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EDITORIAL | Penn State must focus on ‘Love is Louder,’ ignore rhetoric of an alt-right figurehead

Pride Flag outside State College Municipal Building

An LGBTQ+ Pride flag billows outside the State College Municipal Building in State College, Pa. on Monday, June 7, 2021. In commemoration of Pride Month each June, the borough places such memorabilia, recognizing its LGBTQ+ citizens.

Controversial political commentator Milo Yiannopoulos will speak on Nov. 3 at 101 Thomas Building for the “Pray the Gay Away” event hosted by Uncensored America, a student-run organization.

Yiannopoulos is often associated with the alt-right movement, which according to the Anti-Defamation League, is “a repackaging of white supremacy by extremists seeking to mainstream their ideology.” The ADL also describes Yiannopoulos as “misogynistic, racist, xenophobic [and] transphobic.”

Yiannopoulos identifies as an “ex-gay,” who strongly supports conversion therapy, which attempts to change the sexual orientation of people. Conversion therapy for minors is banned in 14 states. 

The event has been condemned by numerous Penn State officials and organizations. Even those not affiliated with the university such as the State College Borough Council and U.S. Senator Bob Casey have also opposed the event.

Penn State said it will not cancel the event, as Uncensored America “has the undeniable Constitutional right to sponsor this presentation on our campus.” The University Park Allocation Committee said in a statement that funding for this event wasn’t intended to “dehumanize” marginalized groups but “all viewpoints, including those that are controversial, must have an equal chance of receiving funding.”

In response to Uncensored America’s event, Penn State’s Jeffrey A. Conrad Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity announced it will host “Love is Louder” in an effort to “inspire love and community.” Penn State’s University Park Undergraduate Association President Erin Boas and Vice President Najee Rodriguez encourage those to attend this event rather than possible counter protests.

The viewpoints of those like Yiannopoulos and Uncensored America are that of the contrarian mindset to simply standout from the majority of society. The alt-right pipeline typically affects misguided teenagers influenced by “owning social justice warrior compilations” and “facts don’t care about your opinion” videos from YouTube.

Most people grow out of this phase at a certain point as they mature. The likes of this student organization are the exception, however.

The premise of this event is a lose-lose situation regardless of the outcome. Yiannopoulos is receiving the attention he desperately desires since this event is something that cannot be ignored.

Yiannopoulos isn’t just a speaker coming to Penn State to discuss politics. This is a man who intends to criticize and harm marginalized groups.

What Yiannopoulos stands for doesn’t represent the progress made by Penn State to support the LGBTQ community. The university ranked in the top 40 LGBTQ-friendly colleges/universites in regard to support and commitment to LGBTQ related issues in 2020.

Hate speech as constituted by the First Amendment has no legal definition and is a protected form of speech, according to the American Library Association. However, if the hate speech “directly incites imminent criminal activity or consists of specific threats of violence targeted against a person or group,” then it is no longer protected.

Whether it be directly or indirectly, the presence of Yiannopoulos has put the safety of other universities at risk. The University of California Berkeley suffered $100,000 worth of damages ahead of a speech conducted by Yiannopoulos after a peaceful protest was disturbed by an outside party in 2017. Administration inevitably canceled the speech two hours before Yiannopoulos was about to speak.

Because Penn State has its hands tied in regard to handling this situation, the best thing it can do is make sure nothing goes wrong.

According to Penn State spokesperson Lisa Powers, events that may be deemed as “controversial” are subject to certain policies. This event will have an increased police presence on campus, and University Police and Public Safety will work with other law enforcement agencies.

Penn State may not be able to hold Yiannopoulos legally accountable for his past actions, but it can say he is a danger to the well-being of students.

Ultimately, Uncensored America is a club simply seeking attention with its only interest being to cause chaos. And when it faces backlash for something like this event, it claims it’s being a victim of “cancel culture.”

The club is not being “canceled” by the university nor the student body as it’s still being allowed to bring Yiannopoulos to campus. The response from the Penn State community is a prime example of what the organization stands for — free speech.

While the event serves as a lose-lose for Penn State, the outcome doesn’t matter for Uncensored America as it will spin the narrative to fit as it pleases. If the event simply happens, it wins and the club will deem it a success. Yet, if it gets canceled for safety reasons, the organization can play the “cancel culture” card and victimize itself. Either way, it’ll find a way to come out on top.

This isn’t the first time Penn State has played host to controversial figures. In 2019, Turning Point USA at Penn State brought YouTubers Hunter Avallone and Carl Benjamin to campus to discuss censorship. Both Avallone and Benjamin were banned from Twitter for violating the app’s speech policies.

But rather than fixate on this specific event, the Penn State community must continue banding together to shift the narrative toward unity, not hate.

Events like these attempt to capitalize on the five seconds of notoriety for the hosting organizations. At a certain point, it’ll all blow over and the community will pay it no mind — and it’s already beginning to do so. Amid a time of hate, Penn State has managed to stand together in solidarity for the LGBTQ community and ignore a sad attempt to be “edgy” from a relatively unknown organization.

Daily Collegian Opinion Editor Joe Eckstein can be reached at jce5179@psu.edu.

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