This article has been updated to include additional statements from University spokesperson Brian Coy and president of the Queer Student Union Blake Hesson.
A Beta Bridge mural that said, “PROTECT BLACK TRANS WOMEN,” was found painted over Saturday morning with statements including, “2A,” “GUNS,” and an arrow through “WOMEN.” Although people repainted the initial message Saturday, “2A” and “GUNS” were found repainted Sunday night and were covered again.
The initial mural had been painted by the secret SABLE Society Dec. 3 as part of a campaign across Grounds to raise awareness of the difficulties faced by Black transgender women, who are murdered at higher rates than other demographic groups.
It is yet unclear who wrote the “2A” and “GUNS” messages, which appear to be in reference to the Second Amendment’s granting of the right to bear arms and the recent wave of counties and towns across the Commonwealth declaring themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries,” which will not enforce any unconstitutional restrictions on gun rights, in anticipation of the entrance of a Democrat-controlled state legislature in January for the first time in years.
The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors have not passed any resolutions declaring the county a Second Amendment sanctuary, although they have heard support from residents.
In a statement, University spokesperson Brian Coy said the University was aware of the changes repeatedly made to the initial message.
“Beta Bridge is a long recognized public forum that may on occasion cause controversy or disagreement about the messages expressed or the intentions of individuals who choose to paint the bridge,” Coy said. “We hope that community members will continue to honor this long-standing tradition of public expression in a way that respects every member of this community and the viewpoints they bring to Grounds.”
Coy said the University wants to ensure that community members impacted by the incident were aware of resources that could help, including Counseling and Psychological Services, the University Faculty Employee Assistance Program, the LGBTQ Center and the Office for Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights’ Gender Diversity Resources.
“The University of Virginia welcomes and values every member of this community regardless of their race, religion, sex, gender identity and expression, or other protected characteristics,” Coy said. “We recognize that people, particularly black trans women, feel demeaned or threatened by this message and the way it appeared on Beta Bridge. We also recognize that black trans women are among one of the most vulnerable populations in our country.”
Lyle Solla-Yates, software platforms and technology lead in the School of Architecture, posted a photo of the defaced mural Saturday morning on Twitter.
“I appreciate that there are people who firmly believe in the Second Amendment, but this looked like something that was supposed to…make people not inspired to protect the Second Amendment but be afraid, and I was upset,” Solla-Yates said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily. “I was a little reluctant to share it, because I don’t like sharing hate messages, but I feel like people have to be cautious about people like this.”
In a statement prior to the second defacement, the SABLE Society said the student body must stand united against hate that harms members of the community.
“One of our guiding principles is to give voice to those that are often ignored and unheard,” the society said. “On Beta Bridge, we endeavored to shine a light on the heartbreaking tragedy of the persecution of Trans members of our Black community. We are shouting to the world that All Black Lives Matter, and we stand in solidarity with the Trans community. They are neither invisible nor disposable; they are our brothers and sisters.”
Blake Hesson, president of the Queer Student Union and a fourth-year College student, said they believe the incident speaks to a wider problem where hateful messages are directed towards marginalized people around the University.
“This speaks to something that's continued and probably will continue but I think this is where the University should come in and say what kind of things should be allowed, and how we should respect and respectfully disagree, even though I don't think you can really disagree with a human being and [how their identity informs how they live their lives],” Hesson said.
Latrell Lee, a fourth-year Commerce student and community leader, said he was not surprised by the incident.
“I was pissed to say the least,” Lee said in an email. “Especially given U.Va.’s history and the way that Black people are looked at in general, let alone Black trans women.”