Hundreds of members and supporters of the LGBTQ+ community were welcomed onto the University of Central Arkansas campus Tuesday night for a unity event in the wake of recent controversial decisions made by university administration.
Hosted by the UCA Feminist Union — founded by Bryttani Bartlett — and the UCA Counseling Center, “UNITY at UCA,” was created to encourage dialogue and show support for the community after a choice was made on June 12 by President Houston Davis to remove a sign outside Torreyson Library, which showed “love and respect,” to the community during pride month, including a link to resources.
“Being gay is like glitter, it never goes away,” a quote by Lady Gaga, the sign read.
“The main goal tonight is that people know that at UCA, you are supported,” Bartlett said. “This community is not rejected. You can take words off a board, but you cannot erase these people.”
While administration continues to deny content as the underlying reason for removal — officials said it was based on policy — many across the campus felt the situation could have been handled differently including library employee, Danielle Kraus, who put the words up in the first place and has been making signs that relates to students for years.
“I remember coming back from lunch and one of my supervisors pulling me aside and saying, ‘hey, when you were on lunch, we got word that this has to be taken down,’” she said. “It took me a minute to process. I didn’t know how to handle this in my brain.”
Kraus said she was upset — it’s 2019. Then, coworkers started speaking up in support, that growing to expand outside of the library community, onto social media and through gifts like cookies and more showing up in the library.
“I cannot ever put into words how much that meant to me,” she said. “Just knowing that in that moment of isolation, in a paper room crying, was just a brief, tiny moment in this whole thing and just the outpouring of love and support has been amazing. This community is amazing and we are doing amazing things.”
Kraus works in Tamela Smith’s department in Torreyson.
Smith told crowds present for the unity ceremony that this is an issue that runs deep for her. At around 11-years-old, her son came out as gay and her and her husband have embraced that.
“Just for me personally, I don’t agree with what happened,” she said. “We’ve had signs up for years. I promise you we’ve had much more offensive, [using hand quotes] ‘offensive signs.’”
Smith said she did appreciate president Davis for not hiding in his office, but instead, coming out, speaking about what’s happened and leading open dialogue.
“This has been an opportunity and I hope that each of you look at it like it’s an opportunity,” she said. “Yes, it stunk. Yes, people have been hurt. Yes, you know, it wasn’t great, but in the end, look what it’s brought together.”
She said she’s proud to be a part of this community hopes everyone takes this as an opportunity grow.
“When everybody comes back in the fall, don’t forget about this,” Smith said. “Let’s keep going with it. Let’s make this campus the most LGBT-friendly campus in the state.”
Hannah Hanshaw also works in Torreyson. She said they are all “deeply committed” to the LGBTQ+ community at UCA, constantly putting together resources including movies, books and other library guides.
“One of the reasons that we think this is so important is because we have privacy policies in place at the library that make the library one of the few places where people can feel safe to access those resources,” she said. “Maintaining that safe space is so, so important to all of us and I can say with confidence that it’s something that everyone that’s standing back here [referring to the other library staff present] is dedicated to doing.”
Hanshaw said for her, being at UCA has been one of the only places in her life where she can be out and still feel both safe and accepted by almost everyone around her.
“I know many other people for whom that is also the case,” she said, adding that after the sign was initially put up, she received a lot of great feedback and thank-yous. “A lot of us were hurt by the messages that we received after it was removed, but if putting up a lighthearted Lady Gaga quote in order to promote information and resources to a marginalized community is a personal agenda, then it’s one that I’m committed to you and I think the university should be too.”