Anti-LGBTQ fliers distributed on UWF campus spark debate on student-run Facebook page

By Rachel Witbracht
Staff writer

On Nov. 1, the students and faculty of the University of West Florida received an email vaguely detailing a vandalism incident that occurred the day prior.

There were no specifics in the email, but through word of mouth and social media, the root of the email became clear.

Someone posted anti-gay fliers around campus that ran with the headline, “Stop the Fags” in large, bold font. The fliers were quickly identified and taken down by administrators early Wednesday morning.

The fliers also had uncontextualized statistical facts stating that same-sex couples transmit a majority of sexually transmitted diseases and that abuse and obesity are more common for children of same-sex couples. The Center for Disease Control was cited at the bottom of the fliers as the source of the statistics.

“I thought it was offensive,” English major Olivia Fletcher said.

Fletcher said she saw the flier on social media and that her peers were obviously upset.

“It’s something we have to deal with that we’ve never had to deal with before, at least in my time at UWF,” she said. “I’ve always felt safe in this community, but now that people are doing these things, it’s kind of like, okay, maybe there are more things to consider on this campus.”

Some students, like Dean Fagot, think the flier was borderline hate speech.

“I think freedom of speech is very important,” Fagot said. “We live in America and everyone has that right, but where lies the problem is when freedom of speech becomes hate speech. The words they used were definitely hate-based and that’s unacceptable. We can’t allow hate to permeate.”

Fagot said he found out about the incident on the UWF Students Facebook page, which is student-run and allows students to connect through social media. It is advertised as a place for students to ask for course recommendations or homework help, but has often become a hostile environment with malicious debate between students.

The UWF Students Facebook page is student-run and has almost 3,000 members.

Senior Tyler Noble said he also found out about the vandalism on the student Facebook page. Noble said he was surprised to find out the vandalism wasn’t your typical spray paint on a building situation, but the adhesive used to hang up the posters damaged school property.

“Technically it’s vandalism, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be,” Noble said.

Noble said he thought many of the comments on the Facebook posts that generated on the page after the incident were positive in the way that it sparked debate.

“That’s the whole point of being here on campus, is to discuss those things,” Noble said. “It’ll raise awareness about things that need to be talked about.”

Although some posts were eventually taken down by either the author or the page’s administrators, more than 100 comments emerged from members of the page. The debates ranged from free speech to campus safety.

“This kind of makes me think the school has a divide now,” sophomore Nicole Waldo said. “I feel like half of the students were okay with the fliers and the other half were enraged about it. It brings a lot of conflict.”

The university stated that there was no way to tell if students saw the fliers because they were removed before 8 a.m., but the fliers covered a large area of classrooms and offices.

Fliers with homophobic messages were posted around the UWF campus sometime between late Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning. They were quickly removed by administrators. (Photo courtesy of WEAR)

The email students and staff received only stated that there was an occurrence that “may have generated concern and fear for some in our community.”

“We are committed to ensuring our institution is a safe and respectful environment for all,” Dr. Martha Saunders, president, said in the email. “We do not tolerate acts of hate or prejudice targeting members of our community… I encourage our entire community to continue ensuring UWF is a place where everyone knows they belong.”

Megan Gonzalez, the public information officer for UWF, said the investigation is ongoing and the university will release more information as it comes to a close, so as to not interrupt law enforcement.

“Our main goal is to protect students and the community,” Gonzalez said. “We didn’t include details to not raise more issues and put it out there even more.”

Gonzalez said that the university in no way supports the language depicted on the flier.

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