Religious event sparks free speech debate on sexuality

On October 2, 2013

Advertising for an event in the Marshall Student Center next week has caught the attention — and concern — of some students:

Blue posters and a banner advertising a lecture on “Homosexuality and Christianity,” a lecture that will be given by Dr. Rosario Butterfield, a self-proclaimed former “leftist lesbian” professor at Syracuse University who became heterosexual after becoming a devout Christian.

According to Butterfield’s website, she advises people to “have no contact with pornography or with secret lovers—physical, non-physical, virtual or real,” not to “misuse Christ by asking Him to baptize your feelings” and to stay away from ministry if “you are experiencing out-of-control lust or sexual temptations” in order to “kill, at the root, same-sex attraction.”

The event, sponsored by the Reformed University Fellowship (RUF), a national Presbyterian church with chapters on college campuses, including USF, where the chapter does not receive student-paid Activity and Service fees, has drawn much concern because of the speaker’s allusions to practices similar to conversion therapy — a practice of trying to subvert non-heterosexualities that has been frowned upon by the American Medical Association and American Psychological Association and declared illegal in some states.

Lucia Baker, a senior majoring in chemical engineering, said the event could be detrimental to students who may be questioning their sexualities or identify as a part of the LGBT community.

“It’s a big deal because by USF allowing (the speaker) to preach some kind of hateful and discriminatory message, they are implicitly condoning that it is OK and that they are going to stand for that kind of speech and actions, when the university is everything against that,” she said.

But Dean for Students Michael Freeman said the issue is one of free speech.

“It is always our opinion that we have different points of view — views that may be repugnant to some, but that align with others. But universities are places to have all ideas out there. That’s what makes universities what they are and that’s the kind of environment we want to create.”

Freeman said the university doesn’t necessarily condone the messages of speakers or groups who rent space on campus, but the university would always allow any view point to be heard on campus unless it posed a direct threat to safety or was known to advocate violence.

But Baker said the harm that could be caused to a student struggling with acceptance of their sexuality could be damaging, and she has contacted suicide prevention organizations to join P.R.I.D.E. Alliance, College Democrats, Students for a Democratic Society and other student organizations in protesting the event.

“Those messages can potentially be dangerous to people’s health,” she said. “Conversion therapy is scientifically found to be dangerous and extremely traumatic. To go and have it shot down that (to identify as party of the LGBT community) is sinful or wrong or somehow less-than can be really harmful. It really bothers me as an ally and advocate of the LGBT community that someone at USF would allow this event to be held. Speakers should still be held to our standards if they’re using our facilities.”

Luke Blankenship, a sophomore majoring in mass communications and the president of P.R.I.D.E. Alliance, said he understood the university’s decision to host the speaker as a First Amendment issue, but said he and other members of P.R.I.D.E. planned to attend the event and respectfully challenge some of the speakers’ views during the question-answer portion of the session.

Blankenship said many other religious organizations on campus have expressed their support of P.R.I.D.E. and may table outside the event, which will be held Monday in the Oval Theater at 7 p.m., offering their LGBT-accepting religious services to students wishing to explore faith.

Matthew Schnabel, a senior majoring in social work and a member of the Episcopalian Diocese, who said he spoke as a student and not as a representative of his church, said his church was considering holding a prayer vigil with LGBT individuals to let them know they are accepted in entirety.

“It’s difficult enough when working with LGBT students,” he said. “A lot of people are closed off to the church because of past experiences where they’ve been shunned or closed off. But Christianity is about love and faith; it isn’t just about what can be proven or found, but also what we believe in our hearts and minds. This event is just a way for a small minority of Christians to dominate the conversation.”

Freeman said he encourages students with concerns to attend the event and respectfully pose questions if they have any, host a speaker on the same topic with a different viewpoint or respectfully protest without disrupting any events. 12

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