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UNH Law students walk out over ‘transphobic’ messages by campus group

More than 100 students and faculty gathered outside the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law in Concord on Wednesday, March 29, 2023, to protest what they said was anti-trans messaging from two student groups and an insufficient response from administrators.
Paul Cuno-Booth
/
NHPR
More than 100 students and faculty gathered outside the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law in Concord on Wednesday, March 29, 2023, to protest what they said was anti-trans messaging from two student groups and an insufficient response from administrators.

Students at the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law walked out of class Wednesday, protesting what they called the administration’s failure to act on complaints about two campus groups they say are spreading anti-trans hate.

The afternoon rally outside the law school drew more than 100 faculty and students, many holding signs and chanting “UNH! Stand against hate!”

The walkout was sparked by an email that a student group, the Christian Legal Society, sent to the student body Tuesday about this week’s deadly shooting at a private Christian school in Nashville.

In the email — ostensibly an invitation to a vigil for the victims planned for Wednesday evening — the group claimed the push for trans rights has fueled anti-Christian hate and suggested trans rights advocates bear some responsibility for the shooting. (Law enforcement authorities have yet to publicly identify the shooter’s motive.)

“Tragically, this incident comes after a barrage of rhetoric demonizing Christians and anyone perceived to oppose the ontological premises of transgenderism,” the email states, adding that activists, journalists and others have “fueled this hate and paranoia” against “anyone who opposes the trans agenda.”

Speakers at the rally said the email was just the latest example of what they described as anti-trans messaging by the Christian Legal Society and another campus group, the Free Exercise Coalition. They said the groups’ activities are making LGBTQ people feel less safe on campus.

Law student AhLana Ames, who helped organize the event, said no one had a problem with CLS organizing a vigil. But “the email then spirals down a rabbit hole of dangerous and offensive transphobic rhetoric,” she said.

Another organizer, second-year law student Hannah Neumiller, said students have raised concerns about the group to the school, but administrators have been slow to act.

“I’m tired of waking up to headlines and acts of hate against the trans community, and then I have to come to school and see hateful messages against the trans community,” she said. “We have asked for change. We have asked for better policies for actions and consequences but it's always just ‘under review.’ ”

She said she wants the university to withdraw formal recognition from the two groups.

The Christian Legal Society’s local chapter was approved as a campus group last year. The Free Exercise Coalition was recognized earlier this year, after the Student Bar Association deferred the decision to university leadership. The First Liberty Institute, a Texas-based legal group,had threatened litigation if the Free Exercise Coalition chapter was not swiftly approved by UNH Law.

Last month, university police said they wereinvestigating who may have illegally recorded a group of faculty and administrators last November as they met to discuss policies for student groups. A recording of the meeting later found its way into the hands of Fox News, according to one professor.

In a statement Wednesday night, Erika Mantz, UNH’s executive director for media relations, said the university is “stridently committed to the free and open exchange of ideas.” 

“Every member of our community has the right to hold and vigorously defend and promote their opinions,” she said. “The exercise of this right may result in members of the community being exposed to ideas that they consider unorthodox, uncomfortable, controversial or even repugnant.”

Mantz added that UNH is committed to ensuring “the safety and well-being of every member of our community while upholding the right to free speech.”  

“We mourn for the lives of six innocent victims in Nashville and we stand by and support members of the LGBTQIA+ community who have been maligned during a national conversation about this tragic event,” she said.  
Representatives for the Christian Legal Society could not be reached Wednesday. In its email to the school's student body Tuesday, the group said UNH law students and others had unfairly “maligned Christian students and CLS as bigoted, hateful, or unfit for public recognition or acceptance.”

Jeffrey Ozanne, president of the Free Exercise Coalition, said in an email: “We are saddened by the response of our fellow students at a time when we should be united in grief over the senseless loss of life in Nashville.”

Paul Cuno-Booth covers health and equity for NHPR. He previously worked as a reporter and editor for The Keene Sentinel, where he wrote about police accountability, local government and a range of other topics. He can be reached at pcuno-booth@nhpr.org.
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