Alt-right troll Milo Yiannopoulos, who claims to be “ex-gay,” has caused outrage among students at Penn State University over a planned “Pray the Gay Away” event.
Scheduled for tonight at 8 p.m, the event is being hosted by the Uncensored America, a student-run organization, reports the Daily Collegian, Penn State’s student newspaper.
Despite backlash, Penn State said in a statement on Oct. 25 that it “lacks the right” to cancel the event.
“As a public university, we are fundamentally and unalterably obligated under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment to protect various expressive rights, even for those whose viewpoints offend our basic institutional values,” administrators said. “To do so otherwise not only violates the Constitution but would undermine the basic freedom each of us shares to generally think and express ourselves as we wish.”
Junior Kyra Gines, who is secretary of Penn State’s Queer and Trans People of Color (QTPOC) organization, told the Collegian that Yiannopoulos will threaten the LGBTQ community and cause “violence and discomfort across campus.”
Gines said the university’s response was “exactly what I expect from this institution,” accusing the administration of indifference toward the LGBTQ community.
Penn State spokesperson Lisa Powers, however, told the Collegian that the university’s “adherence to the law is in no way a reflection” of its “commitment to those who may be impacted by the event.”
“These incendiary speakers purposefully spew hate and hostility in an effort to divide communities and cause its members harm,” Powers said in a statement. “It is our hope that our community will show Milo Yiannopoulos that ‘love is louder,’ and that his vile form of attacking others is not welcome.”
QTPOC President Celeste Good criticized the university for the “hypocrisy” of its inaction.
“Penn State thrives on calling itself diverse and inclusive and caring about [its] students,” she said, “but at the same time, [it’s] going to allow someone to say ‘pray the gay away’ and someone who’s known for endorsing pedophilia, someone who’s going to open a conversion therapy camp in Florida, to this campus to talk.”
She told the Collegian that she worries that riots and violence from the event will harm her and QTPOC community members, as well as campus property and other students, faculty and staff.
“How is that not something that the university is afraid of?” she said. “What if I’m sent to the hospital? What if someone dies? That’s all on Penn State.”
The University Park Allocation Committee (UPAC), composed of undergraduate and graduate students, funded the event, saying in a statement that “all viewpoints, including those that are controversial, must have an equal chance of receiving funding.”
However, UPAC said it did not mean to “dehumanize” those who belong to communities that have been targeted by Yiannopoulos’ rhetoric, and called the “nature of his commentary…both highly offensive and dangerous to a community that too often faces discrimination.”
U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.) condemned the event’s homophobic message on Monday.
“Every student deserves a safe environment to learn, and this event is antithetical to Penn State and our Commonwealth’s values,” he said in a statement. “To the LGBTQ community at Penn State: I stand with you, and I will continue to fight in Congress for you and your rights.”
Junior Jake Ehrbaker told the Collegian that what Yiannopoulos is “doing doesn’t necessarily constitute free speech as much as it does hate speech” because it is affecting the mental and physical health of students in the LGBTQ community like him.
Ehrbaker created a petition to “End Hate Speech at Penn State University Park,” which has garnered more than 12,000 signatures. He said that posters advertising the event are a “huge hit to everyone’s mental health, especially after coming out of the pandemic where everyone’s health is already at such a low point already.”
“If someone’s struggling with their sexuality and they’re already in a bad place mentally and they walk into school and the first thing they see is a poster that says ‘pray away the gay,’ that’s going to be a huge toll on them,” he said.
A controversial figure who rose to prominence after throwing his support behind Donald Trump’s 2016 candidacy, Yiannopoulos but has struggled for relevancy since resigning from Breitbart News in 2017, after making comments that seemed to show support for pedophilia.
Earlier this yer, the British writer and speaker told right-wing website LifeSite that he is “ex-gay” and “sodomy-free,” and his American husband has been “demoted to housemate.”
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