Campus not place for hate speech



Column by Vincent Purcell

On the afternoon of Wednesday, April 7, tensions flared in the Free Speech Area near the Student Center as I had the honor and privilege in leading a student protest against hate-mongers who came to our beloved university to spread a message of hate and intolerance.

Fully intending to stroll to the Student Center and enjoy lunch with friends, you might imagine my shock as I found myself harassed and insulted by these men who decided to come to my school and condemn me for who I am.

I am a gay man.

I am a very outspoken gay rights advocate on campus: I am on the executive board of the student-run OUTsource resource center, I am an active member of our Gay-Straight Alliance, and on top of that, I host a weekly radio show at WRFL focusing on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered issues.

What I am not, however, is a person to lay dormant and listen to the hate speech and do nothing about it. I fully intend to take back our university from those who come here and try to force their intolerant and often outlandish hate on us.

Yes, emotions ran high when the incident occurred, but we must respect the gravity of the situation we are dealing with.

The annual rate of suicide for young people who identify as LGBT is ridiculously high in this country. And at a place like UK where many of these people are coming to a progressive city such as Lexington, the last thing we need is hateful speech being espoused where we all congregate for lunch or walk from our dorms to class.

This sort of harassment leads to emotional damage to people already at a vulnerable moment in their lives.

I am part of a group of people staging protests in an effort to block out the hate speech. One of the primary objectives of the UK Gay-Straight Alliance and OUTsource is to provide a space and a group accepting — no matter someone’s identity.

We are here to foster the development and exploration of self-identity.

Knowing how stressful of a time college is and how important it is to finally live in a place where one can explore their own identity, we want to make very clear there are advocates fighting for LGBT equality. And while these hate preachers may come from off campus to speak their message, we are here fighting against them, because UK does not condone hate or discrimination or belittling of its students in any form, ever.

I took part in a group that caused our local celebrity, “Brother Rick,” to leave campus last November — he had a hard time justifying the names we called out who were murdered because of the hateful sentiment he came to our school to preach.

But the men who were here on Wednesday are professionals. We all remember the Matthew Shepard murder in 1998, and the backlash from the group led by Fred Phelps known as the Westboro Baptist Church (you may know this group as the people who in recent years staged protests at fallen U.S. soldiers’ funerals).

The folks who visited our campus that day are of the same variety: they will stop at nothing to garnish as much press and visibility as they can to spread their message of intolerance, injustice and hate to those different from them.

While the free speech zone is open for anyone to come and share their mind, it first and foremost belongs to the students. We cannot stop these outside people from coming and yelling at us between classes, but we can drown them out with our message of love and acceptance.

They might have every right to be out there, but I give you my personal promise that I will not stop being an advocate for all students on campus. I will not stop until my university is free and clear from those who choose to spread hate speech that is damaging to my fellow students.

This is our university, and this is our fight. Will you join me?