By John Hanley
With almost 800 students and faculty members up in arms, LSU is in quite a stir. They’ve been in action, preparing their own response, since catching wind of another group that is hosting an event for itself.
And tension is only building as the end of January draws near.
A few weeks ago, Bobby Jindal announced plans to host Louisiana’s version of the “Response,” a nation-wide event in which religious members of the community gather to pray together.
Jindal’s plans involve a gathering on January 24 at LSU’s Pete Maravich Center, where students and other members of the public are invited to “turn back to God” in a “time of prayer, of fasting, of repentance, [and] of celebration,” according to Jindal’s video invitation.
“Students who are LGBT, not white, not male, not a particular brand of Christian all felt really threatened and like their space had been invaded.” – Bruce Parker
The rally’s Facebook currently has about 330 attendees, including Sara Spencer, an LSU alumna.
“I foresee [the rally] being an encouragement to unify our state and whoever attends to join in prayer,” she said. “It’s a positive outlook on what we want our state and our country to be.”
Spencer says her goals and hopes for the rally are simply unity and prayer.
“Whether they believe in Christ or not, [the rally can] unify different people,” she said. “It’s a vision for individuals who want something better for our state.”
Although, as Spencer said, the Response rally hopes to be a unifying force, many students and faculty feel the rally has potential to be more exclusionary than unifying for the community.
“Students who are LGBT, not white, not male, not a particular brand of Christian all felt really threatened and like their space had been invaded,” said Bruce Parker, a PhD student at LSU, along with Coalition Manager at Equality Louisiana and Executive Director of Louisiana Progress.
Parker is one of the many members of the LSU community attending student Peter Jenkins’ protest and daylong event.
Jenkins’ event, entitled “Organize, Reflect, Act: A Day of Action for Justice in Louisiana,” is acting to contrast the beliefs behind the rally and to spread awareness about many students’ thoughts on the issues that the rally has brought up.
“Whether they believe in Christ or not, [the rally can] unify different people. It’s a vision for individuals who want something better for our state.” – Sara Spencer
The event involves the protest itself, but also involves different activities like workshops, panels, and networking sessions to spread awareness throughout campus.
“The cool thing about the counter-protest is it’s an example of students coming together and deciding to change something and push back about something,” said Parker.
Although many protesting students do not have a problem with religious expression and prayer, most have taken issue with the rally’s sponsor, the American Family Association.
The AFA has been designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center to be a hate group based on its strong, anti-gay stance, and it also holds the belief that societal issues like abortion, pornography, and single mothers are the cause of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina.
Naturally, this has a lot of the student body on edge.
Michael Beyer, a member of LSU organization Spectrum, says that by partnering with the AFA, Gov. Jindal has failed to support LSU’s goals as a community.
“He’s neglected the mission of LSU to respect all types of diversity, and really trampled on our university and other universities around the state,” said Beyer.
However, despite the many problems protestors may have with the rally and Gov. Jindal’s decision to host it, the mission of the protest is not to be hateful, but to start conversation about Louisiana’s – and America’s – political and social issues.
On the other side of the issue, despite the AFA’s controversial and potentially problematic views, all those attending the Response rally may not hold those same views, and may simply want to join in prayer with members of the same faith.
As is the case with Sara Spencer, some attendees are just joining in to pray, and have no problem with the protestors.
“I don’t think [the protest] is a bad thing at all,” said Spencer. “If you’re angry about something, you can show your passion about that anger, but don’t hate people because of it.”
In Spencer’s view, the rally is not about exclusion or hate.
“I realize there [are] deeper roots of issues, but that’s not what we’re getting together about. We’re not getting together to hate on different belief systems. We’re getting together to be encouraged and make things better,” she said.
Protestors like Parker and Beyer have quite a different perspective of the rally, but as the protest’s event page states, the event is ultimately about “embracing our differences…to [build] the kind of state we want to live in.”
Both groups, though, share the same basic principle: the right to profess and protect their beliefs. It’s up to students and members of the Baton Rouge community to choose which beliefs suit them.