Move over, Maize Rage. The Lavender Menace was out in force at yesterday’s women’s basketball game. About 250 fans wore purple shirts with “Lavender Menace” printed on them in black letters.

The people in purple weren’t making a fashion statement. They were protesting the head coach of the visiting Penn State team, Rene Portland, who has a history of discriminating against players because of their sexual orientation.

According to several former players, Portland used to have a “no drinking, no drugs, no lesbians” policy. Until Penn State revised its nondiscrimination policy in 1991 to protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation, Portland openly and explicitly expressed her opposition to homosexuality on the team.

For years, no one took a public stand against Portland. Her policy hit headlines when former player Jen Harris filed suit against Portland in October of 2005.

According to Harris, Portland booted her from the team because the coach thought she was a lesbian. Penn State investigated the allegations and determined after an internal review that Portland’s stance on homosexuality created a “hostile, intimidating, and offensive environment,” according to the official report by the university’s Office of Affirmative Action.

Although Portland’s actions were found in violation of Penn State’s anti-discrimination clause, the university administration did not fire her. She was issued a written reprimand that was added to her official file, forced to pay fines and made to attend a diversity workshop – a punishment considered by many activists to be too lax.

Jen Hsu, co-chair of the Michigan Student Assembly’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Commission and organizer of yesterday’s protest, said her primary goal was to expose the public to injustice.

“The main thing is education through visibility,” she said.

At a press conference after the game, which Michigan won 55-41, Portland didn’t acknowledge the protest. When asked if she saw the purple shirts in the crowd, Portland said, “No, I’m only blue and white.”

Nicole Stallings, president of the Michigan Student Assembly, which teamed up with the University’s Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs for yesterday’s event, also donned a purple shirt.

“I think it’s really good to show that it’s not acceptable behavior,” Stallings said.

At the entrance of Crisler Arena, three students in “Lavender Menace” shirts handed out small purple flyers explaining their cause. They also sold rubber rainbow bracelets, purple ribbons, and T-shirts.

Inside the arena, the protesters crowded two main seating sections. Others sat throughout the stadium.

Not all protesters were students at the University – high school students sat among elderly citizens in protest.

Veronica Cisneros, a graduate student in the School of Social Work, who is straight, said she jumped at the opportunity to support the event.

“Everything that social justice seeks to equalize, that’s what I believe in,” Cisneros said.

Ann Arbor resident Diane Nothaft, who helped organize the event, said she considered the situation “shocking” and “maddening.”

Because the protesters didn’t carry signs or chant slogans, and the only shouts of anger came when the referee called traveling on a Michigan player with seven minutes left in the game, some fans weren’t even aware that a protest was taking place.

Some people in the crowd were intrigued, Hsu said.

“So many people have been asking me what it’s all about,” she said.

Kath Borg, the mother of a Michigan cheerleader and who was not a part of the protest, said she thought the protest was effective and supported the cause. “I tend to agree with the ladies in lavender,” she said.

-Dan Feldman contributed to this report

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