Molly Ouelette is an outgoing freshman at Rocky Mountain College with a sincere smile and a wide circle of friends.
But last November just as she was adjusting to college life, she walked out to her car in a school parking lot to discover a sharp reminder that not everyone is as tolerant and friendly as she is. Someone had scratched the word “dyke” into her car.
“I felt so vulnerable,” Ouelette said. “I was really distraught. I went to the Dean of Students and said, ‘What should I do?’ ”
Ouelette was suddenly thrust into the role of the victim of a hate crime in her own hometown.
The campus that she originally found so welcoming suddenly felt intolerant. After Ouelette reported the vandalism to the police department and campus security, Ouelette met with RMC Chaplain Kim Woeste.
Out of that meeting, a new chapter of the Gay Straight Alliance was formed at Rocky.
The organization has been active on and off at Rocky for years, but it was not active in the fall when the incident occurred.
A few close friends, including Minnesota native Tiffany Klemmack, who co-founded the group, and Alonzo Marquez, a freshman from Billings, began to spread the word on campus.
Now, 15 participants meet on Fridays at 1 p.m. in the Rocky chapel, which is the basement of the Bair Student Center.
At a recent meeting, five men and three women sat in a circle with Woeste and Rocky’s campus counselor Cynthia Hutchinson. Several members of the group are straight and come in support of their gay friends.
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“This is an open group where students can come and not be judged,” Hutchinson said.
Ouelette believes having her car keyed on campus was an isolated incident by one narrow-minded person, but she appreciates the positive response from RMC.
GSA was invited to host a booth in the student center as part of the Stand Up Rocky social awareness campaign.
“A lot of it is getting your message out there, preaching a message of acceptance,” Ouelette said.”You can’t just sit in the shadows.”
Some members of the GSA, who moved to Billings from rural areas of Montana, said such a support group would have helped boost their self-confidence, but that their communities are too conservative to support one. They believed that in college, other students would be more tolerant.
Woeste said it’s scary for students who decide to come out and tell their parents and friends that they are gay. The fear of being bullied or being a victim of a hate crime is still there. That’s why it is so important to have access to a support group like GSA, one student said.
“Laramie wasn’t that long ago or far away. There is still that fear,” one student said, referring to the beating death of gay student Matthew Shepard in Laramie in 1998.
As a result of the formation of GSA and information on hate crimes, the student population at Rocky has rallied for greater tolerance.
“There was a response that we will not tolerate this at Rocky,” Hutchinson said.