by Joe Schwartz
It would have been easy for the UNC queer community to be angry with first-year student Quinn Matney.
He’d just put them through a roller-coaster week, first claiming to be the victim of an on-campus branding April 4 because of his sexual orientation and later admitting to police that his wounds were self-inflicted.
UNC Department of Public Safety investigators charged Matney on Friday with filing a false police report. He surrendered voluntarily and was released. He will appear in Orange County Court on May 16.
Earlier that week, allies had taken to the airwaves with declarative statements about campus safety and expressed outrage that an attack could happen on campus. They felt attacked at first, then confused, shocked and left wondering.
But on Thursday night at a meeting sponsored by the UNC Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Straight Alliance, the Gardner Hall room was full of love, not anger.
“My first priority is making sure he know that the time is right for him to come back here, he will be welcomed with open arms."
The event provided both the closure and comfort the community desperately craved after the tumultuous week.
“There is some good to be found in any situation if you navigate it thoughtfully and carefully,” DeLuca said to open the event.
“Tonight, we begin to heal.”
Campus and town leaders joined DeLuca during a panel discussion on the incident that 100 people attended.
The wide-reaching conversation covered the timeline of events this week, the fact that hate crimes do occur, the ways to address them and the state of inclusion on campus.
Assistant Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Winston Crisp made clear that Matney’s false accusation shouldn’t deter future survivors from coming forward.
“You come in the door and you tell us something has happened, we are going to believe you,” Crisp assured.
“People should not take this incident as any kind of indication that if you come forward with something that you are not going to be taken seriously.”
Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, who is gay and who served in Student Congress while attending UNC’s School of Law, comforted students by saying that just because he’s “mayor of the greatest town in America” he isn’t immune to slights and harmful words on his sexual orientation. He said he felt personally attacked when he learned of the assault that Matney reported.
“I felt hurt by it, and I want you to know that if you felt that way, that's OK, and that is not a reason to give up,” he said. “We have to keep being aggressive about our rightful place to be in our community because we deserve it, damn it.”
He offered his help to students, noting that the Mayor’s Office is a comfortable place where everyone is both gay and named Mark.
“We are there to be servants. … I have put myself out there to be exploited, and I want you all to come up
with some creative ways to do that,” Kleinschmidt said.
“That means however you feel that I can be of use to you in advancing you agendas, you just tell me where you want me to be, what you need me to say, where to stand. It’s really the reason I do what I do. Put me in your little toolbox and pull me out anytime you need.”
DeLuca said that he remains concerned about campus reporting policies and questioned why it took one week for news of Matney’s reported assault to reach the students, faculty and staff.
Crisp admitted that the Alert Carolina system, put in place in the wake of the 2007 Virginia Tech tragedy, hasn’t adequately taken into account the immediacy of Twitter, making news more immediate, but often not as accurate.
“That increases the need for us to say something officially as soon as possible,” Crisp said.
He said there are three stages for alerts:
—Stage one: the immediate threat, in which an alarm is sounded. This is most commonly a campus shooter;
—Stage two: a string of campus burglaries, for instance, which should warrant e-mail communications:
—Stage three: a threat that has been abated, during which the campus should be informed that an assailant has been captured.
He said the system failed in this instance and that a level-two notification should have been sent as soon at Matney filed charges April 5.
"I think frankly we didn't get that right," he said.
The conversation also focused on mental health.
LGBTQ Center Director Terri Phoenix reminded the community of the many available resources for those struggling and those wishing to comfort them including Safe Zone Training and peer support groups: the Q Group, Trans Talk Tuesdays. She said that “micro-aggressions,” which feel like “a thousand little needle pricks” can often be more damaging than physical assaults.
The most controversial moment of the forum came when sophomore Andrew Heil asked Crisp if he would waive the charges against Matney, if given the power. Heil argued that it would be a “sign of solidarity” and “good faith.”
Crisp said he was sympathetic, but he still believes the police action should move forward.
“It’s not a simple question,” Crisp said. “I know this young man (Matney) personally, I have for quite some time, and I’m fond of him. I have a lot of sympathy for what he is going through. I’m not angry. Sometimes you get yourself into situations and the snowball starts rolling and there you go. At the same time, I think I’m going to struggle with the idea of there not being consequences for what happened.”
Heil says the university could stress the importance of not filling false police reports while at the same time realizing that Matney was struggling with a mental health issue and felt more comfortable alleging that a hate crime than admitting that he burned himself.
That sentiment seemed to carry the day, with students mainly concerned about Matney’s mental state and how to create a safe environment rather than expressing disappointment or misgivings about how the story unfolded.
"Tonight the community spirit of support was really the predominant feeling and intention and that makes me proud to be part of this community," said Danny DePuy, assistant director of the LGBTQ Office.