Students drown out bigotry in counter protest outside Towers

Students hold pride flags and chant at protesters across from Towers. (Photo by Wenhao Wu | Assistant Visual Editor)

A crowd of Pitt students jammed the stairway leading up to Towers Patio on Monday, waving rainbow flags and sporting “I [heart] the female orgasm” t-shirts.

Others stood on nearby trashcans and benches and leaned over the patio rails, fervently chanting “God loves everyone” and “shame on you.”

The chants by the more than 200 Pitt students were all directed to a smaller crowd teetering on the edge of the sidewalk, clutching signs reading “homos go to hell” and chanting — before the counter protesters drowned them out — “God hates you.”

The protesters carried signs saying they were part of the Philadelphia-based “Christian Interviews.” On largest sign was the website christianinterviews.com, a site that does not exist. They arrived on Towers Patio around 1 p.m, according to Kaleigh Bradley, the communications manager for Rainbow Alliance — Pitt’s LGBTQ+ advocacy group.

“I was outside with a friend and saw them and was like ‘what’s going on?’” she said.

Bradley said Pitt police arrived around 1:15 p.m. and arrested one man involved in the protest. Pitt spokesperson Joseph Miksch confirmed the arrest, adding that Pitt police charged the man with defiant trespassing.

Following the arrest, the small group made their way down the Towers patio stairs to the sidewalk — an area considered public domain. Along with other students, Bradley followed them down — brandishing her hastily made “I love vagina” sign.

After seeing on Snapchat that a few counter-protesters had gathered to drown out the racist and homophobic chants, first-year student Mia Shikora joined the students gathered by Towers. Standing on a bench, she chanted “Love wins!” and joined other students in singing the national anthem.

“These people were chanting all kinds of racist and homophobic stuff, and we’re just trying to respond with positive things,” Shikora said.

Thomas Stroukoff, a first-year neuroscience major, said the crowd got progressively larger as the counter-protest went on and more students joined to express their disapproval.

“I think for the most part, everyone is pretty much in agreement that this is kind of a not-okay situation to have on our campus,” he said.

Miksch said in a statement that free speech and peaceful exchange of differing viewpoints are among the core values of the University.

“Events such as today’s are a reminder that even when tempers flare and when hateful speech comes to our campus, we can eschew violence and continue to carry the banner of our commitment to diversity and inclusion on our campus and in the world,” Miksch said.

Stroukoff said he felt the protestors and their cause were “absolutely idiotic.”

“Honestly, I wouldn’t take it too seriously, because they’re idiots,” he said. “I have not seen a single person that is not pissed off by this.”

Miksch also said the University did not sanction nor issue a permit for the protesters to be on Towers Patio. According to Chief of Pitt Police Jim Loftus, the police had no idea how this protest was going to occur, describing it as a “pop-up thing.”

“We came out here in case there was a safety issue, to make sure nobody got hurt, like pushed in front of a bus,” Loftus said.

No injuries were reported as Pitt students mobilized to publicly share their discontent with the protesters. Jeremy ReoNason, an undeclared first-year student, said he believed the counter-protest reflected well on Pitt students.

“Some of the language wasn’t exactly clean, but you can’t expect it to be. It isn’t with any protest,” he said. “But I mean there wasn’t any violence, there weren’t any threats — it was handled well.”

Loftus said he was both surprised and pleased by how the counter-protest played out.

“Students did a great job,” he said. “They came forward, they were vocal, not too confrontational. Best we could’ve expected.”

Bradley said Loftus was responsible for getting the protesters to leave.

“[Loftus] got the people out, told them to cross the street,” she said. “I went up to him afterwards and thanked him for keeping people safe.”

ReoNason said the counter-protest reflected Pitt’s emphasis on respecting diversity and being inclusive. He said the takeaway was that people at Pitt don’t have to hide if they disagree with something.

“A lot of people showed up, just to tell these people off, to get them out of there. [The protesters] were against diversity and inclusion and Pitt students came out and told them otherwise,” he said.

Loftus shook hands with the counter-protesters as they dispersed.

“You did a great job,” he told them. “Drowned those guys out.”

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