On May 18, members of the Westboro Baptist Church, a group notorious for their use of violently homophobic and anti-military language, gathered in front of Russell Hall to deliver a message of hate to our campus and the entire Tuscaloosa community. Picketers, several of whom were children of WBC members, held neon signs describing God’s condemnation of LGBTQ+ people and those who “enable” them.
This display was met with several groups of counterprotestors, led by several local churches, attempting to drown out WBC’s vitriol. Elsewhere, LGBTQ+ groups on campus including Spectrum, Capstone Alliance and the Safe Zone Program partnered with Veterans and Military Affairs and all available volunteers on a service day to give back to the community during WBC’s visit.
It seems everyone had a response to WBC’s presence at the University. Everyone, that is, except for UA administration.
As president of Spectrum, I worked with other LGBTQ+ people to spring into action immediately upon hearing news of WBC’s plans to protest. In the two weeks leading up to May 18, I waited optimistically for UA administration to reach out to me, if not as an LGBTQ+ leader then simply as a student. I waited to hear what the school had to say about a recognized hate group encroaching on our campus. I waited to hear what would be done to protect LGBTQ+ students from WBC’s homophobic message.
But I heard nothing. No emails were sent. No statements were released. No help was offered.
I am not sure UA administrators realize how deafening their silence was. Westboro Baptist Church came to our school and used triggering, homophobic slurs to glorify the deaths of LGBTQ+ people. As an LGBTQ+ person, I felt scared.
It is difficult to describe the sense of isolation and danger that swells up within you as an LGBTQ+ person when you are confronted with homophobia. It can be overwhelming. Living in the deep South, I often feel like I am surrounded by a thin bubble of safety that can be popped at any moment, as it was by WBC. I have a healthy relationship with my parents, but, like many other LGBTQ+ people, I did not feel comfortable discussing with them all the emotions WBC instigated. The few hands I had to hold were those of other LGBTQ+ individuals who were soldiering through these feelings too.
Please do not read this as petulant. If anything, read this and know that my experience is indicative of the experiences of thousands of LGBTQ+ students, faculty and staff at the University. If there were ever a time for administrators to reach out to LGBTQ+ people and offer protection and support, this was it. Instead, our administration stood silently and complied with this hateful group of people, giving them prime real estate right on University Boulevard to spout their hostility.
How much longer will LGBTQ+ people at The University of Alabama have to wait for our administration to speak up on our behalf? With their silence last month, President Bonner, Dean of Students Tim Hebson, Vice President Mark Nelson and other administrators failed to uphold the purported values of this institution. The Capstone Creed affirms the standard of respect and responsibility upheld by the University. By continuing to disregard LGBTQ+ individuals, our administration is repeatedly failing to meet that standard.
Noah Cannon is a junior majoring in telecommunication and film and is the current president of Spectrum.