Ali Hall and Ally Rhodes stood quietly. As they walked down the aisle at the Sun Dome, a hundred others in red shirts followed. Another hundred or so joined the exodus, some rising sporadically, others as groups or couples.
As the protesters led by Hall and Rhodes left, the speaker, outspoken conservative Ann Coulter, paused and reacted with a one-liner. “I believe the proper position is on your knees,” she said.
Outside, some protesters rejoiced with cheers while others exchanged teary support.
“I’m just really sad right now,” said Hall, a senior majoring in accounting and president of the Feminist Student Alliance. “Just the amount of people that support what she says. It’s not really about her. I don’t think any of us care what she has to say, but it’s just so scary to think that so many people in there are laughing and so many in there clap when she says such hateful things.”
At the Pride Alliance’s coffee-hour after the speech, the reaction was more laid back. Coulter did not reply to the Pride Alliance’s invitation, so the group hosted a drag show during which Robert Carroll, a junior majoring in political science, dressed as Coulter and fielded questions.
Carroll did not, however, say he was actually portraying Coulter, but rather a fictional character – Ann Couter – a name similar to Coulter’s, citing legal reasons.
Carroll said he hoped his costume would alleviate stress associated with the event.
“I’ll have to go run five miles to work off the anger,” he said.
Before Coulter’s speech, detractors and supporters brandished signs in front of the Sun Dome in what University Police designated as a protest area.
Wayne Stodghill, a member of 9-11 Truth, said Coulter was what he described as a mouthpiece for President Bush.
“She works for the corporate media, which works for Bush, as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “She’s out here spreading hate and lies – that’s the work of the Bush regime, if you ask me.”
Renee Durette, the vice president of the Tampa Bay Young Republicans, said her organization is happy to hear Coulter speak.
“Ann Coulter is a very influential member of our society,” she said. “Being female and being Republican, I admire her work very much. She’s very straightforward, she may be considered by some as blunt. She’s very knowledgeable in her field; she’s very knowledgeable in political history; she’s very knowledgeable in contemporary issues. She does not falter when she is questioned for her beliefs, and I admire that.”
Michael Serio, the operations manager of 860 AM WGUL, a conservative talk radio station, described Coulter as a very special writer with an opinion.
“She’s special in that she’s managed to rally people around her and piss off a lot of people that disagree with her a lot more than other writers.”
Serio also called Coulter a rallying cry of the conservative movement, stating that people love her.
Tamara Wasserman, president of the Pride Alliance, issued a statement saying the organization was a proponent of free speech that nevertheless disagreed with the University Lecture Series’ choice of Coulter as a lecturer.
“We do not feel that Ann Coulter fosters a learning experience that ULS seeks to provide,” Wasserman said. “We do not support the use of student fees used to bring speakers that propagate hate and intolerance toward (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning and Allied) people or any other group.”
Parker Melton, a sophomore majoring in international studies, said speeches such as Coulter’s should be more closely reviewed.
“Regulation, well, it gets really complicated because then you get into the issue of free speech,” he said. “I think regulation should stem from upholding University policy … which, they claim, (is) to foster an atmosphere of tolerance and acceptance and such. If you bring a speaker here expecting them to contradict that policy, I think you maybe should have that in mind. Maybe they shouldn’t be invited.”
Many attendees agreed that Coulter’s statements were out of line. Several cited her plagiarism accusations, as well as the vitriolic manner through which she expresses her ideas.
As the coffee-hour waned, Jenelle Buza, a senior majoring in communications and co-chair of the Queer Liberation Front, explained that GLBT persons were going to seek explanation for Coulter’s speech.
“We’re going to request a public apology for inviting Ann Coulter here because of how she spoke out against us in such a public and really humiliating way,” Buza said.