Rainbow Alliance Co-President Jessica Kaiser received a curious text around lunchtime today: “Gay protesters at the arch!” Apparently, two men had staked out a spot at the corner of Sheridan and Chicago Ave. and were distributing literature condemning homosexuality.
An hour later, Kaiser and a handful of other Alliance members had organized their own ad-hoc counter-protest, ten feet away, hoisting up signs that read “Hate speech is not free speech,” “Northwestern loves gays” and “We do not support hate,” to the passersby.
The form of speech in question was a flier, which belonged to Heterosexuals for a Moral Environment, a group based in Downers Grove, Ill. Members of the group did not respond to a late-afternoon message asking for comment, but H.O.M.E.’s Web site says, “we can and do prove that homosexual activity is wrong, is immoral.”
But according to Kaiser, first amendment rights were on their agenda today. Rainbow Alliance Activism Chair Caroline Perry recalls two men saying “free speech” as they handed out the fliers.
Indeed, the text on the flier includes the assertion that “college students on some of the more liberal college campuses have been threatened with expulsion for merely expressing opinions that challenge the prevailing pro-homosexual orthodoxy on those campuses.”
For her part, Kaiser and her co-president Patrick Dawson said that H.O.M.E.’s message was discriminatory. “This isn’t a matter of free speech,” Kaiser said. “It’s a matter of hate speech.”
Kaiser, Perry and Dawson said the counter-protesters decided to adopt a non-confrontational tone.
“Shouting at this group accomplishes little, so just show your support for LGBT people,” Kaiser wrote in an e-mail to the Alliance’s listserv. Dawson said the protest was low-key and discord-free, although the H.O.M.E. members did come over to try to start a conversation, and even offered to come to Alliance meetings.
Dawson said that the two men compared homosexuality to smoking when speaking with Alliance members. The flier says “the rational way to deal with homosexuality is to treat it like we treat smoking, a comparatively less dangerous and less costly behavior.”
This wasn’t the first time these two men had appeared on campus. Kaiser remembers them being here a year or two ago: “The same people, the same pamphlets, and everything,” she said.
Because the H.O.M.E. activists and the pamphlets were on the sidewalk by the arch, they weren’t subject to university policies. People unaffiliated with Northwestern can’t distribute fliers or campaign on campus property, but are welcome to exercise their First-Amendment rights on city property, Vice President for University Relations Al Cubbage said.
For Perry, who spent a frantic half-hour e-mailing friends and colleagues and grabbing poster supplies from CVS, the situation was over soon after it started. The two canvassers from H.O.M.E. were gone by 2 p.m., at which point Dawson said there were seven pro-Alliance protesters.
“By the time we got everything together, they just sort of got up and left,” Perry said.