Facebook Twitter

A ‘socialist student organization’ shut down a conservative film screening on campus. Here’s the fallout

The showing of a film about detransitioning at the University of Utah was interrupted by an organization which has since lost its university sponsorship status but remains a recognized student organization

SHARE A ‘socialist student organization’ shut down a conservative film screening on campus. Here’s the fallout
The University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City is pictured on Aug. 23, 2022.

The University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City is pictured on Aug. 23, 2022.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

A recent screening of a Daily Caller-produced documentary, “Damaged: The Transing of America’s Kids,” at the University of Utah library was halted after student protesters disrupted a watch party organized by the Young Americans for Freedom chapter on Nov. 1.

According to the Young Americans for Freedom’s Instagram page, the organization stands for “individual freedom, free enterprise, strong national defense, and traditional values.”

Prior to the event, Mecha de U of U, a self-described “anti-imperialist, anti-colonial, socialist student organization,” issued an “emergency protest” call on Instagram “to let YAF know trans people are welcome here.”

The Mecha post urged attendees to bring signs. “We will hand some out as well!”

The film “tells the story of the lives of transgender people who wish they could go back,” according to the Daily Caller’s website. The Daily Caller is a conservative news and opinion website founded by former Fox News host Tucker Carlson and political pundit Neil Patel.

According to an account in The Daily Utah Chronicle, about 50 protesters attended the event.

“After 20 minutes of chanting, campus police entered the room and asked those who were disruptive to leave as the protesters continued to chant. After another five minutes, police started escorting individuals out of the room and into the common area. Eventually, YAF members were escorted from the room by police and taken to another room. The film was not continued,” the Chronicle reported.

Keith Squires, the U.’s chief safety officer, said Tuesday that the two groups previously interacted in April when YAF hosted Utah State Board of Education member Natalie Cline and Monica Wilbur of Academic Integrity Movement, a right-leaning group that promotes parent choice in education. Mecha protested during that presentation for eight to 10 minutes and then campus officers asked them to leave the room.

“At that time, the group complied and they left the room and then they went outside and continued to voice their opinions but didn’t disrupt the meeting,” said Squires.

“We expected that to be the same case this time and what we encountered was that when the presentation started and the opposing group came in, they were very loud, disruptive. They continued for over 10 minutes this time. And then, when the officers came in and asked them to leave, they all refused to comply.”

Squires said the officers continued to try to ask the protesters to leave, noting the events were captured on the officers’ body cameras. The footage has been forwarded to the Salt Lake County Attorney’s Office for review and not currently available for release, he said.

“At one point, our officers encountered individuals who used a tactic to block the officers from leaving the room and so the situation was escalating at that point. We had a situation where a group was becoming more engaged and threatening towards officers and the decision was made that the priority was to protect everyone’s safety.

“I made the decision that we cancel the event at that time for public safety reasons. I didn’t want it to continue to escalate to a point where force was needed to be used by the officers if we could avoid that. So that was what drove the decision,” he said.

Squires said the university’s Department of Public Safety’s “goal is to do everything we can to avoid having to use force and to be able to still protect everybody’s rights. We’re just working to accomplish that and hoping that in the future, those that participate will be more disciplined in how they exercise their rights.”

More than a week later, the university’s Center of Equity and Student Belonging notified the leadership of Mecha in a letter dated Nov. 9 that it had withdrawn its sponsorship of the organization.

The letter signed by the center’s associate director Montelleo D. Hobley Jr. does not mention the protest at the film screening but states that “Mecha and its members” are “engaging in behavior that infringes upon the First Amendment rights of other University of Utah students to express their views.”

The letter also informs the organization that the university has changed Mecha’s status to a “registered” student organization from a “sponsored” organization which means it “remains a recognized student organization of the university and continues to have certain rights as a registered organization.”

The letter also informs the Mecha leadership that because of the change of its status and it key role in organizing the Mecha Student Association High School Conference slated for Wednesday, Nov. 15, the university would be canceling and rescheduling the event “until the university is in a better position to host the event.”

Responding on Instagram, Mecha, a Spanish word for fuse, which also stands for Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Azatlan, posted a lengthy statement that said, in part, “To say we are outraged is an understatement. This conference has been a long-standing tradition for our youth and community for nearly three decades. The cancellation of the high school conference has caused harm that widely impacts educational pathways for our westside youth and across the state. Many of which are first-generation, undocumented/DACAmented, working class, trans, nonbinary and other oppressed groups.”

The post goes on to say that Mecha has “received continuous harassment from the university administration as we continue to stand against the fascism, transphobia and Islamophobia that university students are currently facing.”

The letter from the Center of Equity and Student Belonging to Mecha states “we strongly support Mecha’s right to speak out on important issues and to make the voices of its members heard. That is fundamental to a democratic society.”

It continues, “As you know, we share your concern over the hurt that certain groups are causing to the university’s marginalized communities. However, the law does not permit one side of a dispute to disrupt and prevent another from peacefully speaking their mind. In the same way Mecha may have its voice heard, those with opposing views also have the right to speak and to have their voices heard even if you disagree with their offensive views.”

According to the Daily Utah Chronicle article, Young Americans For Freedom had hung posters throughout campus that said, “Men shouldn’t be in women’s bathrooms,” and “The transgender movement harms children.” 

Mecha plans to conduct a rally and sit-in at noon on Wednesday on the patio of the Student Union “and call on the university to meet our demands,” which include the resignation of some university officials and one elected student leader, according to Instagram posts.

Young Americans for Freedom, meanwhile, is hosting Chloe Cole, who lived for years as a transgender boy before returning to her female identity and is featured in “Damaged: The Transing of America’s Kids,” to speak at the university on Nov. 30.

YAF campus president Lucy Atwood was not available to comment on Tuesday, a national spokesman said.