Trigger Warning — this column discusses suicidal thoughts.
Young Americans for Freedom at U.Va. has announced that former vice president Mike Pence will speak at Old Cabell Hall April 12. Nick Cabrera, chairman of YAF and third-year College student, called the University’s political climate “nearly inhospitable towards conservatives,” adding that bringing Pence to Grounds “will allow for a reinvigorated sense of intellectual diversity across Jefferson’s campus.” I will begin by saying that I respect the fact that conservatives have the freedom to speak their opinions. At the same time, I would also argue that as a school, when certain opinions go against students’ safety, we must question if those speakers should be welcomed on Grounds. Pence’s presence should not be welcomed, nor should the University allow speakers on Grounds who deny the full humanity of all students.
Pence is notoriously homophobic. He has supported federal funding to treat people “seeking to change their sexual behavor,” which is quite the roundabout way to say you support conversion therapy. And according to a timeline made by the Indiana Democratic Party, he also voted against the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law in 2010. In 2004, Pence co-sponsored an amendment to the Constitution seeking to define marriage as a union between one woman and one man. Most recently, he has worked with the Heritage Foundation, which has been described as “an intensely anti-LGBTQ+ group.” I could go on, but what is apparent is that Pence — in his own words — does not view same-sex relationships as equal to heterosexual relationships.
My main point is that, in my own experience, the climate at the University is already difficult for some LGBTQ+ students. Mike Pence coming to speak will only make that worse — he should not be invited.
As a lesbian, I have struggled significantly during my time at the University. I came out towards the end of my senior year of high school and did not feel comfortable acknowledging my sexuality in my hometown. I figured college would be this amazing place to learn who I was and express that safely. I could not have been more wrong.
Last semester, being gay here and dealing with homophobia became too much. As a first year, I struggled with what my expectations of college were supposed to be, especially as it related to being true to myself and my sexuality. I believe in complete honesty, which is why I will share that I became depressed and suicidal last semester over how othered I felt here. I was made to feel like there was something wrong with me because I am gay. I seriously considered transferring. Ultimately, I decided that I wanted to stay here and fight for equality and change so that future LGBTQ+ students would never have to feel the way that I did.
I bring up my personal experience because I want to emphasize that there are students on Grounds deeply impacted by the decision made by YAF to invite Pence to speak. Nearly a third of gay young people have attempted suicide. It is important to discuss why this occurs. It has been found that gay individuals often attempt suicide due to discrimination and bullying. Actions taken by politicians, like Pence, create discriminatory situations that can lead to gay individuals struggling. It is important to consider how serious inviting someone like Pence to speak at the University is and think about how LGBTQ+ students will be affected.
I do not feel comfortable being in an academic environment where anti-LGBTQ+ individuals are welcomed with open arms to speak. The University prides itself on the concept of the academical village, where Grounds is both a home and an institution of higher learning. We cannot invite people into our home who deny any part of our community or its humanity. I sincerely hope that we as University students can consider how to help our fellow students feel safe and welcome. We can disagree on things like our favorite dining hall, or more political arguments like tax policy, but we should not disagree on one another’s humanity. The community of trust begins with respecting and welcoming all students. This can start with YAF rescinding its offer for Pence to speak.
Elisabeth Bass is a first year in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at email@example.com.
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.