(written in fall 2010)
Last Thursday, a handful of state and local Republican candidates made their way to the Laird Room of the Dreyfus University Center at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point for a party rally sponsored by the Federation of Republican Women. What was to be a routine rally, however, ended up becoming a scene of protest.
More than 120 students from UWSP’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance, as well as Students for a Democratic Society, were stationed outside the Laird Room with signs and banners. They were voicing their displeasure over comments made by Republican Lieutenant Governor candidate Rebecca Kleefisch, who was slated to make an appearance but did not show due to a last-minute schedule change.
Kleefisch recently made comments regarding gay marriage that have drawn the ire of members of the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) community. She has said that her faith was one reason for her opposition to gay marriage.Kleefisch also stated that it is “fiscally irresponsible” to approve such marriages.
In an interview on ‘Homefront’ on VCY America, Kleefisch said, “At what point are we going to OK marrying inanimate objects? Can I marry this table or this clock? Can we marry dogs? This is ridiculous.”
Those comments did not resonate well with students who were at the protest. As a member of the LGBTQ community, Shane Hetland, a sophomore business major, found Kleefisch’s remarks particularly offensive.
“I think the comparison of gay marriage to inanimate objects was very hurtful,” Hetland said.
UWSP Gender and Sexuality Alliance President Michael Waak was present as well, as he was helping to head up the protest.
“She [Kleefisch] has said some very offensive things about the LGBTQ community,” Waak said. “We want her to see that we disagree with her and that we have a voice.”
The protestors created a tunnel through which the candidates would walk as they entered the Laird Room, and the protest itself was rather quiet and maintained a level of respect for the rally inside.
The rally itself featured such figures as 7th Congressional candidate Sean Duffy, as well as 71st Assembly District candidate Bob Scovill. Scovill lamented the current economic status of the state, especially the ever-increasing budget deficit, which he said is now more than $13 trillion. He said that cutting costs immediately is crucial for the future well-being of the state, as well as for ensuring that future graduates stay in the state.
“We have to create an atmosphere for our kids, everywhere from kindergarten on up, to foster an environment that makes people want to stay here when they graduate from high school and from college,” Scovill said.
A few of the GSA protestors were in the Laird Room to hear the candidates speak, and Scovill applauded their exercise of their democratic rights.
“I spent twenty years in the military defending everyone’s right to the First Amendment,” Scovill said. “I do appreciate you being here. If we don’t have open dialogue and start talking about things and bringing people back to work in this state, we’re done—we’re done.”
Katie Kloth, a community member and UWSP Alumni, was one of the protestors inside. She came to the event after hearing that Kleefisch was going to be speaking. As a member of the LGBTQ community, Kloth found Kleefisch’s remarks as well as her opposition to LGBTQ individuals’ rights to unionize or marry especially disconcerting. She was also hoping her and her fellow protestors’ presence would spark a “common grounds” dialogue between the two groups.
“Just having the courage to be respectful and being here and having our opinion and maybe talk to some people afterwards I think is a little bit more powerful than continuing to divide ourselves. Because if you’re never talking to people, what are we doing?” Kloth said.
Six days later, Kleefisch paid a visit to the Stevens Point Republican Victory Center for a meet and greet with community members and students.
At the meet and greet, Kleefisch stated her concerns about the current policies in Madison, saying, “I can’t watch Madison disassemble my children’s futures.” Kleefisch’s main concern going into office is to create jobs and fix the economy.
Kleefisch mentioned that in the past she “said things I wish I would have been more sophisticated in articulating.”
The LGBTQ community was there at the Victory Center to further protest Kleefisch’s statement about gay marriage. One-hundred five students and community members stood outside with signs and flags expressing their unrest with the political candidate and hopes for equality.
When asked about the protests, Kleefisch responded, “We need all hands on deck in repairing the economy…I welcome voices in helping the economy.”
The protest landed on “Wear Purple Day,” which is meant to raise awareness for the seven LGBTQ students across the country in the last month that have committed suicide due to bullying.
Julie Schneider and Becky Lee, the faculty advisers for GSA, hope that the protest also gained visibility for the LGBTQ community, because they don’t want such tragedies to ever occur in the Stevens Point area.