Free assembly enables group

Column by Watson Harding. E-mail [email protected]

An often overlooked part of the First Amendment is the right of free assembly and association.

This component of the First Amendment holds special significance to LGBTQQIA students at the University of Kentucky because of the struggles students undertook to create student organizations and have them recognized by the administration.

The first attempt to start an LGBT student group at UK was with the Gay-Liberation Front in 1971. The Singletary administration refused their application for recognition as a student group on campus and the privileges that status afforded, namely the right to host events on campus.

However, events were put on through Student Government and the Free University movement.

Unfortunately, queer students still had no group to declare their own nor space with which to organize because the university actively denied them their right to association.

The university refused to grant recognition because sexual acts between two people of the same sex were illegal at the time. The administration wrongly assumed that this would be the only function of any queer student group, a line of logic supported by the state attorney general and the courts.

This denial of free association limited many other First Amendment rights.

Without free association LGBT students could not organize and petition for changes in the laws that made being gay illegal. A group has more ability to petition for change than an individual.

Without free association students would have to advocate as individuals, inevitably outing themselves and exposing themselves to all the negative consequences that entailed.

Today students worry about potential employers seeing party pictures on Facebook, but back then a pro-gay letter to the editor could get you fired. It would make more sense for a student group to publish a collective letter but they were unable. The denial of free association actively denied students their right to free speech.

Today students almost take for granted the right to form student groups. UK counts amongst its groups everything from libertarians to socialists, club rugby to Quidditch. The campus is still fraught with challenges to the First Amendment, most with a large amount of gray area.

Does the university have the authority to create a free speech zone?

Is smoking on campus a legitimate form of protest against the smoking ban?

Why is it so difficult for students to publicly voice opinions at Board of Trustees meetings?

Strides have been made in advancing students’ First Amendment rights on the college campus but there is still unexplored territory.

Instead of taking our rights for granted it is our duty to push and expand them.

We have been afforded the rights denied to our student forebears; why not use it for the liberty of those yet to pass through the University of Kentucky?