That night last February, the howling outside Craig Arnold's dormitory room at the University of Maryland was getting louder than ever. "Faggots come out, we want to kill you."
Arnold found an unsigned message scrawled on his door the next morning: "You are the gayest, queerest, lousiest excuse for a human being. If I ever catch any of your boyfriends around, I will rub his face in the ground."
Then Arnold, public affairs director and former president of the campus Gay Community, did what many other homosexuals at the university have done -- he packed up and moved off campus.
At College Park, young gay men and women, many of them newly away from the strictures of home, often acknowledge and examine their homosexuality for the first time. But they also find a new set of pressures at College Park -- taunts, threats and beatings from their fellow students.
In an attempt to have students experience the antagonism they must endure all year, members of the Gay Community declared last Wednesday to be "Blue Jeans Day." Advertisements in the university newspaper announced that the wearing of blue jeans on campus that day signified that the wearer supported gay rights. The idea, according to the organizers, was for those who wore denim, intentionally or not, to get a taste of the taunts homosexuals must contend with daily.
Thousands turned out in jeans; most students interviewed said they wore the denims out of habit and did not attach any significance to their attire. But there were those who did.
One junior, Joanna Goldsby, made it a point to wear jeans, and persuaded some of her friends to do the same. But she added, "I know some people who went out of their way not to wear blue jeans."
Tom Dwyer, an 18-year-old freshman, wore a fresh pair of corduroys when he stepped out of his dormitory, Kent Hall. Dwyer said he was glad he had not accidentally worn jeans.
"I wouldn't want anyone thinking I'm gay," he said. "I don't need any advances. And the second thing is, I would've been getting remarks just like the ones I've been giving all day."
Rick Leonard, a 20-year-old sophomore, was one of several students who teased friends as they walked by Kent Hall in jeans. "I don't think anybody here's gay," he said. "They wouldn't have lived."
Many homosexuals at the university insist the environment is decidedly more intolerant than at other schools.
"This campus is funny," said Jeff, a gay student who asked that his last name not be published. "I think it's the attitude here. There's a lot more homophobia." He said he has gay friends at George Washington and American universities in the District who suffer little if any harassment on their campuses.
Craig Arnold said that because Maryland "is a state school, we get people from all geographic locations, including some not-so-liberal areas. Most students come from white middle-class suburbs."
Peter Bathaung, a gay sophomore, made several complaints to school officials last year, charging that fellow residents of Ellicott Hall dormitory had doused his bed with beer, repeatedly damaged his door, tossed lighted firecrackers on his roommate, and once threatened to kill him.
"A boy named Mark has physically attacked me and threatened to 'kill the f...ing faggot,'" Bathaung wrote in his complaint to university human relations officials. "All my friends, male or female, were labeled as homosexuals and immediately subjected t likewise treatment."
After investigating, university authorities transferred some students to other dorms. But last fall Bathaung told campus police other students from the dorm attacked him in the parking lot. The police questioned two students Bathaung said had attacked him, but the two said Bathaung had started the fight. The complaint was turned over to dormitory supervisors.
Bathaung moved out.
Some students merely suspected of being gay have wound up targets of harassment.Last September, freshman Steve Leong, who shared a room with a gay man, started getting crank phone calls himself. Leong, a quiet young man, exploded one night, running from the hallway phone shouting, "They called me a faggot! They called me a faggot!" The next morning, he threw his belongings into a trunk and moved to another dorm, Belair Hall.
Dan Locker, former president of Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity, said its members once kicked out a student they thought might be homosexual. "We didn't know for sure whether he was," Locker said, "but we asked a certain brother to leave."
University authorities say it is sometimes difficult to take action against students who harass gays, even when evidence seems to show a clear violation of the law.
"You can't prosecute a group," said Gladys Brown, the university's human relations compliance officer. "You have to be able to find individuals."
Of approximately seven cases Brown has investigated during the past year, only one has resulted in disciplinary action. Not all students are willing to report such incidents, she said, and many students who file complaints don't want to press charges.
The more subtle forms of gay harassment are nearly impossible to prevent, Brown said. In fact, she said, they have become somewhat traditional.
"Whenever you have a male group -- a fraternity or Marines -- where something isn't representative of manhood or macho, it doesn't fit in," Brown said.
During Gay Awareness Week one year, some residents of Ellicott Hall formed the Straight Students Association. To advertise a party, they dressed a dummy in blue jeans, dropped a noose around its neck and hung it from a fifth floor window bearing the sign, "Fag Bash."
And at the university's homecoming parade last fall, the Gay Community float was hit at the reviewing stand by a barrage of eggs, cans and beer, forcing the car out of the procession.
For the past eight years, gay activists at College Park have tried to persuade school officials to adopt a gay rights amendment to the campus human relations code. A symbolic mention that the university forbids discrimination based on a person's sexual preference would help break down the intolerance among their peers, gays maintained.
But last year, university President John S. Toll struck down the measure shortly after it had been approved by College Park's chancellor, Robert L. Gluckstern. Toll cited a university policy that prevents officials from extending protection from discrimination to any group not specifically mentioned in state or local laws.
During an interview at the time of his decision, Toll said he was not sure there was a need for a policy change. "I'm not aware of any problems over there," he said.
Arnold, the Gay Community public affairs director and former president, said he does not expect the harassment to stop, and adds that he understands the misgivings some students have about gays. There was a time when he felt the same way.
"I would see a straight man and woman walking down the street holding hands, and it would touch my heart because I wanted to do the same thing with the man I loved," Arnold said. "But I couldn't even tell anyone I was gay. I felt perverted."
When he came to College Park, Arnold said, he decided to open up -- to "come out." One night he went to a Gay Community coffee house in the Student Union.
"I must have passed that door seven or eight times. Finally, I went in and said, 'Hi, I'm here for my first time.' They introduced me to everyone, and as I met them, I felt like there were chains lifting off me."