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MSU fans protest Penn State’s controversial coach

By | 2018-01-15T21:13:35-05:00 January 12th, 2006|News|

EAST LANSING – The Breslin Student Events Center at Michigan State University was filled with lavender and rainbow shirts Thursday night as the women’s basketball team met Penn State. The lavender and rainbow were part of a protest aimed at Penn State head coach Renee Portland.
In October of last year, former Penn State basketball player Jennifer Smith filed a formal complaint with Penn State alleging Portland had created a hostile environment that forced her to leave the team because she was perceived to be a lesbian. In December, Harris, along with the National Center for Lesbian Rights, brought a federal lawsuit against the university.
Activists from Penn State have been protesting Coach Portland at all the home games, and have asked other Big Ten schools to protest her as well.
A statement from Penn State’s Office of Information says Michigan State University was the first time Portland had faced a protest on the road.
About 250 people in the crowd of 5,079 were wearing rainbow or lavender. A group of about 50 students affiliated with the Michigan State University Alliance of Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgendered and Allied Students filled the area behind the basket. Many in the crowds wore Lavender Menace t-shirts — a term referring to a historical internal battle in the National Organization of Women about the visibility of lesbians in the group.
“People were respectful, yet we were able to show our opinions about the bigotry of Renee Portland,” said Nancy English, 51, from Michigan Equality, which helped organize the protest. “We were all supportive of one and other, it was like a comradeship.”
Prior to the game, concerns were raised that MSU was impinging on the freedom of speech of protestors by issuing guidelines about what could and could not be on signs during the protest. Many protestors heeded the warnings from the University and brought in signs reading “Lesbians are Hott!” and “I (heart) (women’s sign) Basketball players!”
MSU Spokesman Terry Denbow says the sign issue was one dictated by Big Ten rules, which included “our role as hosts to a fellow Big Ten conference member and the mutual expectations attendant to that.” Denbow says it would not be appropriate to allow signs that disparaged their guests.
Dee Hurlbert, 34, of Lansing, took the opportunity to use theater to educate during the second half of the game. Donning a suit that bore the lapel tag “fire me” and a sign on her back reading “Shameless Bigot,” she wandered through the crowds acting as though she were Renee Portland.
“I didn’t want to be preaching to the choir. I wanted to be able to reach people who may not have known there was a protest going on or what it was about,” said the longtime activist.
Michigan State University won the game, 75-53.

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