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Queer Joy UA's Celebration Amidst Candace Owens Controversy

By Layla Melendez | October 9, 2023

Queer Joy UA Gathers for their Podium Pop Up

Photo Credit: Layla Melendez / ASP

The University at Albany is no stranger to political conflict or protests.

Aiming for diversity and inclusivity on campus, the public university encourages the exchange of ideas and debates on current issues. However, LGBTQ+ students on campus have felt unsupported by the university's decision to allow Turning Point USA, a conservative media organization, to host Candace Owens as part of their Live Free Tour.

On Oct. 3, Queer Joy UA, a coalition of queer organizations and allies, organized Queer Podium Pop Out – a celebration of queer joy that coincided with Owens' event across the podium.

Owens, an American conservative political commentator known for her views on the LGBTQ+ community, has put out various tweets and videos, labeling the transgender movement as “satanic” and “one of the most evil things happening.” Owens recently faced consequences as several of her YouTube videos were demonetized for violating the site's hateful content policies, leading to her suspension from the platform for persistently producing anti-LGBTQ content.

Queer Joy UA raised concerns about the Live Free Tour event featuring Owens, pointing to her views that they considered to be queerphobic. This conflicts with the coalition's mission, which emphasizes the importance of safety and well-being for the LGBTQ+ community on campus.

The event also brought back memories of the previous semester when students protested another TPUSA guest speaker, Ian Haworth, known for his similar views on transgender issues. The earlier protest ended in two student arrests.

Queer Joy UA advised caution about protesting Owens' presence due to safety concerns. As an alternative, the coalition organized their podium pop-up to encourage LGBTQ+ community members and allies to celebrate queer joy as a form of resistance instead of directly counter-protesting.

Queer Joy Podium Pop Out Flyer

Photo Credit: Queer Joy UA Instagram account

The Queer Podium Pop-Up started at 5:45 and lasted until 7:30, coinciding with Owens' guest speaking for TPUSA. Advertised as a celebration of queerness, the event featured a gender-affirming clothing-swap where participants could donate unwanted clothing and pick up new pieces.

DJs from WCDB, UAlbany's student-run radio station, were there to mix beats live for students. Student organizations, such as Planned Parenthood Generation and the UAlbany Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA), joined the event as part of the coalition. They set up tables to actively support the mission of creating a safe space for queer students on campus.

Students Search For Clothing Swap Finds

Photo Credit: Layla Melendez / ASP

Planned Parenthood Generation Tabling at Queer Podium Pop Up

Photo Credit: Layla Melendez / ASP

“We started it last year. A lot of people graduated who were a part of the coalition, but we kept on pushing because the changes that we were asking for last year were never implemented or taken into account,” Prince, one of the organizers for Queer Joy UA and the Public Relations Chair for YDSA, speaking on the Queer Joy UA coalition itself, said. “We still have something to fight for. Everybody that was a part of the coalition last year joined back in – we actually got more organizations to join in the coalition this year than last year.”

When asked about the importance of non-explicitly queer organizations joining the coalition and the event, Sam Wang, the president of the Association of Southeast Asian Students (ASEAS) said "ASEAS is a cultural organization, but being part of the queer joy coalition helps us spread our biggest message. We want to make everyone feel welcome and be a safe space for all marginalized students at UAlbany. Queer Joy UA emphasizes building community for LGBTQ+ and other marginalized groups, which works in tandem with the ASEAS mission."

Zeke, a student and the founder of CZR Entertainment, a booking agency born from the now-defunct Caesar's Palace, offered insights into safety concerns during protests for the LGBTQ+ community.

“As a trans woman, I often worry about my safety during protests. Although I wished to be more vocal about our dismay, I am grateful for the existence of a safe space on UAlbany's campus for the LGBTQ+ community to gather,” Zeke said. “Having experienced doxxing before, the exposure of personal details is an unsettling experience and a retaliation act many queer protestors have faced.”

UAlbany Student Association (SA) Senator James Cooper was one of the SA members present at the event. “I am here to support our students. I think that, especially if the university won’t, someone has to. I think it is despicable that a fascist is on our campus – a Nazi sympathizer – and I am here to show support to our queer and minority students.”

Students Wave Transgender Flag on the Podium

Photo Credit: Layla Melendez / ASP

In response to recent claims and concerns about UAlbany’s stance on issues of transphobia and bias, UAlbany issued an email reaffirming its commitment to inclusivity and rejection of all forms of hatred. Michael Christakis, Vice President of Student Affairs stated in the email, “at UAlbany, we unequivocally reject racism, anti-Semitism, anti-trans, and all other forms of hatred and bias, and we are committed to fostering a culture in which everyone is and feels welcome.”

Despite the legal obligation to protect free speech, the statement emphasizes that such protection does not equate to endorsement. The university also wants to prioritize the health, safety, and well-being of every member of the campus community, according to the email. As part of that commitment, the university encourages treating each other with dignity and respect, fostering an environment where individuals support one another.


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