Group says Penn State coach biased

Updated: October 11, 2005, 7:47 PM ET
Associated Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- A gay rights advocacy group has accused Penn State women's basketball coach Rene Portland of forcing a player to transfer earlier this year out of bias against lesbians.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights asked president Graham Spanier on Tuesday for a meeting to discuss Portland's policies and the transfer of former player Jennifer Harris.

Karen Doering, Harris' attorney, said that for decades Portland has harassed players she believes are lesbians, told other players not to associate with them and described other programs as pro-gay to recruits.

"Jen loved Penn State, loved playing for Penn State, and again, had no problems on the court or with Coach Portland except for with regard to the hounding about, 'Are you a lesbian and maybe you should dress differently so others don't think you're a lesbian,' " said Doering, regional counsel for the lesbian rights center.

Portland said she was unaware of the request and declined to comment on either Harris' transfer to James Madison University or the accusations of anti-gay bias.

"I'll just wait until the school brings the facts to me and we'll go from there," she said by telephone Tuesday.

Portland has a 578-204 record in 25 seasons at Penn State. She has won five Big Ten championships and made an NCAA Final Four appearance in 2000.

Penn State spokesman Bill Mahon said the school had found no evidence that Harris ever complained to the university or any campus groups about her treatment by the coach.

"This is a surprise that a half-year later suddenly a lawyer's contacting the university making such a claim," he said.

Doering said Portland has maintained a "no-alcohol, no-drugs, no-lesbians" policy for decades, citing a 1986 interview in the Chicago Sun-Times in which the coach said she talked with recruits and their parents about lesbians.

"I will not have it in my program," she was quoted as saying. "I bring it up and the kids are so relieved and the parents are so relieved."

Doering's letter to Spanier said a meeting could avoid "what undoubtedly will be painful, costly and protracted litigation."

Harris, a guard, started 22 games and averaged 10 points per game as a sophomore last season for the 19-11 Lady Lions. As a transfer to James Madison, she must sit out one season at the Virginia school.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press