Religious protestors confronted outside CFA

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Christian Larsen (‘25) joined many other students at a counter-protest on February 21, dressed head-to-toe in a Spider-Man suit. (Photo courtesy of @norseagainstsexualassault on Instagram)

Two protestors with no known connections to Luther College or the Decorah area demonstrated on High Street near Jenson-Noble and the Center for the Arts (CFA) on February 21, and were subsequently confronted by students. The student group grew increasingly in size, and did not disperse until the original two protestors left campus.

 

The two protestors, who remained unidentified, arrived outside the CFA around 11:50 a.m. One of them held a sign with religious messages such as “Your sin will find you out,” and “Prepare to Meet God”. Dean for Student Engagement Ashley C. Benson said these and additional messages “opposed campus norms and commitments to diversity and inclusion at Luther.” 

 

Students began to approach the protestors because of the controversial messages, which they deemed to be homophobic. In response, students draped pride flags across their shoulders and chanted for gay rights. Nora Homolka (‘22) was just one of the many students who participated in the counter-protest.

 

“I think the [student] response was justified,” Homolka said. “I’m proud that we’re letting people know we won’t tolerate hate.”

The volume increased as students came out of Jenson-Noble with tambourines and drums; one student even came with a large speaker, blaring “Macho Man” by the Village People and “It’s Raining Men” by the Weather Girls. Christian Jensen (‘25) came dressed in his Spider-Man bodysuit, which he said he has “in case of emergency.” Jensen, in his suit and holding a sign that read “JESUS WAS QUEER AS ****,” was photographed in a picture that was widely shared on social media after the protest.

 

“I was just amazed at how fast the crowd amassed to show support for the gay community,” Jensen said. “Spider-Man says, ‘Gay rights.’”

 

Security personnel Bob Harri and Erik Stoen formed a barrier around the students and demonstrators. The protestors were not available for comment, but Brady Helget (‘23) said that the demonstrator holding the sign shared that they are on a cross-country trip, and planning to protest at campuses along the way.

 

At approximately 1:35 p.m. the protestors left campus, followed by campus security. Security was unable to remove them from the premises prior to that because the section of High Street they occupied is owned by the city of Decorah, and therefore out of Luther’s jurisdiction. In a campus-wide email, Benson had praise for both students and security in how they handled the situation.

 

“The response by students to defend marginalized members of our community was a tangible expression of Luther’s mission statement,” Benson said. “I am also grateful to Bob Harri and Erik Stoen in Campus Safety and Security for helping, along with the Residence Life staff to manage the incident and the crowd.”

 

The administration did not respond when asked for further comment.

 

The cheers of students accompanying the departure of the demonstrators reflected the feelings of support and solidarity the group shared in their counter-protest. Helget was one of the first students to originally approach the protestors, and the first to break out a pot and spoon to drown out the protestors’ messages.

 

“I was so happy to see my fellow classmates join in and let [the two protestors] know this wasn’t acceptable on our campus,” Helget said. “When I started making noise, I just apologized to security for how loud everything was about to get.”