100 students walk out of graduation ceremony to protest anti-gay VP Mike Pence
Around a hundred students have walked out of their own graduation ceremony to protest anti-LGBT Vice President Mike Pence’s commencement address.
Many dissenting Notre Dame University graduates wore rainbow flags and scarves as part of an organised statement against Pence, who has a history of implementing anti-LGBT policies.
More than 2,700 students, employees and alumni signed a letter protesting the speech, with LGBT activists also organising for hundreds of rainbow flags to be flown all over the Indiana-based campus.
The protest started with a fearless student in the front row wearing a rainbow graduation cap, who turned her back on the vice president.
In March, Donald Trump and Mike Pence made proposals to gut funding for the US’s pioneering HIV/AIDS prevention projects, removing $350 million.
As Governor of Indiana, Pence stood in the way of expanding HIV services and preventative measures like needle exchanges – until he was forced to declare a public health emergency in 2015 due to a sharp rise in transmissions.
And the vice president also once suggested on a campaign website that HIV prevention funding be drained in order to fund state-sponsored ‘gay cure’ therapy.
Grace Watkins, an organiser for the protest who helped raise $1,000 and order 400 flags, said the action would show students they were “valued and safe.”
Speaking to Scholastic, the university’s student magazine, she added that inviting Pence was “a bad choice”.
“If we were going to depart from tradition anyway, then I don’t understand why we couldn’t pick a better speaker – one that would make all students feel more welcomed during a time that’s supposed to be celebratory.”
From a Notre Dame faculty member re: the students who walked out during Mike Pence's commencement speech: pic.twitter.com/nF5zrxn35Z
— Anne Helen Petersen (@annehelen) May 21, 2017
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who came out as gay in 2015 and attained prominence when he ran for DNC chair earlier this year, voiced his support for the protest.
Asked is he backed the class of 2017’s actions, he said: “Of course I am.
“I think every student’s wrestling with this issue: what do you do when you respect the office and you also think that the office is doing something that’s horribly wrong?” he told the Washington Blade.
“And I just want to point to the way that they’re doing it as the most important feature of this protest.”
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He added: “What I appreciate about it is it’s clear that the students want to express their commitment to tolerance and the values that they believe a Catholic University ought to uphold, and that this administration is not compatible with those values.
“You go to a university in order to form your conscience and they’re expressing their conscience in a way that I really respect and admire.”
Another student leader of the protest, speaking outside the stadium, said the protest was for many reasons, including – to cheers – LGBT rights.
Wearing a rainbow flag and a sash decorated in the colours of the Mexico flag, she added: “We all deserve to have a commencement that represents us and our desires and our needs.”