Students call on officials to suspend GW YAF at SA Senate meeting after transphobic tweets

Media Credit: Krishna Rajpara | Assistant Photo Editor

The protesting students carried signs calling on the Student Association Senate to condemn GW YAF.

Updated: April 27, 2022 at 8:33 p.m.

More than 20 students protested against GW Young America’s Foundation’s recent transphobic social media posts at a Student Association Senate meeting Monday, where the SA senate called on the University to respond.

The SA Senate unanimously passed the No Place for Hate Act, which calls on the Office of Student Life to suspend YAF for breaking the student code of conduct and remove its status as a registered student organization after the student organization tweeted inflammatory remarks about transgender individuals late last week. Students, including leaders from LGBTQ+ student organizations, gathered at the meeting and silently held up signs criticizing YAF throughout the meeting.

The senate resolution condemns the right-wing organization’s statements, calls for the Office of Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement to conduct diversity training sessions with YAF and asks interim University President Mark Wrighton to address the statements.

YAF tweeted Friday that “pedophiles shouldn’t be teaching in schools” – a reference to recent right-wing claims that LGBTQ+ individuals are malicious or sexually perverse. Claims like these are correlated with recent anti-LGBTQ+ laws and rhetoric, like Florida’s recent “Don’t Say Gay” law that bans ​​classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity.

The student organization’s transphobic and homophobic social media language also includes a tweet saying its members weren’t “the ones advocating for the grooming and sexualization of children” in response to a member of GW Reproductive Autonomy and Gender Equity who called YAF “disgusting.”

SA Sen. Sofia Packer, U-at-Large, who sponsored the act, said the SA does not have the authority to defund YAF unless the University finds that they have violated GW policy, but YAF’s statements are “no more than an attempt to limit free speech.” The student code of conduct prohibits discriminatory harassment that “creates a hostile environment” based on protected characteristics, including “gender identity or expression.”

“I am disappointed, but not all that surprised, that my last meeting as a senator within the Student Association will be spent addressing an act of hatred within GW’s community,” Packer said at the meeting.

YAF received $186 in SA funding from the general allocations passed at the senate meeting Monday.

YAF tweeted a statement Wednesday, saying a tweet in response to the national YAF organization that criticizes gender theory which said “the pro-pedo libs are gonna love this one” did not represent the entire organization’s views. YAF said the tweet was not meant to refer to transgender people as pedophiles, only people who support implementing education about gender and sexuality in elementary schools.

The statement said a YAF e-board member posted the tweet without “any pre-approval,” and that the member is no longer part of the organization.

“Moving forward, we will closely scrutinize our social media posts to ensure that they are in-line with the executive board’s views as a whole,” the tweet states.

The YAF statement claimed The Hatchet “misconstrued” the context of YAF’s “pro-pedo libs” tweet. The Hatchet has not included that tweet in any version of the article.

YAF did not apologize for the tweet in their statement. YAF did not reference at least five other transphobic tweets still posted on their account, including the tweet which said “pedophiles shouldn’t be teaching in schools.”

YAF said the word “pedophile” should not have been used in the discussion.

The Office for Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement posted a statement to their Instagram story Wednesday, alluding to “recent social media posts impacting the trans and gender non-binary community.” The post encourages “students seeking support” to contact the Multicultural Student Services Center, Counseling and Psychological Services or the Division of Student Affairs.

“We encourage every member of the GW community to consider how their words and actions impact one another,” the statement reads. “Let us raise higher and care for one another.”

University spokesperson Tim Pierce did not return a request for comment.

About a dozen students gave public comments at the meeting Monday, where members of LGBTQ+ advocacy student organizations distributed signs criticizing YAF to senators and members of the public.

Signs calling on the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities to “protect trans people” with the words “condemn defund disaffiliate” in reference to YAF were also seen across campus at locations like the University Student Center and near Kogan Plaza.

Phoebe Shatzer, a first-year graduate student who spoke at the meeting, said GW has been “a wonderful place” for her after she arrived on campus last fall one month into gender-affirming hormone therapy, but groups like YAF that attack the character of their ideological opponents make campus and the broader community less safe.

“When a club on campus calls those who disagree pedophiles or groomers, not only do they devalue a heinous, horrific evil for the sake of hurting innocents, they also signify that there could be no legal or moral quarter given to their ideological opponents,” she said in a public comment.

Shatzer said the University should either defund or disband YAF because the student organization advances “fundamentally harmful rhetoric.” She said she was pleased with the resolution that the senate passed, especially because of the bias training it recommended for YAF.

“Regardless, I think it’s important to be just aware of acceptable and unacceptable practices and be potentially aware of bias,” she said.

Kate Henjes, a freshman studying international affairs, said she found YAF’s comments “revolting” because they create hostility and encourage discrimination against LGBTQ+ students. She said far-right activists who call LGBTQ+ individuals “groomers” and “pedophiles” are directly correlated with rising transphobia and violent harassment.

“These comments are in direct violation of the University’s code of conduct as they establish a hostile and discriminatory environment against LBGT students,” she said.

Kai Nilsen – an international affairs major and member of Delta Lambda Phi, a social fraternity for LGBTQ+ men on campus – said YAF should be disbanded because its “hate speech has no place at GW.” He said Delta Lambda Phi plans to put pressure on the administration to condemn and defund the organization and force it to disaffiliate from campus.

Nilsen said Delta Lambda Phi, along with Transgender and Non-Binary Students of GW and GW Reproductive Autonomy and Gender Equity, worked to print signs to distribute to students at the meeting. Delta Lambda Phi and GW RAGE circulated an Instagram post condemning the tweets and encouraging other student organizations to do the same last week.

“I am ashamed to go to a university where students can call trans people pedophiles and not face any consequences,” he said.

This post was updated to include the following:
This post was updated to include an Instagram statement from the Office for Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement. This post was also updated to include a statement from YAF.

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