[img id="80115" align="alignleft"] The Student Government (SG) College Council (CC) narrowly failed to impeach former security committee chair and third-year Kyle Lee during an unprecedented meeting Thursday evening, in response to an allegedly homophobic e-mail sent to another CC member.
The movement to impeach garnered eight votes, more than half of the council but two votes shy of the two-thirds majority needed for the removal of a Council member.
A motion to censure Lee was tabled, and discussions will continue over the listhost in the next few days, SG officials said.
The controversy stemmed from a discussion over plans for SG to sponsor a blood drive, which Lee was intended to organize.
Third-year Ryan Kaminski, a CC member, declared in a message to the SG listhost that he would not participate in the blood drive because in his opinion, restrictions on blood donation by men who have engaged in homosexual sex or persons who have visited certain African nations constituted “inherent structural racism and heterosexism.”
Lee took objection to Kaminski’s characterization of the guidelines, arguing to the listhost that there were “specific, biological reasons for the restrictions that are independent from any political agenda.” When Kaminski reasserted his belief that the guidelines were heterosexist, Lee responded in a personal e-mail titled, “You’re An Idiot.”
“I don't know why I was surprised to read your e-mails about discrimination. It makes perfect sense. Are you yourself prohibited from giving blood? And I don't mean because you traveled to Africa,” Lee wrote in the e-mail. “If you have personal reservations about the United States blood supply and how it is collected, I suggest that you crusade on your own time. The College Council agreed to do a blood drive this quarter and unless we’ll be sponsoring the ‘Chicago Homosexual Blood Bank,’ there are going to be restrictions on blood donation from certain groups. In many cases, this is due to the latency (there’s a big, scary scientific word for you) of the HIV virus and the error rate in detecting it in all samples.”
Kaminski forwarded the e-mail to the Executive Slate; Sharlene Holly, the SG Advisor; and various LGBTQ groups on campus.
“It really freaked me out,” Kaminski said in an interview. “I felt uneasy and nervous, sick to my stomach. In my opinion, the e-mail was very intimidating and troubling.”
Lee said he did not intend to harass Kaminski.
“I wrote Ryan an e-mail that I probably shouldn’t have,” Lee said in an interview. “It was angry and offensive. Should I have tempered my language a little bit? Sure. But it wasn’t harassment by any means, and I don’t have any problem working with Ryan—I’m very much personally opposed to his homosexuality, but he’s an asset to the Council, and we could work well together professionally.”
After meeting with Holly, Lee sent Kaminski a letter of apology.
“I just wanted to take one more chance to apologize to you for the personal e-mail I sent regarding your position on the blood drive,” Lee wrote. “Looking back on it now, I realize it was written out of anger and it was very much a knee-jerk reaction to your claims of discrimination. While I do hold very ardent beliefs about homosexuality, I shouldn’t have presented them to you in such an incendiary and offensive way.”
Lee concluded the e-mail by saying, “Lastly, while I do not think we will ever be friends, I hope we can work together professionally in the Student Government.”
Kaminski again raised objection, arguing that the apology was insincere.
“I don’t think it is an apology in any sense of the word,” Kaminski said in an interview. “If an immediate apology was genuine, it would have been no problem, but I’m not sure how that was supposed to be working toward a goal of cooperation.”
The controversy grew at last week’s CC meeting, where representatives from progressive RSOs spoke out about the situation.
“Our problem is that one member of the Council chose to be willfully ignorant of the prejudicial nature of the event, and even went so far as to defend the federal government’s explicit discrimination against men who have sex with men,” said Queers & Associates President Daniel Shannon in an e-mail interview.
Shannon said Lee’s e-mail was “condescending, nasty, and flagrantly heterosexist.”
After conversations with the Executive Slate, Kaminski called for Lee’s impeachment earlier this week, as any Council member can do under the SG constitution. Third-year Scott Duncombe, the chair of CC; and Alex Bratsafolis, chair of the Graduate Council, met with Lee Tuesday night and stripped him of his position as chair of the Security Committee.
Lee was also offered an opportunity to resign from his seat on the College Council, which he refused.
“I don’t apologize for my views, and I don’t think what I did was wrong,” Lee said in an interview. “It was me writing on a personal view, and he’s made it a much bigger deal than it needs to be.”
During the impeachment hearing Thursday night, Lee took an apologetic tone, characterizing the e-mail as “extreme and inappropriate.”
He also said the situation was emotional for him, because he was involved in a car crash in high school during which he had to receive a blood transfusion.
Kaminski described the turmoil he had undergone in the past week, and RSO members expressed concerns that retaining Lee on the council would make SG hostile to gay advocacy and minority groups.
Council members said they based their votes on a number of issues, from Lee’s security expertise to how offensive they believed the e-mail exchange to be.
“I’m just disappointed that as a council, we haven’t been able to more effectively come together and work towards a more positive outcome, where there can be some sort of mediation,” said fourth-year Council member Phil Caruso during the debate.