failure to win the 2002-2003 student body presidency, the election results of which were allegedly challenged by Gaspard.
According to Matthies, Anthony Jenkins, Northeastern's Dean of Students, reportedly acknowledged in conversation with her that Gaspard's feelings toward Northeastern's Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance may have played a role in his reportedly vehement stand against the 2003 Coming Out Ball. Ultimately, the women claim, Gaspard was reportedly counseled by Northeastern faculty and staff not to block the 2003 Coming Out Ball, and he subsequently dropped his opposition to the event 'without explanation,' according to Matthies.
But reached by telephone, Gary Gaspard denied the allegations made by Matthies and Mothkovich. Gaspard told Windy City Times that his only concern with the 2003 Coming Out Ball was the cost of the food, which he thought to be excessive. He denied that he ever threatened to veto the event, claiming that all he asked for was additional time to review the budget request more thoroughly.
'We only had 10 minutes to look it over (at the Finance Committee meeting), and I wanted to better understand what the GLBA wanted to do with the funds they requested.' Gaspard, who is Asian, says that he is 'insulted' by allegations that he is homophobic. Said Gaspard, 'I am a minority—I know what it's like to be discriminated against. During my presidency in 2001-2002, my cabinet approved a $7,000 budget to bring Holly Near to the university. I have a good track record of working with the FMLA and GLBA, and anyone who has worked with me knows that.'
Gaspard also categorically denied that Dean Jenkins, or any other member of Northeastern's administration, spoke with him about the 2003 Coming Out Ball.
Ultimately, Northeastern University will have its 2003 Coming Out Ball. Still, Matthies and Mothkovich appear to have a long way to go in creating safe space for GLBT students at Northeastern. Last week, Mothkovich—who has been receiving anonymous anti-GLBT hate mail for some time—discovered a poster outside the offices of the GLBA. It read: 'Beware all new and old students—the queers are recruiting.' When she and her faculty advisors brought the poster to the attention of the university's office of public safety, the officer on duty allegedly said, 'What do you expect me to do about this?'
Northeastern Illinois University's 'Coming Out Ball' will be held Oct. 10, 8 p.m. till 1 a.m., $8 for all area high school and college students with a school ID and $10 for other community members. Northeastern students get in free. All proceeds will benefit the Lesbian Community Cancer Project and Test Positive Aware Network. For more information about the 'Coming Out Ball' go to www.neiu.edu/~glba. Northeastern Illinois University is located at 5500 N. St. Louis Ave., Chicago. If you would like to make a donation for the blind auction please contact Anne Mothkovich at (773) 442-4550.