CW / Caroline Simmons
The Queer Student Association held a pride event at the Student Center Plaza on April 22 in response to an event that sparked protest earlier in the week.
On Monday, Jaden Heard, a student at Auburn University, displayed a sign that read “Hot Take: No One Is Born Gay.” He encouraged students to vote “yes” or “no” on a dry erase board. The event was registered on mySOURCE under Turning Point USA’s name.
More than 100 students gathered to protest Heard’s message on Monday, and more than a dozen campus organizations issued statements in support of LGBTQ students on campus.
Turning Point USA registered an information tabling event for April 22, so QSA scheduled its pride event for the same time. Turning Point USA did not show up.
Jas Orr, president of the Queer Student Association, said they were thrilled to see the large turnout of supporters during Friday’s event.
“I am thrilled at the outcome. I am happy that people are showing up. Today was a labor of love for me,” Orr said. “I had a couple different people reach out and ask me if they could do something like this, so I threw it together and worked my tail end off to make it happen.”
Members of the Capstone Alliance, a campus organization for LGBTQ and allied graduate students and employees, attended Friday’s pride event in support of QSA.
Erin Stender, a gender and race studies graduate student, studies the history of anti-queer groups and the marginalization of queer students on campus.
“There’s a difference between speaking your mind and speaking trying to invalidate an entire group of people,” Stender said. “But it was almost heartwarming to see everyone get together [Friday] as a group and make their presence visible.”
More than 50 students showed up with pride flags and posters.
“I went to the protest today because I feel like if we as a collective don’t speak out now, then people later won’t be able to speak out,” said Ellen Jones, a junior majoring in entrepreneurship. “Every year that we do something, no matter how small or large it is, it’s making it more known and heard that there are LGBT people at The University of Alabama.”
Yik Yak, a social media app that allows users to view anonymous discussion threads posted within a five-mile radius, was riddled with anti-LGBTQ messages in response to the QSA event.
“Walked right past the gay rally and got [Chick-fil-A] for lunch because I hate gay people,” an anonymous user wrote.
Another said, “Hot take: I was born a homophobe.”
Jones, who joined over 100 UA students on Monday in protest of Heard’s event, received a threatening direct message on Instagram. Jones said the person referred to her as a “privileged c—” and said that she “deserved to be raped and beaten.”
“It’s so obvious still that, even in 2022, that LGBTQ students are not warmly welcomed by the University,” Jones said. “The DM was a very telling sign of how we’re treated.”
Stender said the online backlash to the event was disappointing but expected.
“The fact is that we exist, and people are going to brandish a bunch of roundabout ways to degrade us,” Stender said. “They’re going to use their hatred in any way they can until they can turn around and confront why they are so angry at us for just existing.”
QSA Vice President Daphne Shearer said Friday’s event was a demonstration that the LGBTQ community is here to stay.
“Queer people do not need to validate themselves to other people. That comes up a lot in hate speech conversations,” Shearer said. “People will ask questions with the intent to make queer people validate themselves.”
Steven Hood, interim vice president for student life, and G. Christine Taylor, vice president and associate provost for diversity, equity and inclusion, shared a joint message on Instagram.
“The University of Alabama continuously strives to make our campus more welcoming and inclusive — a campus where all students, faculty, and staff are valued and and are free to participate in reasoned and open discourse,” the statement reads. “The First Amendment that protects the rights of student groups to register events and state controversial opinions also protects the rights of community members to disagree.”
The LGBTQ Alumni Association started a petition urging the administration to “make a more bold statement in solidarity with these students and against anti-LGBTQIA+ hatred on campus and throughout the state.”
“We as alumni stand at the ready to support these students and to serve as a resource to the Administration so that they can continue to make improvements to the campus culture so it is more friendly to the LGBTQIA+ community,” the statement reads. “We acknowledge we have come a long way while we also have much further to go, and we hope to continue being an active part in pushing campus forward. Roll Pride.”