UND President Robert Kelley says he was “disturbed” by reports of an alleged hate crime at a UND fraternity, while the fraternity says its members are cooperating with an ongoing police investigation.
A man who is not a UND student reported to the UND Police Department Monday he was physically assaulted at the Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity, 515 Harvard St., Grand Forks, early Sunday, where he says multiple men stripped him of his clothes, beat him and hurled anti-gay slurs at him before stealing his bag.
Kelley prefaced his statement, saying “we don’t yet know all the details” and “violent behavior of this nature is not tolerated at UND,” warning that any violation of university code of conduct will be met with disciplinary action.
Meanwhile, the local Lambda Chi Alpha chapter has been placed on “limited operation,” meaning while police investigate the allegations, the fraternity’s formal activities will be restricted, according to a press release from Lambda Chi Alpha’s international headquarters.
“We take this alleged incident extremely seriously, and although there isn’t … sufficient information to support the claims, we are working in partnership with the university and local law enforcement to ensure an immediate and thorough investigation is completed,” said Nick Zuniga, director of chapter services at the international organization.
Police are still gathering information on the alleged assault, as the investigation is ongoing.
Haakon Gisvold, who reported the assault to police, told the Herald he did not know the individuals he says physically assaulted him, nor whether they were fraternity members. He did say at least two members of the fraternity confronted him on the fraternity’s premises Saturday night and told him to leave because of his sexual orientation.
Randy Ritterman, an openly gay man and the UND fraternity chapter’s alumni advisor, expressed his doubts anyone in the fraternity was involved, saying Wednesday he was elected unanimously by the fraternity members as the chapter’s alumni advisor in early 2014.
“(My sexual orientation) was known quite well at the time. It has always been known,” he said, adding fraternity members often ask how his partner of 16 years is doing.
He did not know whether anyone else had been nominated for his position during those elections.
Ritterman said he has never heard of a person’s sexual orientation being an issue at the house and has never heard an anti-gay slur from any member.
When asked whether he believed it is possible there were one or two fraternity members of the roughly 45 whose biases he may not be aware of, he said, “I find that highly unlikely, given how active I have been in that organization,” pointing to his habit of Skyping in to weekly fraternity meetings and visiting the fraternity every month or every other month.
A Grand Forks Pride organizer Kyle Thorson had a different take, saying he was “sad to hear about any violence in our community.” The alleged assault occurred the same weekend as Grand Forks Pride.
“My hope is that our community steps up to provide support for this individual and others affected and that we continue to create a city where we do not tolerate violence toward any person based on their sexual orientation or any other immutable characteristics,” Thorson said.
North Dakota is one of about 20 states that hasn’t enacted hate crime legislation that includes crimes motivated by one’s sexual orientation, according to a 2013 infographic from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
While North Dakota outlaws injuring or intimidating another person in public places based on their sex, race, religion and national origin, the law does not include sexual orientation.
In 2011, state legislators introduced a bill that would have increased penalties for those convicted of hate crimes, including against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, but the bill garnered a do-not-pass recommendation in committee and failed in the Senate.
Legislators also rejected Senate Bill 2279 in the most recent Legislative Session, which would have outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation in such areas as employment, housing and insurance. The bill would have added sexual orientation to state law that already includes protections against discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, age and physical or mental disabilities.
Grand Forks Herald reporter Becky Jacobs contributed to this report.