Penn State to review anti-lesbian bias accusations

Updated: October 12, 2005, 10:02 PM ET
Associated Press

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State will review accusations of discrimination by a gay rights advocacy group against women's basketball coach Rene Portland.

"The allegations will be investigated according to university policy and practices," school president Graham Spanier said in an e-mail Wednesday. "Penn State has a nondiscrimination policy that is fundamental to the principles of our university."

Spanier said he received a letter of complaint from the National Center for Lesbian Rights regarding the case of Jennifer Harris, who transferred from Penn State last spring after two years on the team.

According to the center, Portland had repeatedly questioned Harris about her sexual orientation, threatened to kick her off the team if she was a lesbian, and told other players not to associate with players who Portland believed was gay.

Spanier's office said the president had not seen copies of the complaints until after information was released to the media Tuesday. He wrote in his e-mail that university attorneys will follow up with the center to learn more.

Portland was not available for comment on Wednesday, the athletic department said.

Portland is entering her 26th season as Penn State coach and has a 578-204 record. She has led the school to five Big Ten championships and made an NCAA Final Four appearance in 2000.

Harris transferred to James Madison.

Her attorney at the center, Karen Doering, said Wednesday that while Harris is not a lesbian, "it's not a matter of whether she is or is not. Rene Portland believed that Jen is a lesbian, and Jen is not the first to be caught up in a net of discrimination based on perceived sexual orientation."

Doering has also accused Portland of using anti-gay sentiments while recruiting as a way to encourage or discourage players from attending Penn State.

Harris, in a phone interview on Wednesday, recounted conversations she said she had with Portland while being recruited in high school and while at Penn State.

Midway through her freshman year in college, Harris said Portland allegedly pulled her and another player aside after rumors surfaced that the teammates were dating.

"I kind of laughed. I was so stunned. I didn't know why she was asking and what it had to do with basketball," Harris said Wednesday. "I didn't know what the problem was."

Harris said her main goal now is for Penn State "to do something to make sure it doesn't happen to anyone again."

Penn State spokesman Bill Mahon said the accusations were a surprise because Harris had never raised the issue while at Penn State.

Portland must rebuild this season after losing eight players from last year, including five seniors and four starters.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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