CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

University of Utah students face charges after protesting movie they call “transphobic”

Dec 5, 2023, 12:10 PM | Updated: 12:11 pm

The block U appears on the University of Utah. Many colleges may have tuition hike....

The block U appears on the front of the J. Willard Marriott Library on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022. (Ben B. Braun, Deseret News)

(Ben B. Braun, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Seven University of Utah students are charged with a handful of misdemeanors because they disrupted a movie screening last month. The group protested the movie because they said it was transphobic.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported that the seven students face Class B misdemeanors and infractions, including “disrupting the operation of a school, disorderly conduct, and interference with a police officer.” Each count can carry a fine of up to $1,000.

The Young Americans for Freedom at the University of Utah, YAF, hosted a screening of the film “Damaged: The Transing Of America’s Kids.” They are a campus branch of a nationwide conservative group. The movie focuses on transgender people who have de-transitioned and now speak against the medical procedures they experienced.

To protest the event, members of a self-proclaimed socialist club called MEChA stormed the screening with signs and chants calling the movie “transphobic.” According to the YAF Instagram, after fifteen minutes, the demonstrators were escorted out by officers.

University blowback

Administrators at the University responded by stripping the school’s sponsorship of MEChA and blocking them from holding an annual event for high schoolers. However, MEChA students staged a sit-in at the A. Ray Olpin Union building on campus. They demanded a meeting with administrators so they could push for a list of nine concessions, including that:

  • The university cut all ties with Israel,
  • The university reinstate the club’s sponsorship,
  • Vice President of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at the U Mary Ann Villarreal and Student Body President Jack O’Leary resign,
  • The university remove all supposed “hate groups,” such as YAF, and
  • The university drop the counts against the seven students.

University leaders agreed to meet with leaders of MEChA five days later. Students recorded the meeting and posted clips on their Instagram page.

“Rather than investigate transphobic and Islamophobic incidents on campus,” one MEChA member said in the clip, “we see a university that would much rather engage in a witch hunt.”

Another student claimed the university had “weaponized” its police force against students.

Response to demands

University of Utah Vice President Lori McDonald responded to their demands in an email, saying that sponsorship would result in the group having less autonomy because it would be considered part of the University itself.

She added that the leaders named in the club’s demands would not resign and that the school has “no decision-making authority” over when charges are brought for breaking local and federal laws.

McDonald also offered the group the chance for another meeting, “in the format of a respectful conversation.”

According to MEChA’s Instagram page, the group is currently looking for attorneys.

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University of Utah students face charges after protesting movie they call “transphobic”