Student groups protest Candace Owens, Charlie Kirk appearance at UIC over anti-LGBTQ views

Protesters say Candace Owens and Charlie Kirk promote anti-LGBTQ views. ‘I think it’s disgusting that the university has these people on campus,’ one student said.

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University of Illinois Chicago students protest an event featuring far-right media personalities Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens on Thursday, March 9, 2023. Thursday’s event is organized by a conservative student organization on campus - Turning Point USA, a coalition of students and organizers at UIC who are concerned about rising fascism, racism, and hatred on campus. Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

University of Illinois Chicago student groups protest an event featuring conservative activists Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens on campus on Thursday evening. UIC officials said the event was not sponsored by the school.

Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

Dozens of University of Illinois Chicago students protested an event featuring far-right speakers Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens at the UIC Forum on Thursday evening.

Demonstrators held signs saying “Racism is a public health crisis” and chanted “Whose city? Our city!” and “Shut it down!” Some of those waiting in line to enter the event shouted back “Freedom!”

The event was organized by a student-led chapter of the conservative group Turning Point USA. After hearing about the event, a collection of student groups came together to form UIC Against Hatred, which organized the protests.

Ahead of the event, Kirk posted a video of the demonstrators on Twitter and wrote, “My University of Illinois- Chicago welcoming committee. Should be a fun night!”

A UIC student who wished to be identified only as Nathan said Owens and Kirk are both known for their “hateful” rhetoric against minority groups.

“I have trans friends, I have BIPOC friends that have been attacked by them, by their work, by their rhetoric,” Nathan said. “And as we have seen throughout the United States throughout the course of the last couple years, there’s been anti-trans bills, there’s been more discriminatory actions, so we don’t want that kind of hateful rhetoric on our campus.”

Turning Point USA was founded in 2012 by Kirk, an avid supporter of former President Donald Trump who considers critical race theory and the concept of white privilege as discriminatory against whites. Kirk grew up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and attended Wheeling High School.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, Kirk’s views “have led him to attack the transgender community several times” and Turning Point USA “continues to attract racists.”

Last week, Owens wrote on Twitter that the Black Lives Matter movement had set race relations back 100 years. “Black people need to stop being openly hostile and racist toward white people — and other black people,” she wrote.

The student organizers of the event said, “We just want to advocate for freedom of speech,” and declined to comment further.

University of Illinois Chicago students protest an event featuring far-right media personalities Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens on Thursday, March 9, 2023. Thursday’s event is organized by a conservative student organization on campus - Turning Point USA, a coalition of students and organizers at UIC who are concerned about rising fascism, racism, and hatred on campus. Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

Student protesters held signs and chanted Thursday at UIC outside the University Forum featuring Candace Owens and Charlie Kirk. According to the Anti-Defamation League, Kirk’s views “have led him to attack the transgender community several times..”

Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Time

Vicki Finegan, who drove from the southwest suburbs to see Owens and Kirk, said freedom of speech was also a big motivator for her attending the event.

“I want to hear what they have to say in regards to freedom of what they’re trying to do throughout the United States to educate people, not just scream at people. They want to educate us, so I appreciate that. That’s what the First Amendment is all about,” Finegan said, adding that she wondered whether any students were paid to attend the protest.

Finegan said she thinks there should be more conservative-oriented speaking events on college campus. “It should be on both sides, let the truth decide for people. Don’t segregate, because that’s just as bad as saying no,” she said.

But Jonathan May, another student who attended the protest, admonished the school for allowing the event to take place.

“I think it’s disgusting that the university has these people on campus,” May said. “Essentially these people are calling for the genocide of LGBTQ people, specifically trans people. Don’t have these kinds of people come here.”

The university said in a statement that it did not sponsor the event, and it frequently rents out space on campus to individuals or organizations when requested. “A UIC rental agreement does not constitute endorsement, sponsorship or support for any particular speaker or organization on campus.”

It went on to say that it is committed to upholding the First Amendment and affirming the “free, open and civil exchange of ideas” between speakers and those who disagree with them.

Dave Simone, a dentist who said he attended the Conservative Political Action Conference last weekend, agreed with that idea. As he waited to enter the UIC Forum he talked with others about widespread voter fraud and claimed the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot was a failed coup attempt by former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

“Free speech is important, and having debate where you don’t swear at each other,” Simone said. “We have diplomacy, and you have conversations and you try to keep emotion out of it.”

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