Students in University LGBTQ Class 'Harassed' with Anti-Gay Pamphlets, Feel 'Unsafe'

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday February 5, 2020

Students at a public university in Kentucky say they feel "unsafe" after a student entered an "Introduction to LGBT Studies" class - which he had not signed up to take, himself - and distributed an anti-gay tract titled "God & Sexuality" ostensibly written by someone called Roy Comfort.

Although students in the class were shocked by the literature - and the fact that a non-member of the class could freely come and go, and attempt to distribute literature the students who had signed up for the class found offensive - the university is required to operate within the confines of a state law that gives wide latitude to those who wish to propound their "political" and "religious" beliefs.

Local newspaper the Courier Journal reported that the class is being offered at the University of Louisville. The unidentified student who distributed the anti-LGTBQ pamphlets was reported to have "lurked" outside the classroom after entering the room despite not being enrolled in the class.

The newspaper article describes the pamphlet as being 36 pages in length. An excerpt shared in the article shows that the pamphlet denounces the idea that "what people do sexually is their own business." The pamphlet also compares being LGBTQ - or being supportive of LGBTQ people - as akin to being trapped inside a car that has stalled on railroad tracks, with a train approaching.

The metaphor may be overwrought, but the pamphlet - and the fact that university staff and faculty seem powerless to stop such incursions into what ought to be a safe space for LGBTQ students - prompted more than rolling eyes; it raised hackles.

Ricky Jones, who is a department chair with the university, told the media that the student's actions were inappropriate.

"I want to be clear, we do not believe this is a free speech issue," Jones told The Courier Journal (to which, the article noted, she has contributed opinion pieces). "I believe it is an issue of hate speech, and it is an issue of harassment."

Students agreed in a series of Facebook posts.

"Anti-LGBTQ propaganda has been left in the classroom for LGBTQ students and allies to see, and the perpetrator of this injustice has been seen lurking outside of the classroom, making both the professor and students fear for their safety," a strongly-worded post from student group Shades said.

"While faculty and staff have stood up and fought for actions to be taken, their words were met with effectively nothing. Their concerns were ignored and treated as being 'too emotional,'" the post added. "Now, students and faculty & staff will be working to bring this abhorrent situation to the resolution it SHOULD HAVE COME TO."

The post went on to say, "We will not be silent and we will not allow this act of hate & harassment to go unchecked by the University of Louisville who is supposed to cherish LGBTQ students and our community. While UofL may tout themselves to be a champion of diversity and inclusion, they are showing through their actions that they could care less about us. All they care about is covering their own backs at the expense and safety of LGBTQ individuals."

A spokesperson for the university, John Karman, told the press that "Officials also have met with the student and have been assured that his intention was only to provide information rather than to intimidate.

"While the student's actions caused concern among the students and faculty in the classroom, he apparently followed the law and university policy when distributing the literature," Karman added.

The newspaper article took note o fa state law, passed last year, the Campus Free Speech Act.

Reported the Courier Journal of the law:

It broadly protects student and faculty freedom of expression in the classroom, including religious and political viewpoints.

But class instructor Dr. Kaila Story didn't buy into that.

"This kind of disregard and dismissive attitude by the Dean of Students office when it comes to concern of student and faculty safety is not and will not be tolerated by me or my students. It's blatant disregard," Dr. Story told the media.

A student who actually signed up for the class, Kaelan Strom, gave his response to the incursion, saying that in the course of his life he had experienced "fearful interactions between hateful groups and people" since he is a sexual minority, "but when that compromises my education, I draw the line."

Said fellow student Charlotte Hayden:

"It's distressing to know that an individual went out of his way to target a specific group and invalidate their existence."

Added Hayden: "We don't feel safe."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

Comments on Facebook