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University President Defends Fliers Encouraging LGBT Suicide as 'Free Speech'

AP Photo/Esteban Felix

While he said he finds the message "reprehensible," there has yet to be action taken against the people who distributed them. 

Days after hate speech posters encouraging LGBTQ students to kill themselves were distributed on campus, students at Cleveland State University staged a protest in response to the administration's failure to condemn the act. The fliers, which had statistics about LGBTQ suicide and encouraged students to "follow your fellow faggots," were seemingly put up by a group called Fascist Solutions on the same day that an LGBTQ center opened on campus.

Related | Fliers Telling LGBT Students to Kill Themselves Found at Cleveland State University

In response to the hateful propaganda, CSU president Ronald Berkman said that "a spirit of inclusiveness will always be central to the very identity of our University," but also defended the posters, saying: "CSU also is committed to upholding the First Amendment, even with regard to controversial issues where opinion is divided. We will continue to protect free speech to ensure all voices may be heard and to promote a civil discourse where educational growth is the desired result." Apparently at CSU, telling LGBT people to kill themselves falls under "controversial issues where opinion is divided." Sorry, but the morality of encouraging a subset of people to kill themselves is not up for opinion. It's violence.

The following day, amidst uproar over the tepid response, Berkman issued another response saying: "[I] wanted to acknowledge that yesterday I failed to express my personal outrage over a recent incident involving an anti-LGBTQ+ poster. While I find the message of this poster reprehensible, the current legal framework regarding free speech makes it difficult to prevent these messages from being disseminated. However, let me make it clear that I am committed to promoting a safe and inclusive campus for all members of our community."

Just as a reminder here that the posters literally told people to kill themselves and featured a man hanging from a noose, but hey, free speech. In response to the attempted apology from Berkman that amounted to a "I find it reprehenisble but free speech" excuse, CSU student Molly Stachnik organized a "Hate Speech is not Free Speech" rally before marching to Berkman's office, who was conveniently not available when they arrived. "Telling people to go kill themselves isn't freedom of speech legally or morally," she said at the rally. "We wanted to come together as a community and say that as a community this is not what Cleveland State represents, this is not us and we are going to stand against this because it is very obvious that our leadership isn't going to."

At the president's office, Cleveland State University's Chief Diversity Officer Maurice Stinnett met with the students and promised further action. "Our response was inadequate, our response did not openly condemn it immediately and I was extremely frustrated and we are going to do something about it," Stinnett said to the students. It remains to be seen what further action will be taken, but when we're living through one of the most anti-LGBTQ political climates we've ever experienced, we can only hope that it amounts to more than a half-assed defense of free speech.

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Chris Thomas