In April 2010, an alleged hate bias assault riveted Miami University’s campus. Two students leaving a student organization-sponsored drag show were victims to the attack, which occurred outside Stadium Bar & Grille and across the street from the Oxford Police Department (OPD).
The undergraduate gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (GLBTQ) organization Spectrum hosts drag show four times a year. But the isolated incidents served as a wake up call for the university, prompting a “No Hate on My Campus” campaign.
“The situation sucked but it presented us with this opportunity,” said Spectrum co-president, Billy Price. “It really led the campus to realize that these things are happening at Miami and know that they’re not okay.”
Price joined the coalition during his first year because he wanted to be involved in a group spreading awareness and education across campus for GLBTQ community.
“It’s really important for me to be involved in making the campus, the community, and ultimately the world a better place for LGBTQ people,” Price said.
According to Price, Spectrum is a social group that supports lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, questioning, queer and allied students at Miami. Roughly 30 and 40 people attend the weekly Spectrum meetings.
This year, the group is educating members at meetings about topics regarding allied support, strange sex practices from all over the world, political issues, the intersection of faith and sexuality, AIDS, and the concept of gender as a social construction, Price said.
Spectrum advocates for equal opportunities for all students. The group welcomes all students and community members to participate in events and activities promoting social change. For nearly 25 years, gay and lesbian alliances (GLAs) were established on campus, Price said, but several variations of such groups came and went during times when the university refused to recognize them as legitimate student organizations.
According to Price, he has seen positive changes during his time at Miami. For instance, the largest growing segment of Spectrum is allied support. According to Miami University’s GLBTQ Services website, an ally is “a person who supports sexual and gender diversity, challenges those who don’t, and works towards equality; often used to describe a heterosexual person who identifies with the LGBT community.”
“Studies have shown that if you know someone who is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender than you’re more likely to have positive feelings toward the LGBT population as a whole,” Price said. “Building allies is one of our goals. So much of this campus has been changing in terms of ideology and political views. It’s amazing what time can do.”
Subsequently, on Oct. 25, 2011, Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) visited Miami University, which is a religious group notorious for picketing soldiers’ funerals and vehemently renouncing homosexuality. Months leading up to WBC’s scheduled picketing, Miami’s campus exploded with mixed reactions. Originally a member of the religious group intended to come speak during a comparative religion course.
“The original plan was for Westboro to come to a class on religious extremism so the professor could demonstrate his research methods and allow his class to practice an ethics-influenced empathy-based approach to studying Westboro,” said Price. “It’s really a fascinating approach when the only interaction people have with them is yelling across picket lines.”
But the proposed visit backlashed when the student newspaper, The Miami Student exposed the visit to the community. Upon hearing the news, Price and Spectrum’s Leadership Team prepared by extensively researching the tactics and beliefs of WBC. Then the department of comparative religion retracted the invitation of WBC member Shirley Phelps-Roper.
As a result, WBC announced on its website a plan to picket the university. Instead of reacting with adverse hatred, Spectrum collaborated with 43 co-sponsors to host counter-picketing event during the scheduled protest and “White Out Hate” campaign.
“We knew that people would initially want to stand there and scream back at them,” Price said. “Westboro is really great at eliciting this knee-jerk response that provides conflict and fodder for the media.
“We really didn’t want to enhance them in any way. We decided to have an event removed from where they were trying to be to draw people away to keep the exposure down,” he said.
The event stood as an alternative for people, protecting them from the “emotional terrorism” or possible litigation from WBC if students or community members cross the line, Price said. Moreover, the “White Out Hate” campaign was charged as a silent protest tactic for students to show solidarity throughout the day before WBC arrived. Spectrum also hosted a teach-in on “hate” to discuss the status of hate crimes and hate groups in America. The counter-picket event raised money for a local veterans fund and an LGBT cause with about 500 people cycling throughout.
“It was an affirming experience and we really had one Miami community at that event,” Price said. “It wasn’t just LGBT allies. It was everyone just coming together against this all-encompassing group.”
Spectrum is a resource for students seeking a safe place to express struggles with sexuality and to celebrate the GLBTQ community.
“We’re open to absolutely everyone,” Price said. “We can’t really build walls when we’re trying to tear them down.”