When a group of controversial street preachers descended on the University of North Texas on Thursday holding signs that called Black Lives Matter “racist thugs,” it inspired the Student Government Association to respond with an alternative event.
The street preachers were met by a wall of students questioning how their messages aligned with Jesus’ teachings. The preachers had planned to return to campus on Friday to proclaim their views against women’s sexual activity, sin, pornography and judgment, with signs that proclaimed: “Got AIDS Yet?”
“Homosexuals give each other diseases,” one of the street preachers told a student, according to a video the Denton Record-Chronicle posted on Facebook. “Homosexuals kill each other.”
Christina Pierce, whose son is a sophomore at the school, told Newsweek that her “heart was heavy” when she saw pictures of the signs. She finds hate and bigotry upsetting generally, but when it targets her son, who describes himself as a “proud bisexual American,” she says ‘mama bear’ comes out.
“My son said that most of the students just viewed it as entertainment, thought they were ignorant and comical,” Pierce said. “But these students are still pretty young, and when you belong to one of these groups that they appear to be targeting, how can it not hurt you, at least a little?”
Devon Skinner, a junior at the university, told Newsweek the street preachers were standing on “free speech zones” on campus, public property where they can’t be removed. Since they had a legal right to peacefully protest in the area, Skinner applauded the Student Government Association for hosting an alternative event.
After hearing the National Preachers Conference’s “messages of hate” last year, SGA decided to host a Block Out Hate Rally on Thursday, where students could enjoy free food, live music and an inflatable bounce house. Skinner considered it a great way to bring unity and comfort to a community that could feel threatened.
“One of the most impactful components of hate speech is the discordance and division that it can cause in any community,” Skinner said. “Events like SGA’s Block-Out-The-Hate block party remind us of who we are and who our community is.”
Along with the student-run event, the school designated a room in the University Union building as a safe space on Thursday and Friday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Newsweek reached out to the university but did not receive an immediate response.
Kaitlin Griffin didn’t attend the protest because she had class, but she told Newsweek that there’s a line between allowing people to exercise their First Amendment rights and infringing on students’ daily activities, such as going to school. She asked people to imagine men with bullhorns yelling at them and threatening them outside their workplace or home, places where a person should feel safe.
“My university has a culture of diversity and inclusion. It’s a culture we’ve fought hard to maintain. When men like these, not far off from the Westboro Baptist folks, threaten this peace and marketplace of ideas, we fight back,” Griffin said.
She added that “preachers” yelling at people that they’re going to Hell is not the Gospel nor is it Jesus’ teachings and tactics.