The president of Cleveland State University defended a hateful message that circulated campus suggesting LGBT students should commit suicide. A flyer depicting a man with a rope around his neck captioned with suicide statistics about transgender, LGBT, and bisexual students was found in the main classroom building on campus.
What should have been a momentous occasion for the university's first LGBT center suddenly became threatening. And the school defended that message of hate as free speech.
Flyers Encouraging LGBT Kids to Commit Suicide Posted at Cleveland State University On Day it Opens LGBT Center… https://t.co/Nzd9xVPAzx— Towleroad (@Towleroad) 1508337727.0
Cleveland State University president Ronald Berkman issued a statement saying that CSU is "committed to upholding the First Amendment, even with regard to controversial issues where opinion is divided. We will continue to protect free speech to ensure all voices may be heard and to promote a civil discourse where educational growth is the desired result."
He added, "Be assured that a spirit of inclusiveness will always be central to the very identity of our University."
The backlash on the Internet was immediate.
@PresBerkman you are a disgusting, pitiful man who’s more committed to protecting homophobes than LGBT students— im an art collective (@im an art collective) 1508249065.0
@PresBerkman you are responsible for everything that comes out of this, and your message sets a very dangerous precedent— im an art collective (@im an art collective) 1508249122.0
Really Cleveland State University? That is so shameful and sad. LGBT youth deserve a place to learn where they'll f… https://t.co/ehTJXkQkly— CalamityJane (@CalamityJane) 1508284972.0
This Twitter user criticized the university's president for creating an unsafe campus atmosphere by promoting violence .
this isn't upholding of freedom or neutrality @PresBerkman this is cowardly endorsement of violence and there will… https://t.co/I5TVwfy1Zw— jack 🎄 (@jack 🎄) 1508226738.0
One student told ABC News, "Kinda just surprised and disgusted," while another said, "It is a cowardly thing to do, since they didn't put their face on it. What they are exactly looking for is to encourage someone else to put their face on it."
Eris Eady of the LGBT Center of Greater Cleveland pointed out that the statistics on the flier were inaccurate, and that sadly, suicide rates among the LGBT community were higher.
According to a 2014 study, suicide attempts among trans men was 46%, and 42% for trans women. Ten to 20% of LGBT adults reported attempts of suicide.
"The coercion of someone attempting to take their own life, there is no humor in that. There will never be humor in that. There is nothing funny about death," Eady said.
And while those denounced Berkman's response, Demi Overley of CSU's Queer Student Alliance, reasoned that the Berkman was only responding in accordance with Ohio laws.
"We are not really satisfied with his seeming support of the message of the fliers," she said, adding that it was "hard for [the school] to go above and beyond the law of the state."
Overly encouraged students to work towards changing laws on free speech instead of going after the university president.
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