Pride in Alabama: Looking Back

I am not the first to say that growing up gay in the South is often no easy task; even in Montgomery, a mid-size city and the capital of Alabama, conservative values and anti-LGBTQ bigotry seem to retain their persistent influence in the hearts and minds of many people in my local community.

Last month, I had the privilege of participating in this year’s Pride, a weekend-long event sponsored by Montgomery Pride United that featured a drag queen pageant, variety showcase, and silent auction, which culminated in a Pridefest on Sunday complete with a march, rally, and street festival. A full day of fun surrounded by transgender pride flags and endless rainbows, the clear sense of community I felt led me to reflect on past Pride events I’ve experienced growing up in Montgomery.

Montgomery’s celebration of Pride has been sporadic over the years, primarily due to leadership changes in local LGBTQ organizations, how active the community is in particular years, or other factors. Though the first known Pride event happened in 1998, it was 2005 before another event was organized. Since then, there have been several years where Pride has not been celebrated at all. My first Pride event was downtown behind beautiful Union Station in 2007, under the old train shed that then functioned as a parking lot. At 16, this Pride was one of my first encounters with the larger LGBTQ community.

A giant rainbow flag over fifteen feet tall served as a backdrop to Montgomery’s third annual Capital City Pride in 2007, where a stage was set up for performances and vendor booths represented a variety of local, state, and national organizations. Some organizations in attendance like PFLAG and ACLU have continued to be regular fixtures at Pride festivals for years, but at least one (the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network) seems to be far less prevalent in the years following the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Looking back, I remember there being very little diversity, as most attendees I saw were white; in addition, gay and lesbian issues dominated the day just as they dominated the national conversation in a time when the bisexual and trans communities were not as visible.  In fact, the only thing that has not seemed to have changed in ten years is the weather— just as it was this year, the humidity of Alabama summer meant that the shade provided only a little relief from the heat.

In the last ten years, the LGBTQ community in the United States has undergone some very clear changes as society has generally become more accepting. Even in Alabama, more people are coming out and at younger ages. The community still faces hate crimes, youth homelessness, and discrimination, as well as struggles like racism, transphobia, and division; still, people representing a wide spectrum of gender and sexual minorities seem to be gaining more of a voice, beyond just gay men and lesbians. To me, that was the biggest difference between 2007 and 2017: diversity in community. Nowhere was that realization more evident than at the end of this year’s Pride march, where people of a multitude of races, backgrounds, sexual orientations, and gender identities stood in a large circle in front of the Alabama State Capitol. In that moment and in the midst of a state and political climate that is still trying to oppress queer people, we sang together that no, “we shall not be moved.”

—Daniel C. Davis, SPLC on Campus Coordinator

SPLC on Campus gets a chance for outreach at SSA Con 2017

SSA Con attendees pose for their annual staircase photo

SSA Con attendees pose for their annual staircase photo

Two weeks ago, SPLC on Campus joined several other organizations by sponsoring the 2017 Conference held by the Secular Student Alliance. A progressive organization for student leaders and activists, the Secular Student Alliance (SSA) shares many of the same goals for social justice as we do, while at the same time they provide a space for like-minded students to come together in community.

According to Nick Stancato, manager of the SSA’s Campus Organizing team, close to 200 individuals attended SSA Con, coming together with newfound energy in the wake of the current political climate. Though we were not able to attend the conference in person, it was said that many attendees appreciated the SPLC on Campus table, where we offered buttons, wristbands, and other materials. Nick also mentioned how many view the Southern Poverty Law Center as a natural ally, along with other organizations present such as Planned Parenthood, URGE (Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity), and the American Humanist Association, among others.

We wish the folks at the Secular Student Alliance well in the upcoming school year, as they continue to provide community and fight for social justice on campus.

How a Teenage Asylum Seeker from South Africa Became a Social Justice Advocate in Maine

At first, members of the Southern Maine Community College chapter of SPLC on Campus were worried they had ordered too much food.

The group was hosting one of its first major events, a screening of Ava DuVernay’s Oscar-nominated film 13th. The 2016 documentary, which argues that slavery continues in America through the mass incarceration of African Americans, was not exactly light viewing. But by the time the film began, some 30 people had gathered to watch it. Surplus pizza, it turned out, was not going to be an issue.

After the screening, SPLC on Campus members led a discussion. The conversation was intense, said the group’s founder, Dorcas Ngaliema — but it showed that the SPLC group was a necessary addition to the seaside campus of 6,000 students.

“People talked about a lot of things they didn’t know,” Ngaliema said. “People were kind of shocked … it was uncomfortable to see that African Americans were being systematically targeted.”

When it comes to social justice, shock is a step in the right direction, Ngaliema said. “I really advocate for people being uncomfortable because that’s the only way we can learn.”

As an asylum-seeker, Ngaliema knows a lot about discomfort.

Two and a half years ago, when she was 17, Ngaliema thought her family was leaving their home in Cape Town, South Africa, for a vacation. But two weeks before the trip, her parents broke the news to her and her younger sister: the family wasn’t taking a vacation. They were relocating to Portland, Maine.

This wasn’t the first time the family had emigrated. When Ngaliema was just nine months old, her parents fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo to escape civil war. This time, concerned about a rise in xenophobic attacks across South Africa, her parents decided it was time to move farther away.

“A lot of people didn’t feel safe anymore,” Ngaliema said. In addition to her parents’ concerns about safety, they also wanted their daughters to have access to better education.

The move to America changed everything.   

