Unhinged bigot Peter LaBarbera recently spoke at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio and a group of pro-equality students there gave a textbook example of how you deal with such a speaker without violating their free speech rights or the right of other students to hear him speak. Kate Geiselman, one of the students who led the effort, tells the story:
But things didn’t quite go as planned. Mr. LaBarbera, we were told, was not there.
Immediately, I suspected him of cowardice. I suspected the club advisers of deliberately manipulating the schedule so students with busy lives, professors with classes to teach, and staff with jobs to get back to would not be able to wait.
But wait we did, and despite my initial paranoia, it appeared that Mr. LaBarbera was legitimately delayed. In fact, one of the club advisers not only asked the assembled guests to stay, but invited us to the mic to explain (“respectfully, and please keep your comments to under one minute”) why we were there.
At first, no one spoke. Then a young woman stood, took the mic offered to her, introduced herself, and said, “I’m here because most of my friends are gay, and I love them with all my heart.” She sat down amid enthusiastic applause.
And then the magic happened.
For the next 40 minutes or so, students and faculty and guests passed the mic to one another and spoke plain truths about their lives and loves. They expressed frustrations and hopes. They professed faith and doubt. Some identified themselves as gay or straight; many did not. Some identified themselves as Christians, others as atheists or Buddhists or agnostics. One man said he moved here from a country where homosexuality was punishable by hanging. Another said that after a history of drug use and time in prison, he had found Christ, and that studying theology in college had deepened his faith and opened his mind. Just before we ran out of time, a woman stood up and said, “I’m a lesbian. After this, I have some work to do, and then I have to get to the grocery store, and then I will have dinner with my partner, and then we will walk the dogs. That is my gay agenda.”…Mr. LaBarbera approached the podium and apologized affably for keeping us waiting. He talked about the importance of dialogue and respect. And then he said there was no scientific evidence that homosexuality is not a choice. He reminded us that the hypocritical left, in silencing voices like his, is really the party guilty of intolerance.
And that was our cue to leave.
We stood, without a word, and walked out. I heard a woman shouting, “Shame! Shame on you!” There were gasps and a few loud grumbles of disapproval, LaBarbera’s aforementioned “Are you effing kidding me” among them. We walked out of the venue and into the Student Activities Center, where we hugged and laughed and ate Honey Maid graham crackers. Photographs of the venue after we walked out show that about 12 people remained behind, at least two of whom I recognize as allies who likely stayed to see what he would say. It was a beautiful, beautiful thing.
Perfect. Absolutely perfect.