As reported in the Daily Campus the Wednesday before spring break, a traveling art exhibit that celebrated LGBTQ youth was vandalized while on display in the art gallery on the third floor of the Student Union. Titled “Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus,” the exhibit is “an ongoing photographic essay that gives members of the LGBTQ community a voice,” according to artist Rachelle Lee Smith’s statement about the project on her website.
The act of vandalism in question was described by Smith in a statement to Philadelphia Magazine as follows: “There [was] a binder [left in the exhibit] that says ‘God hates the gays,’ two prints have penises on them and I was given a mustache.” Condemnation from the university was swift, with university spokesperson Stephanie Reitz stating according to the Daily Campus that “There’s no room for hate speech and this kind of disgusting intolerance.”
With the conversations swirling about campus regarding racial diversity in Greek life, Title IX lawsuits, and “civility,” this event could not be more ill-timed. It is embarrassing that the University of Connecticut was the site of the first instance of vandalism against this project in its over a decade long history.
While many UConn students may have forgotten about the story over spring break, it is doubtful that the Rainbow Center did. Speaking OUT was on display to coincide with their True Colors conference. Last week, on March 20th, many gathered for the largest national conference for LGBT youth. The fact that this act of hate speech came on the heels of this positive experience is truly heartbreaking.
To their credit, the University of Connecticut has already begun a police investigation according to their Bias-Related Incidents/Graffiti/Images protocols. However, as reported by WHUS Radio, while the incident occurred Thursday into Friday, the Rainbow Center and the artist weren’t notified until Monday. At this time, there is no further information on the investigation and no arrests have been made.
Regardless of the results of the investigation, the damage has already been done. In statements to WHUS and the Daily Campus, Benjamin Plant, Katie Edelman and Brandon Purstell, members of the Rainbow Center’s Green Crew who worked to bring Speaking OUT to UConn, said “This was really close to home,” considering that the Rainbow Center is only a floor above where the vandalism took place.
“I want to believe UConn is a very accepting, open place, and I mean no place is a 100 percent perfect, and it’s just kind of hard when you have to see firsthand – and so personally – a reminder of that,” Edelman said.
While UConn has made remarkable strides towards LGBTQ+ acceptance, this event is another indication that the university has not become a safe and tolerant environment for all.