By Allison Jewell
The designated free speech zone at the University of Louisville was occupied Sept. 26 and Sept. 27 by a group of anti-trans and anti-queer preachers affiliated with the website “hejudgesandmakeswar.com”.
In an email to the Cardinal community, Dean of Students Michael Mardis and Vice President for Institutional Equity Lee Gill explained that “the University of Louisville community finds this type of message deplorable. However, as a state institution bound by law and committed to the principles of the First Amendment, the university is required to provide access to individuals and groups that are not part of the campus community who wish to engage in speech activities.”
“The university does not condone any type of threatening, harassing, or condemning speech directed toward any members of our campus community. We support our students, faculty, and staff and will continue to promote a culture in which all members of our campus community feel safe, welcome, and valued,” the email stated.
A packed crowd
The demonstrations had students all along the sidewalks packed in a tight circle around the protesters voicing their opposition. The protesters were a group of three men holding signs that read, “Women are property,” “God’s love is conditional” and “Repent to Jesus or burn.” The group was protected by U of L staff and a security rope and was seen protesting at the University of Kentucky campus Sept. 25.
Signs include “Women are Property” and “God’s Love is Conditional”.
Students who identify as LGBTQIA+, like upperclassman Ana Guerra, said they feel that the university does not empathize with its queer students.
“The whole idea of it makes me feel unsafe. It makes me feel unwelcome on a campus that promised inclusivity,” she said.
Organizers like Disabled Cards member Carlie Reeves said that the protesters were actively escalating the situation. At one point, she claimed one of the men called her and her colleague a racial slur. Another student said one of the men said, “Women deserved to be raped.”
The staff responsible for supervising the demonstration were put in the middle. Witnesses said black and queer staff members had to protect and defend the protesters despite the divisive rhetoric.
REPENT TO JESUS OR BURN
Student groups respond
The students leading the clashing protest were from multiple student organizations, including Disabled Cards United, the Louisville Students for Justice in Palestine, the U of L Trans Rights Alliance (ULTRA), Women for Women and the Young Communist League.
The coalition is demanding future change for these types of demonstrations.
Elizabeth Hinsdale, the president of Disabled Cards United, scoffed at the anti-queer protesters and said it is “frankly ridiculous.”
“The university is being complacent,” she said.
“The university’s refusal to provide substantial support to its students is abhorrent. However, we do know that the freedom of speech does not protect you from backlash or public accountability,” she said. “The idea that queer people only feel safe in spaces that are designated as such is indicative of a larger issue.”
The coalition wants this group permanently banned from demonstrating on campus. They said it’s not just for their rhetoric, but for how their methods continually break the university’s free speech protocol. They said the group threw harassment at students, incited of violence with anti-woman and anti-black rhetoric, and left trash behind.
Saeed Albakri, a member of the Louisville Students for Justice in Palestine group, insisted that these problems are ongoing, referring to the trans rights issue on campus last April.
“It has been a reoccurring trend on campus. No matter how much student outrage is shown, the university is still negligent,” he said.
Going forward, the groups are not only urging the university to allocate more resources to the protection of queer students on campus but also to ban these specific organizers from meeting on University of Louisville property. These same organizers held a demonstration on campus in 2019. Members of the coalition demand an apology from the university to the staff and students who were harassed.
They urge students to not only join their cause but to make sure to uphold the correct policies.
File Photos // Allison Jewell, The Louisville Cardinal