Dustin Steinhoff, News Editor
Religious groups on the University of Missouri–St. Louis quad seem to be appearing much more frequently this semester, as have the anti-LGBTQ+ statements that some of these groups preach, often making LGBTQ+ students and their supporters feel uncomfortable or sometimes threatened.
PRIZM (UMSL’s Queer – Transgender – Straight Alliance organization) President Claire McCroary, senior, anthropology, has witnessed religious groups preaching anti-LGBTQ+ ideals herself and has seen a sizable increase in the amount of times this has been occurring at UMSL, specifically in the last few months.
“There have been multiple instances in my past three semesters here, but this semester it has been every Tuesday,” McCroary said.
The student representative of PRIZM, Kiliyah Perry, junior, studio art FAC BFA, brought up this issue at a recent Student Government Association meeting. Perry mentioned a situation in which speakers had been using the campus quad to preach Christian beliefs. Issues arose when the speakers made negative statements about the LGBTQ+ community.
This has been on ongoing problem on campus, with situations in the past where it appeared the speakers were yelling at specific students.
“Essentially [Perry] brought up concerns about the mental health of members of their organization and their community at large,” SGA President Joseph Dordoni, junior, international relations, said.
Unfortunately, state laws regarding freedom of speech in public spaces prevent the SGA or university from being able to prevent speakers with anti-LGBTQ+ agendas from preaching on campus.
“Since the quad and any outdoor area on campus are public spaces by Missouri law, there isn’t much the university can do to prevent speakers from coming on to campus,” Dordoni said.
Despite the university being unable to prevent these groups from appearing on campus, Dordoni ensured that the issue is being looked into and suggests that students report situations where they are being disturbed by the group in order to help get a better understanding of the situation and ensure all students feel safe on campus.
“If the speakers are causing a disturbance that might impact a student’s ability to learn, then the university can step in and approach the speakers and, if necessary, can ask them to leave,” Dordoni said. “Before we had this discussion in our assembly, I don’t think that the university really realized the extent to which this was going on. Now it is on their radar, but we are really trying to encourage students to speak up so there can be more documentation of these issues.”
Despite McCroary’s own opposition to the group’s LGBTQ+ statements, she finds it best not to interact with the group in order to prevent hostile interactions from taking place. “I tend to make it a policy to not engage to put myself in a situation like that,” McCroary said.
For other UMSL students and faculty who are opposed to these groups’ statements, McCroary suggests that they do the same and avoid confronting the group members.
“Don’t engage, don’t put yourself at risk,” McCroary said. “If you interact with them that gives them the opportunity to attack you. You should also know your rights as a student on this campus. If one of the members is starting to point at you specifically when you do not engage them at all, and they start attacking you, you are within your rights to call campus security.”