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Community responds to Whatcott

author: john loeppky | sports editor

credit john loeppky

 

Anti-gay activist visits campus

On Oct. 18 noted anti-gay and pro-life supporter Bill Whatcott visited campus.

His previous attempts to access campus had led to his removal, but recent events meant that he was allowed onto the grounds of the University.

In response, UR Pride hosted a positive community-building event by holding space through a poster-making initiative and providing materials and support for those looking to learn more and those who felt unsafe because of Whatcott’s presence.

A joint press release was provided by the University of Regina president Vianne Timmons and URSU president Jermain Mackenzie prior to Whatcott’s arrival. In it, they state what they feel are the boundaries of free speech.

“While we wholeheartedly support free speech and view it as fundamental
to our institution and our democracy, Mr. Whatcott’s propaganda does
nothing to promote healthy and reasoned debate. Rather, it serves to
incite hatred and fear, and we simply cannot support it.”

The press release notes that legal challenges left the University with “limited options.”

On the day of the event, URSU vice president of student affairs, Shawn Wiskar, reiterated the campus leadership’s general view of the situation.

“The URSU stance on Bill Whatcott coming to our campus is that we respect his right to the freedom of speech. We don’t agree with his message, but we want students to understand that he does have the right to be here and to open up dialogue on our campus; and as long as he keeps his material that he is giving to students respectful, and he adheres to the rules of our tabling policy, as well as the Canadians statutes around respect and the freedoms of the peoples and hate speech, we think that he has the right to be here.”

With UR Pride hosting the event, executive director Leo Keiser said at the time that the response to their presence was wholly positive.

“Things have been mostly quiet, so that’s been really nice. We’ve had a lot of people stopping by the table today to just have chats, or talk about what’s happening.”

UR Pride weren’t the only ones showing support. The campus ministries were in attendance, and faculty, staff, and students were there throughout the day. Luther College’s chaplain, Sean Bell, was one person there to further the message of positivity, including for Christians who may not have agreed with Whatcott’s message.

“Some of them were Christians who are not that [in agreement with a hateful message] and they don’t want to be associated with that, but then they are launched into their own sense of crisis within their own brain. We’re here as a presence, we are here to listen, and we’re here to show support for UR Pride and for inclusivity and a message of love being bigger.”

Once Pride was made aware of Whatcott’s impending presence, a sit-down meeting happened between them and URSU. The meeting centred around what kind of response the campus wanted to have to a message of hate and intolerance. What followed was a lack of engagement so as to not further his message and a focus on engaging those who may need support or want to find out more information.

When asked what takeaway Leo would like to see from those who attended the gathering, they had this to say.

“There’s a large community here at the University of Regina that is supportive of LGBT folks and folks who have experienced discriminations, and that’s not going to change.”

Students were a definite part of the response. A number of students could be seen making posters and doling out high-fives. Education student Ryan Sharkey said that the focus can’t just be on the events of the day.

“I think it’s [the focus is] just keeping with it. The campus has been doing a lot of good stuff so far, and there’s been a lot of talk about things to come in the future, and I think we just have to keep true to what we’re doing and not just only do things like this on days when Whatcott shows up.”

The end of the day brought with it a key announcement. UR Pride is setting up a bursary for students within the LGBTQ+ community and the contributions to it totalled over $6,000 at last count.

Students were and are encouraged by all involved to access the services that are available to them through UR Pride, such as: peer mentorship, a youth group, a library and hang out space, as well as resources and connections to other support systems that are available to students.

About John Loeppky

I am an athlete with a writing problem, or a writer with a sports problem, you decide. When I’m not editing, playing wheelchair sports, or advocating for the disabled, you can find me de-stressing with friends.