FSU community responds to anti-LGBTQ+ demonstrator

Leighah Beausoleil / THE GATEPOST

By Leighah Beausoleil

Editor-in-Chief

By Ashlyn Kelly

News Editor

With a bible and sign in hand, an individual wearing a body camera arrived at FSU to film himself speaking against LGBTQ+ rights for his YouTube channel March 21.

The individual was stationed on the sidewalk in front of the McCarthy Center, which is City of Framingham property.

In a March 21 community-wide email, President F. Javier Cevallos said, “It is important to recognize that we are a public college campus, and this man does have a First Amendment right to be here. Unfortunately, while our freedom of speech is one of the most important aspects of our democracy, it comes with a burden that falls heaviest on our most marginalized communities.”

Cevallos added, “The goal of this individual could not be more clear – he seeks to paint college communities as intolerant toward religion and the First Amendment by baiting people into aggressively confronting him over his offensive and hateful language.”

Shortly after the individual’s arrival, a crowd of students, faculty, and staff began to form. 

Some community members asked questions, some offered counterarguments, while others left and came back with pride flags – some of which were provided by Eric Nguyen, director of the Center for Inclusive Excellence.

The crowd in front of the McCarthy Center continued to grow as more community members joined to show their support for the LGBTQ+ community.

In an effort to drown out the individual’s speech, Emily Newcomb, a junior English major, connected her phone to a speaker and began to blast music by LGBTQ+ artists.

Some students went to get their cars and honked their horns while driving down State Street.

Christie Jean, president of Pride Alliance, said she wasn’t surprised the individual came to FSU because she had heard about him prior to his arrival.

Jean said, “I’m happy for the turnout and support from my peers showing love to outweigh the hate. However, while that is all good, I wish the same support was shown to affinity clubs, specifically Pride, because not a lot of people have been going to meetings.”

She added, “It’s just as important to show support on a daily basis as when things like this happen. Overall, though, the turnout was amazing and I’m happy we didn’t give into his hate.”

Malik Martin, president of Black Student Union and the Class of 2023, said during the demonstration, “​​I think it’s unfortunate that we had to come together under these circumstances, but I’m excited that everyone came out.”

He added, “It’s beautiful to see FSU coming together as a community and seeing people support each other. So, I’m glad that everyone is here, but I definitely think that he needs to leave.”

Emma Vogler, a sophomore early education major, said she was “very confused” why the individual chose to come to FSU. 

Vogler said while she is not a member of the LGBTQ+ community, it was important for her to show up and show her support.

Nate Rogers, a senior communication arts major, said, “If you can discuss politics, then go at it,” but he believed the situation was “getting a little out of hand.” 

Emma Brosnan, a freshman English major, said she saw how “our community is very strong” by the response from students. 

Mackenzie Wahl, a sophomore elementary education major, said she is Catholic, “but I don’t believe anything he’s saying.

“The times are changing,” she added. 

Sam Stafinski, a junior English major, said, “This man knows nothing that he’s talking about. 

“You’re preaching about peace and then you’re asking for smoke,” she said.  

Stafinski added, “The response is absolutely fantastic,” noting, “People are so articulate.” 

Education Department Chair James Cressey said he was there to “support any students who [were] standing up to this.”

He added the Education Department was “coincidentally” planning on releasing a statement “that we support LGBTQ+ curriculum in Pre-K and elementary classrooms.”

On the department’s Instagram page, he stated, “Thank you FSU community for your swift turnout in response to today’s hate speech on our campus.” 

He added, “The Education Department sends love and support to our LGBTQ+ community members today and always.”

The social media account also included resources for teachers to “create LGBTQ-inclusive classrooms.”

As a gay man himself, Cressey said a “personal thank you” as well. “I felt seen today – we are here!”

Chief of University Police John Santoro said, “We made sure that everybody was safe. We made sure the protester was on city property, not the University property, and they complied.”

Santoro said during the duration of the gathering, which was approximately an hour, officers remained on the site to monitor the situation.

As of March 22, he said the University Police Department were still debriefing, but he believes his officers responded “professionally.”

He said the department does not believe the individual was a part of any organization, adding they do know the person’s identity, but protocol is to relay that information through a public records request.

The Gatepost submitted a public records request for the incident report March 22.

Santoro said he was happy no one was “physically hurt” and that everyone complied with any requests made by officers.

Ann McDonald, chief of staff and general counsel, said in order for police to get involved, there would have to be “something to take action against.”

She said, “Constitutionally, hate speech does not become actionable, meaning there’s nothing that the courts or the police can do, until it becomes criminal or criminal-like, meaning that it becomes a threat.

“I’m using threat in the legal term, because as I understand it, the language and the kinds of things he was saying, absolutely – I’m certain, felt threatening to our LGBTQ community members,” she added. “I am not questioning or challenging that whatsoever.”

McDonald said, “So it’s not generally just hateful speech. It’s, ‘I’m going to do X to Y,’ – like a named individual or a named group of individuals.”

She said the community’s response to the individual’s protest was the “most responsible” option, adding she is a believer in fighting offensive speech with more speech.

“You don’t necessarily try to silence that speech, remove that speech, eliminate that speech if it’s allowable under the First Amendment, but you try to provide an alternate speech that is the message that reflects your values and the values of the community that you’re in,” McDonald added.

She said for the most part, that was the case on March 21.

McDonald noted that a student stole the individual’s sign, which was recovered and their property will be returned.

She said Framingham State is not the only public university in Massachusetts where the individual has demonstrated. Other campuses include Salem State, UMass Boston, and Worcester State.

On March 22 a community-wide email from Nguyen as well as Cara Pina and Jorge Gonzales, co-chairs of the Council on Diversity and Inclusion, stated, “We are proud of our community for coming together yesterday in support of the LGBTQIA+ community and affirming that we will not allow hate or intolerance on our campus.”

The day following the individual’s arrival, a space was open for FSU community members to come to the CIE and “express [their] solidarity with the LGBTQIA+ community,” according to the email.

Encouraging community members to learn more about their “rights and the actions that [they] can take in the face of hate speech,” the email reminded the campus of the Olivia A. Davidson Voices of Color speaker, Sy Stokes, whose lecture, “Freedom of Speech and the Politics of Morality: Campus Racial Climate in the Modern Era,” will take place March 30 at 4:30 p.m. in the McCarthy Center Forum as well as on Zoom.

LGBTQ+ Resources:

Center for Inclusive Excellence: Email Director Eric Nguyen at enguyen@framingham.edu

Council on Diversity and Inclusion: Email the chairs at CDIchairs@framingham.edu

Counseling Center: Email at counselingcenter@framingham.edu

Dean of Students Office: Email at deanofstudents@framingham.edu

Pride Alliance affinity group (students): Follow on Instagram @fsu_pridealliance

LGBTQ+ Employee Affinity Group (staff and faculty): Email Kim Dexter, assistant vice president of Human Resources and Equal Opportunity at kdexter@framingham.edu

Bias Education Response Team: File a report of bias at framingham.edu