A swarm of students armed with posters gathered on the side of the Union Ballroom Wednesday night to protest the selection of the keynote speaker for LGBT Pride Week.
Dan Savage, a well-known sex advice columnist and LGBT rights activist, spoke in the Ballroom Wednesday night, offering advice in response to questions from the crowd.
As students and enthusiasts filed into the Union, student protesters crammed around tables by the reception desk, scribbling out controversial quotes from Savage’s speeches and column “Savage Love” and slogans denouncing him as a racist and misogynist. The protesters lined the Ballroom wielding their signs before the program and sat on the steps on the edge of the room while Savage spoke.
Ashley Willingham, a senior in theater and a member of this year’s Pride Week planning committee, said Savage was chosen because of his activism on behalf of the LGBT community.
“Even though he is controversial, he has done things for the community, like marriage equality, family equality and the ‘It Gets Better’ campaign,” Willingham said.
The campaign, which Savage founded in 2010, combats LGBT youth bullying, but members of the Honors College Queer Activism and Social Justice Think Tank said his work in this area and many others is nothing less than ironic.
The students argued that while Savage speaks out loudly for LGBT rights, he is exclusionary.
“He speaks out against bullying, but he’s a bully himself,” said Kathy Tran, a junior in history who made posters with other students before the event.
Emilio Manuel Camu, a senior in communication, agreed.
“He’s a self-proclaimed leader of the LGBT movement … But he really only speaks for gay, white, affluent males,” Camu said. “When does it get better? Who does it get better for?”
Tran was very disappointed with the selection of Savage as keynote speaker.
“I think it’s absolutely terrible, because we’re using our student fees to bring him in,” she said. “It’s a way of promoting that. We want other voices to be heard. For him to be heard and not other people, it’s kind of a push back on the LGBT movement.”
Many protesters thought Savage was a poor choice for the keynote, because he only defends one identity within the LGBT movement. They said his advocacy for the white gay male drowns out and squelches other voices, which runs contrary to the theme for this year’s Pride Week, “Pride has Many Voices.”
“As a queer person myself, I wouldn’t ever want to use any privilege I have over any other group, which is exactly what he does,” said George Zamantakis, a sophomore in gender studies and English. “He uses his white privilege and his male privilege to belittle others, and I just feel that is entirely wrong when we are all humans. We’re connected through that human bond, and … I feel it is important to empower voices.”
Savage often draws crowds of both fans and protesters, so he was not surprised by the student protesters on the edge of the Union Ballroom, though he didn’t expect them to be LGBT advocates.
“Sometimes there are protests, sometimes they are the conservative and the religious groups, which is frankly what I expected in Utah,” Savage said during his lecture.
He added that he had no agenda coming to the U and that he had already apologized for many of the quotes cited by the student protesters and that many were taken out of context.