*Photo Credit: Andrew Zentgraf
At approximately 1:30 P.M. this afternoon, religious fundamentalists gathered around the 5th Avenue patio of Litchfield Towers to demonstrate against homosexuals, people of the Islamic faith, and women.
The activists held signs that displayed phrases such as “Homosexuals End Up In Hellfire” and “Women Belong In The Kitchen.” Additionally, a female protester directed slurs towards passing women whom she deemed “inappropriately dressed.” Upwards of 100 students quickly gathered to meet the demonstrators with resistance. Pride flags lined the sidewalks in a faceoff between outraged students and persistent agitators, barely separated by a significant number of campus police and a small sliver of sidewalk preserved for pedestrians.
The fundamentalist protesters stood alone for 20 minutes, collectively taunting passing students, who were simply going about their business. However, some of those who passed by decided to take action against the slurs and pejoratives directed towards their peers. What began as a simple verbal confrontation evolved into a widespread display of campus pride and a show of diversity among the Pitt community.
As students were let out of class, a small crowd of approximately 20-25 people bearing pride flags gathered outside of Towers’ lobby and proceeded to encircle the protesters, bombarding them with shouts of “God loves everyone” and “love trumps hate.” After about 20 minutes, the demonstrators were forced down onto the sidewalk by the campus police force, as the university does not allow non-students to protest on University property.
Approximately 35 minutes into the protest, the crowd began to gain momentum, quickly growing to overwhelm the fundamentalists in size. While students continued to drown the protesters in shouts of “no hate” and “Pitt pride,” the campus police stepped into action, commanding the student counter-protesters to “step back” in an attempt to clear the walkway for the pedestrians. At the same time, they also informed the protesters that they would be forcibly dispersed if they did not to move closer towards the railing next to the road.
Among the demonstrators were two children, a young boy and a young girl, both of whom appeared to be of elementary school age. They took turns holding up a sign stating “Are you absolutely sure there is no absolute truth?” This display was met with chants of “send your kids to school” from the Pitt students. When questioning several officers regarding a possible truancy violation, they simply shrugged their shoulders and turned their heads. When we questioned the man who was presumably the father of the children, he said that “this is [the boy’s] school,” in reference to the demonstration.
Around 2:21 pm, at the request of the officers and the demands of the student counter-protesters, the demonstrators began to pack up their chairs and megaphones and to proceed west down 5th Avenue, away from Pitt’s campus.
Students at other colleges and universities have reported seeing these same protesters on their own campuses in recent weeks.
This post will be updated with any comment from the University.
UPDATE 7:05 PM: A spokesman for the university issued the following statement:
“A demonstration by a non-affiliated group of about eight people took place this afternoon on the Fifth Avenue side of the Litchfield Towers on the University of Pittsburgh campus. Students and others gathered in opposition and University police monitored the situation. After some verbal back-and-forth between the groups, the crowd dispersed. One member of the non-affiliated group was arrested for defiant trespass.
“Free speech and the frank yet civil and peaceful exchange of differing points of view are among our core values at the University of Pittsburgh. 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.”