UNC-Charlotte students walk past Belk Tower, where LGBT students say they were verbally attacked by anti-gay preachers.
CHARLOTTE — When LGBT and allied students affiliated with the University of North Carolina-Charlotte’s PRIDE student group held their Day of Silence observances, they were confronted with loud and disruptive protests from anti-gay preachers. The events and their aftermath have led to calls for campus policy revisions.
On Apr. 17, students were holding a peaceful demonstration at the campus’ Belk Tower. PRIDE President Braxton Midyette told Q-Notes that about seven preachers “invaded the space PRIDE had reserved for the event” and “verbally attacked” supporters with the slurs they were shouting.
Midyette said, “They were also ‘preaching’ on the fact that it was good that [15-year-old California student] Lawrence King was murdered for being gay and that he, along with the rest of us, were going to Hell for being homosexuals or friends of homosexuals.”
Organizers called campus police, Midyette said, but they took “very little” action. “It was a struggle to even get them out there and actually do something about these individuals,” he charged.
Student members of PRIDE are now organizing to revise the university’s “Fighting Words Policy.” The policy currently prohibits students and faculty from using “personally abusive epithets which, when directly addressed to any ordinary person are, in the context used and as a matter of common knowledge, inherently likely to provoke an immediate and violent reaction, whether or not they actually do so.”
The prohibition includes “terms or gestures widely recognized to be derogatory references to race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and other personal characteristics.”
Midyette said the group wants to expand the policy so that it will apply to students, faculty and visitors on the campus.
“As of right now, [the policy] is only geared toward students on campus and not to any individual that just happens to wonder on campus and say anything they want,” he explained. “Also, if the police do not hear any derogatory term directed at a particular individual, they are not able to do anything.”
Midyette said PRIDE representatives intend to present their plan for revision to UNCC’s dean of students, Dr. Michele Howard.
Howard told Q-Notes she would “absolutely” be willing to meet with students and listen to their concerns on how the policy might be improved.
“I would certainly be welcoming to them,” she said. “It is my role to listen to them and their concerns and to look and see what can be done.”
Ted Lewis, UNCC’s assistant director for sexual/gender diversity, told Q-Notes the institution is listening to student concerns and responding.
“We do have students that are meeting with the dean of students and I’ve already heard of very positive things,” he said. “This is a situation where we need to learn more about the situation before we can say we’ll do ‘X, Y or Z.'”