An art exhibit designed to encourage young people to speak out about their queer identities was vandalized with hate speech and lewd images Thursday night.
The unknown offender drew penises on two of the photographs in the art exhibit, wrote, “god hates the gays” on the exhibit’s sign-in book and drew a mustache on a self-portrait of the exhibit’s artist Rachelle Lee Smith.
The incident was reported to the UConn Police Department on Friday, March 6. At that time the university launched the “bias protocol,” which included notifying the Rainbow Center.
UCPD officer and LGBT liaison Ryan Soccio said the police department is dedicated to resolving the case and an investigation is underway. University spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said the university is “taking this incident extremely seriously.”
Benjamin Plant, Katie Edelman and Brandon Purstell, who make up the Rainbow Center’s Green Crew, worked closely with Smith to put together the exhibit Speaking Out: Queer Youth in Focus.
When they learned of the vandalism, they said they were outraged, frustrated and fearful.
“They wanted to send a specific message,” Edelman said. The inspiration for the exhibit was to combat homophobia and transphobia and Edelman said that for it to fall victim to those issues is aggravating.
“This was really close to home,” Plant said.
Not only were the students close with the artist and the identities her art celebrated, but the vandalism occurred just one floor down from their safe space, the Rainbow Center.
In an email correspondence with Plant, Edelman and Purstell, Smith said “It is an unfortunate reminder of why I created this body of work and why the Rainbow Center needs to exist. But we are more strong and more united than the cowardice person filled with hate and immaturity.”
“It’s one thing to know they have these ideas, it’s another to act on it in such a public place,” Purstell said. “It’s not like it was written somewhere on a bathroom stall. Someone had the gall to say ‘these ideas are so prevalent in my life’ that they felt the need to act on it publicly.”
The members of the Green Crew said they intend to go to the administration to express their safety concerns.
University spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said, “There’s no room for hate speech and this kind of disgusting intolerance.”
She said the university urges anyone with information to go to the authorities.
Smith’s photography essay has been displayed in exhibits nationally and internationally and it has never been attacked in this way.
The Rainbow Center hosts a gallery every year to coincide with their True Colors Conference, the largest LGBT youth conference in the country. In order to show the exhibit at the conference being held on March 20, Mark Flynn, the Four Arrows Challenge Course coordinator for Student Activities, has purchased new frames for the photographs.
Undergraduate Student Government president-elect Rachel Conboy, the first ever LGBTQ president at UConn, said she is going to release a statement on behalf of USG condemning the vandalism.
“We need to be vocal about how we won’t accept hate speech,” Conboy said. “USG cannot condone the behavior or pretend it didn’t happen or it’s going to repeat itself.”