Anti-LGBTQ flyers at Salt Lake Community College, and the school’s response, raise alarms

Flyers found on the South City campus in June prompt a discussion about ‘dangerous’ rhetoric and free speech.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Grey skies loom over the Salt Lake Community College's South City campus. Flyers found on campus at the end of Pride month, 2023, has sparked discussions about free speech and "dangerous" rhetoric.

This story is jointly published by nonprofits Amplify Utah and The Salt Lake Tribune, in collaboration with Salt Lake Community College, to elevate diverse perspectives in local media through student journalism.

A series of anti-LGBTQ+ flyers seen around Salt Lake Community College during Pride month — and a response from school officials that one advocate called “vague, almost cryptic” — have sparked discussion at the college.

The flyers, said student Kai Lyon, “made me feel … like I’m not respected. It’s not healthy for a learning environment, in any way or shape.” Lyon works with SLCC’s Gender and Sexuality Student Resource Center (GSSRC) through the college’s internship program.

Students and staff were notified about the unauthorized flyers in SLCC’s weekly newsletter on June 28. The notice didn’t specify the information in the flyers, or where they appeared, but it encouraged anyone who felt harmed by them to reach out to the college’s Center for Health and Counseling, as well as other LGBTQ+ resources, including the GSSRC, located on SLCC’s South City campus.

“People had no idea what [the email] was about, and so they came to me asking questions because it was so vague, almost cryptic,” said Peter Moosman, manager of the GSSRC.

Moosman and Lyon both said they wished SLCC officials had expressed more explicit words of solidarity with the queer community.

After meeting with students a day after the newsletter went out, Moosman contacted the school’s administration — which sent him a scanned copy of one of the flyers. Moosman and other GSSRC staff shared the information, and denounced the flyers on their respective Instagram accounts.

The flyers contained no images, but repeated rhetoric common among anti-LGBTQ+ groups, asserting unfounded claims that the queer community pushes for “child sterilization” and “cult indoctrination.” The flyers concluded by equating support for Pride month with support for pedophilia.

‘Most institutions are grappling with this’

According to Peta Owens-Liston, assistant director of public relations at SLCC, an employee at the Miller campus reported four flyers to the school’s public safety department on June 6. A student reported a fifth flyer, also at the Miller campus, on June 14.

After the fifth flyer was reported, SLCC’s public safety department notified Candida Mumford, the dean of students, and Juone Kadiri, the school’s vice president for institutional equity, inclusion and transformation. Kadiri wrote and sent out the notice in the June 28 newsletter — three weeks after the flyers were first reported.

College officials did not immediately contact the GSSRC or the school’s Queer Student and Employee associations, Owens-Liston said.

Campus police identified the person who distributed the flyers, using security camera footage. Owens-Liston could not confirm whether that person was a student or staff member, but said that, as of mid-July, “ongoing disciplinary action” was being taken.

Owens-Liston said the person who put up the flyers violated SLCC’s advertising and posting policy, because they did not go through proper channels to get approval to post on campus. The flyers were removed because of that, she said.

While Moosman and other GSSRC members said they were concerned that the flyers’ message could be classified as hate speech, Mumford said the flyers fall under the legal definition of free speech.

“It’s one of the challenges in higher ed,” Mumford said. “I think most institutions are grappling with this. … We’re really constrained by the legal system and by our Legislature, and there are a lot of things that we [must] adhere to as an institution.”

Mumford co-chairs SLCC’s bias response team, created last year to respond to reports of hate and bias — usually directed against marginalized groups. The team, however, does not handle disciplinary action.

“What we’re trying to do is elevate other voices so we can help educate and inform people [and] bring more dialogue,” Mumford said. She cited an incident last year, where a student pulled off another student’s hijab — an incident that led to organizing a forum, where a panel discussed the hijab’s cultural significance. (Mumford said the student who pulled the hijab went through a review, based on the school’s student code of conduct. Mumford would not say what disciplinary action was taken, citing confidentiality.)

Mumford said SLCC’s department of public safety informed the bias response team about the flyers — but the team did not handle the response. The team did log the flyers as a hate and bias incident, which will appear in a public report at the end of the academic year.

Owens-Liston said the college will form another group whose role will be to “review and make recommendations about the processes around incidents like this one.”

‘People are not being violent in silos’

Kadiri, in a statement to The Globe at SLCC, reiterated the college’s commitment to creating inclusive learning and working environments where “all feel welcome and respected.”

“While we are required to permit a broad spectrum of messaging on our campuses,” Kadiri said in the statement, “we want to make it clear that we do not agree with and adamantly oppose any hate-filled and harmful messaging that targets specific groups or identities on our campuses.”

A 1942 U.S. Supreme Court ruling found that “words meant to incite violence,” also known as “fighting words,” may not be protected free speech. SLCC relays the text of — and limits to — the First Amendment on its website.

Mumford pointed out, however, that the flyers found at Miller, under the strict interpretation within courts, do not meet the legal doctrine of “inciting violence.”

Moosman called the flyers an example of “abusive and dangerous” attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community among some groups of people — and are a genuine concern.

“These are very strong claims that are driving people to physical acts of retaliation,” Moosman said of the flyers’ messaging. He cited similarly targeted actions in Utah during Pride month, such as when pride flags were cut down from people’s homes and burned in a Salt Lake City neighborhood.

Moosman also mentioned the November 2022 shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colo., in which a gunman killed five people and injured 26 others. The shooter was sentenced to five consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole.

“People are not being violent in silos,” Moosman said. “They’re part of a bigger picture.”

Cristian Martinez wrote this story as a journalism student at Salt Lake Community College. It is published as part of a new collaborative including nonprofits Amplify Utah and The Salt Lake Tribune.