Vandalism, hate message target UT Pride Center

Sept. 6, 2016: Students found a damaged flag and a homophobic message at the University of Tennessee Pride Center.

Students that frequent the University of Tennessee Pride Center showed up Tuesday to find a ripped rainbow flag out front and a message inside with a homophobic slur. 

Chesnea Skeen, an ambassador with the Pride Center, said the rainbow flags had been placed out front following the mass killing at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in June. The flags were a symbol of solidarity for an LGBT community grieving the loss of life.

"One of the reasons we tried so hard to be open this year is so students would have a safe space for events like Orlando or whatever," Skeen said. 

The flag stood more than six feet tall, but a chunk was cut or torn out of the middle.

Inside the Pride Center, Skeen said students found a note reading, "(Slur) get more AIDS more often. #ImWithHer."

"The fact that it was put inside the center for someone to come across, and the flag was cut, yes, I would say it was a hate crime," Skeen added. 

A spokesperson for UT responded to the incident in a statement saying, "Incidents like this have no place on our campus. A bias incident report has been filed, and UTPD is investigating."

Skeen said this is not the first instance of something like this happening at the Pride Center this year. In the winter, she said someone broke a window, and over the summer, someone scratched out the letters "LGBT" on their sign outside the building. 

She said the Pride Center is supposed to be safe space, and it makes her feel uneasy that incidents keep happening on campus. 

"To have that violated almost on a frequent basis can be kind of unnerving because we just want to come and hang out," she said. 

Ben Byers, the president of the East Tennessee Equality Council that operates Knoxville Pridefest, said he believes the university should be doing everything it can to make sure each student feels safe. 

"The university obviously needs to condemn this in the strongest terms," he said. "They need to encourage more diversity focused activities." 

Byers said Knoxville as a whole is generally a supportive community, and if students cannot find a safe space on campus, he encourages them to reach out to find resources outside what is available at UT. 

(© 2016 WBIR)


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