Daniel Rubin: Delaware Valley College student talks of being tormented as gay

Christopher Jones , who earned a B average, hopes to transfer to Rutgers. (SARAH J. GLOVER / Staff Photographer)
Christopher Jones , who earned a B average, hopes to transfer to Rutgers. (SARAH J. GLOVER / Staff Photographer) (SARAH J. GLOVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 19, 2011

On the day a CNN anchor and an NBA exec made news for coming out, Christopher Jones stopped by to explain why he felt his school was no place to be openly gay.

Jones had chosen Delaware Valley College in Doylestown for its equine studies. He was thinking of working with horses and autistic children after graduation.

And he was unabashedly out. He'd informed his parents in a letter before his 17th birthday, a date he remembers because he's kept his father's text-message reply:

"I LOVE YOU MORE THAN ANYTHING!!! NOTHING COULD CHANGE THAT."

At college, Jones was the tall, dark-haired boy who helped found the dance team, who knew all the words to Beyonce's "Single Ladies," who dressed up with friends like Playboy bunnies for the Halloween dance.

Think of the character Kurt from Glee, only without the tiara. And, he says, without the tolerance.

Jones' problems started on Day One, in the late summer of 2009. Because of overcrowding, he was assigned to share a room with six football players.

They were still at practice when he uncoupled his bunk bed and claimed his dresser. When he extended his hand to his new roommates, they ignored him. His parents watched anxiously.

When the roommates started talking crassly about female soccer players, Jones' mother, Kim, slipped away to find an administrator. By afternoon, Jones had a different place to live.

He made friends, he says - male and female, gay and straight. But he also made enemies. Everyone dresses up at Halloween, and Jones joined three girlfriends and a guy, sporting rabbit ears and tails.

A tormentor followed him around, calling him a faggot. He threw Jones' rabbit ears across the room. The next day, when Jones approached a sympathetic administrator, she already knew what had happened at the dance. She'd already told the other student to apologize in person.

But what the tormentor told him, Jones recalls, was, "This school doesn't want any change."

Says Jones, "Clearly, I was the change."

Although Delaware Valley's policy of no tolerance for hate crimes had comforted the Jones family, more incidents came that year - name-calling, homophobic cartoons drawn on a bathroom stall.

Sophomore year, Jones served as an orientation leader and peer mentor. The football players were already on campus, and the name-calling resumed. Jones complained to security. The school investigated. One of the players confessed.

Jones says the boy was ordered to attend a diversity lecture, but the one he went to was about Tourette's syndrome.

The final straw was the Screen Incident, as the school calls it. The family calls it the Knife Incident. On Sept. 24, Jones walked by a dorm room. Again, he heard fag. He approached the screen window and asked what they'd said.

One of the students took out a knife and cut the screen. "He said, 'Here, use this.' " Jones had no idea what he meant, but was scared.

Jones didn't have to report the incident. The students in the room accused him of cutting the screen, ripping down posters. The college summoned Jones to a meeting. Administrators absolved him. But Jones felt his spirit breaking.

He went home for a few days and cried. When he decided to return, his mother was hysterical: "Every night my husband and I would go to bed praying, 'Just keep him safe at night, God.' "

Looking back, Jones is not sure why he didn't mention to the school official that he'd been called a derogatory name. When he did, nearly a month later, the school reopened the investigation. They confiscated a knife. But they couldn't conclude he'd been slurred.

The school told Jones it would send him to a gay-rights conference in Minneapolis, called "Creating a Change." Two weeks before he was to travel, he learned the school had no money for his flight.

That's when he started looking into leaving. He finished his exams last week, earning a B average for the spring, enough, he hopes, to transfer to Rutgers.

Amara Chaudhry, legal services director for the Mazzoni Center, an LGBT organization in Philadelphia, helped the Joneses.

"What happened is that Christopher was threatened with a knife while being called homophobic epithets," she said. "This was so badly handled."

School officials acknowledge that gay students face challenges around the country. Since January, the school has trained 22 staff and students in an antibias program.

I asked Jones why he drove two hours to talk about his experience. "For the next Christopher Jones," he said.

What advice would you give?

"Never forget who you are. As hard as it is, never lose yourself in the middle of all the hate."

When an anchor and a basketball exec reveal they are gay, people praise their bravery and pat themselves on the back. Yet how many people like Jones, people without any clout, are left to fight the old battles on their own?


Contact Daniel Rubin at 215-854-5917 or drubin@phillynews.com.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|