Gay-Straight Alliance sparks dialogue on "ex-gays" with Chancellor's support

The third Ally Week post celebrates the determined and creative actions of the Gay-Straight Alliance at UAF, and their allies on the staff and in the community, in dealing with CBC's pray-away-the-gay speaker on campus last month.

Gay and lesbian students and staff at the University of Fairbanks got an unpleasant surprise when they entered the Wood Center in mid-September: "GAY? LONELY? CONFUSED?" read a banner hanging from the stairs. The solution was to stop being gay, according to the "ex-gay" speaker Edward Delgado, who was invited to UAF by Campus Bible Club to preach on how he stopped having sex with men and became heterosexual through Jesus. His speech was called "From Sin's Bondage to Christ's Freedom!"

The banner listed the anti-gay group Exodus International, but didn't mention that the Exodus "reparative therapy" methods are dangerous and discredited, or that Exodus supports forced therapy and incites hatred and violence towards gays around the world. Nor did it mention that Delgado is a deacon at Dimond Boulevard Baptist Church in Anchorage.

This was not a good way to start the school year. Nothing like a big homophobic banner in the central gathering place of the campus and a 4 day anti-gay religious event at a public university to ruin the welcoming educational atmosphere for the gay and lesbian students and staff.

But the Gay-Straight Alliance was all over it. At first, the GSA wanted the banner taken down.

"We aren't looking to stop the speaker, as he does have the right to speak," wrote Jessi Angelette, "but the banner is uncalled for. Many people from staff to students are offended by it and are working to have the banner removed."

Their plan to ask the Chancellor to remove the banner started a wide-ranging discussion in the comments of the News-Miner article and Bent Alaska post about freedom of speech and using more speech, especially humor, to counter hate and absurdity.

The students prepared factual flyers on the so-called "therapy," wrote on the UAF free speech wall, organized a peaceful sit-down protest, and created a positive banner to hang next to the anti-gay one.

Delgado's first speech was on Tuesday Sept. 15. "There were GSA members who went to hear what the speaker had to say, including me," wrote Jessi. "We thought that if we were going to be opposing someone we might as well hear what we were opposing."

Was he reasonable? "I would have to say no," Jessi replied. "One person said to the speaker that he was happy for him that he found God and everything but that he is happy with who he is and was wondering if the speaker could show him the same kindness and be happy for him... the speaker said NO."

"One GSA member said the speaker gave the most hateful loving speech she has ever heard."

That night, UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers addressed the issue during the Convocation ceremony:
"I'm committed to an open and welcoming and inclusive university. It's important to me that this is a community where people feel safe and able to pursue their academic goals. I know there are times where this campus does not feel welcoming, inclusive or safe to some of our members. I'd like to change that."

"For those in this community who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, I'm sorry that there are people who are intolerant of who you are."
The video of his speech includes photos of the anti-gay banner and the free speech wall:

With the support of the Chancellor, the GSA fought the "ex-gay" lies with truth and humor, and creative support came from all sides.

A few students put up a temporary banner near the anti-gay one, but it was quickly replaced with an approved banner advertising the weekly GSA meetings. The rainbow poster (above) starts, "Gay? Bi? Ally? Be Proud! STOP the HATE."

"I was contacted by a friend who does graphics and he offered to do the graphic for us on the computer so that we could get it printed right away," wrote Jessi. "We then took it to the Graphics Artist in the Wood Center and he printed it for us, then we talked to the scheduling office and got the banner authorized to go up that day."

Creative responses also came from UAF staff. Kate Wattum's photoshopped parody-banner advertised her "Life of Laughter (lol)" story "Move Forward, Never Straight: 'Gay' for 46 years and partnered to a fabulous woman and has three children!"

But Wattum thought the anti-gay banner should stay up for a different reason. "I think it is absolutely critical that everyone is reminded that gays face this harassment every day," she wrote.

Fairbanks resident and "Nuggets" creator Jamie Smith, a former UAF student, drew a cartoon about it for his blog ink & snow:
"Delgado was quoted saying 'the homosexual lifestyle leads to promiscuity, abuse, alcoholism and drug abuse'..."

"Fact is, the vast, overwhelming number of promiscuous, diseased, abusive drug-addicted alcoholics (some of the darned nicest folks you'd ever ask for as friends, I might add) are heterosexuals. You know, the very same people who keep constantly screwing up marriage; that righteous bastion of American moral purity, the sacred institution threatened with destruction by same-sex unions."

"Never got around to hearing any of Delgado's speeches, or a chance to confront the guy with his hypocrisy... But when all's said and done, I'm left using the tools that I have been blessed with, lobbing poo from the sidelines. So I went home and drew about it..."

Meanwhile, Jim Minnery, president of the Alaska Family Council, told their parent organization Focus on the Family that Chancellor Rogers refused to bar Delgado from the campus, entirely missing the point that the GSA never asked for him to be barred. FOF recently got out of the ex-gay business because their donations are down this year.

"Kudos to him," Minnery said. "There are folks on the campus that may have a more conservative bent in their mindset, and I hope they're emboldened by this."

But the students who were made bold by the Chancellor's speech and the outpouring of support from the campus and community are the gay and straight students who faced this threat together and grew stronger.

"The GSA has an amazing amount of energy and has spearheaded quite a bit of that toward some good dialogue," wrote Pete Pinney of PFLAG Fairbanks. "We support them."

Jessi summed up the week for the GSA:
"The GSA not only had people stopping by the meetings after the whole thing, but it was so amazing to see how much support we were getting on campus. While we were doing our sit-down protest, a very nice man bought a few of us hot chocolate, and then later on even our Chancellor sat down with us for a few mintues... ON THE FLOOR!"

"We have had so many people tell us we were so awesome in the way we handled ourselves. For those who were once worried about how the campus feels about GSA being on campus... that week the speaker was here showed us our campus' true colors. The support we recieved was a happy and welcomed surprise. I have never been more proud to be a part of this campus then that week."
Kudos to the Gay-Straight Alliance for being true allies!

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