UF protest focuses on sexual attitudes and discrimination

University of Florida student and event organizer Patrick Runfeldt, at right facing, dances during the Queer Sadie Hawkins Dance near the "Whispering Close" statue at the Plaza of the Americas on the UF campus Thursday. The dance was a peaceful demonstration of the statue, which depicts a man and a woman dancing, and was organized by members of the UF LGBT student group Own Up.

Doug Finger/Staff Photographer
Published: Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 6:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 6:00 p.m.

Nearly three dozen people peacefully protested Thursday around a statue on the UF campus of a dancing heterosexual couple that they say marginalizes people of other sexual orientations.

The event, called the Queer Sadie Hawkins Dance, focused on the “Whispering Close” statue on the UF Plaza of the Americas. The 20-foot-tall sculpture was installed in June 2011 as part of the on-campus “Crossing Paths” exhibit and depicts a man and woman in ballroom attire dancing intimately.

The demonstration's Facebook event page said the statue's presence “suggests to UF students and outsiders alike that UF values heteronormative, white, cisgendered relationships above all others.”

Anitta Francis, a junior English major who is straight, said the issue is bigger than just a statue. She spoke of a friend who she said committed suicide after coming out as lesbian and facing discrimination from friends and family.

Her parents kicked her out of her home, Francis said of her friend, and people wrote disparaging comments on her friend's Facebook page. Her friend, before coming out, had been happy and positive, Francis said, but the lack of acceptance from loved ones took its toll.

Francis said she wants members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning — LGBTQ — community to be free of threats and discrimination. She says they should not have to worry about threats such as having their cars vandalized on campus.

Logan Stallings, a fourth-year psychology student who identifies as gender-fluid and pansexual, said the event was about protesting the idea of heteronormativity.

Stallings wanted to protest the idea that one must act a certain way to be accepted in a society that sometimes dehumanizes LGBTQ people.

Transexual, pansexual and asexual people are also misunderstood by some people within the LGBTQ community, Stallings added.

Patrick Runfeldt, a third-year English student and one of the organizers of the event, said steps like nationwide marriage equality laws need to be taken in order to make the UF community and other communities more inclusive for LGBTQ people.

“Somehow I ended up being the voice of a generation today,” said Runfeldt, who identified himself as a straight ally of the LGBTQ community. He said he believes people fighting against LGBTQ rights are on the wrong side of history.

Michelle Aragon, a senior English student, said OwnUp, the group that organized the event, started out as a school project for a public writing and viral circulation class within the English department.

She said she hopes the event and others like it can help create a “safe environment for the LGBTQ community” on campus, where there have been instances of vandalism against its members.

Members of OwnUp said they hope to become a full-fledged organization on campus in the spring.

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