“It was really hard,” Ngaliema, now 19, said of the move. “I came from a very comfortable life back home — a lot more comfortable than being here. My parents had to start over again.”

When the family first arrived, the shelter they’d planned to stay at didn’t have room for them, so they had to stay in a hotel until they found an apartment a few months later. In South Africa, Ngaliema’s father had worked for Shell Oil Company, and her mother ran a daycare center. Now, to make ends meet, he works multiple jobs in the social services field, while she works as a hotel housekeeper.

Despite the challenges of building a life in a new country, Ngaliema believes she has had an easier immigrant experience than many of her classmates at Portland High School, a hub of diversity in a mostly white state, where students hail from more than 40 countries. She considers herself lucky because she arrived in the United States already speaking English, which meant she could enroll in mainstream classes.

Still, the experience of moving to a new country sparked a keen interest in social justice.

“When I was in South Africa, all my problems were my problems and I thought the world revolved around me,” she said. “When I moved, I realized the world was really small… I learned more about American history, about racism.”  

Ngaliema’s move to Maine also occurred shortly after the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager who was shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. She followed the story via social media, and America’s struggle with racism began coming into focus. “I took it upon myself to educate myself about the injustices happening in this country,” she said. She went on to lead the civil rights club at her high school during her senior year.

After graduating from high school, Ngaliema began attending Southern Maine Community College. A political science major, she brought her passion for social justice with her. So when she heard a professor speak about the Southern Poverty Law Center, it seemed like a natural fit.

“We needed a space, especially in this climate, where we could have conversations and listen, even if it was uncomfortable,” she said, adding that relating face-to-face is especially important in an era when many people express their opinions from the safety of their computers or mobile devices. “All you have online is capital letters and exclamations… It’s just not good for anybody. In person I can see [people’s] body language, hear their tone.”

The value of face-to-face dialogue was evident in the discussion of 13th. Some attendees had initially resisted the film’s premise but gradually came to see others’ points of view. And some gained a greater understanding of the issue’s complexity. While the audience may not have come to a consensus, thanks to Ngaliema and her SPLC on Campus group, they all emerged with their minds open a little wider.

Note: This article was written by Lynn Shattuck and produced by 500 Pens: An Anti-Hate News Project in partnership with the SPLC.

KKK set to rally in Charlottesville, VA, this weekend

A Ku Klux Klan rally is set to take place at Justice Park in Charlottesville, VA, this coming Saturday. The Loyal White Knights, a Klan group based in North Carolina, plans to protest the city’s decision to remove the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. In an effort to show both disapproval of the event and a sense of unity and strength in the community, there have been numerous alternative events scheduled. This method of non-engagement with the KKK demonstration directly allows the community to present a unified objection and proclamation of the value of such unity in diversity. The majority of protesters have often been shown to have good motives and peaceful intent, but the risk for escalation in circumstances like these is high. The Loyal White Knights and other like-minded groups feed off of the chaos caused by the collision of differing views, especially when protests become violent. Though peaceful protest is of course possible, the clearest way to oppose extremists is to divert attention away from them and their hateful message and onto the positive and inclusive environments created in its place. A message of community solidarity is then amplified by the empty streets surrounding them and the sound of their rhetoric being ignored. That is how you get their attention, that is how you make them listen, and that is how you tell them you don’t want them in your community.

Here is a complete list of alternative events in and around Charlottesville:

  • The Jefferson School African American Heritage Center and Jefferson School City Center will host a “Unity Day” (9:00am to 12:30pm) with coffee, outdoor meditation, and community discussions throughout the morning. Details are located on the Facebook event page here.

  • The IX Art Park is hosting The People’s Picnic: Coming Together for Community. Food trucks, music and community art exhibitions from 11:30am to 1:30pm. Check the Facebook event page here.

  • Unity C’ville will be a concert held at the Sprint Pavilion from 2:00pm to 5:00pm. And continued in the evening— “Grits & Gravy Dance Party” at The Jefferson Theater.
    Unity C’ville website has a listing of the day’s event.

  • The Charlottesville Clergy Collective includes about 50 congregations from the area. On July 8, CCC will be at First United Methodist Church with a Hospitality Safe Space from 1:00pm to 5:00pm. Safe space, prayer and music. They also plan to maintain a presence in Justice Park before and after the KKK rally. Their website discusses a number of actions past and upcoming.

  • Albemarle-Charlottesville NAACP is hosting a rally from 2:00pm to 5:00pm at Jack Jouett Middle School (210 Lambs Lane) to take a stand for justice, equality, and civil rights in the community.

In Portland publication, Outreach Director Lecia Brooks explains how emboldened white supremacists often "hide in plain sight"

Lecia Brooks, our Director of Outreach here at the Southern Poverty Law Center, recently spoke with Jared Paben of Street Roots about the uptick in hate and bias incidents, inflammatory rhetoric, and emboldened racists in the past year, especially since the election. Though the interview covers a multitude of issues. the particular focus is on the Portland train attack that happened last month, when a man named Jeremy Joseph Christian stabbed three people (two fatally) who stood up to him while he was harassing two teenage girls with anti-Muslim and racist slurs. When asked about how one reconciles the image of Portland as a "tolerant, liberal bulwark against the rising tide of hate" and the reality of a large prevalence of local hate crimes since the election, Lecia responded:

Portland has made great strides in moving toward a more progressive side. I think that, generationally, you do have a large majority of progressive liberals in the area who are definitely against hate and bias. But, as I mentioned, the history goes pretty deep.... A number of adherents of the ideology moved from the South to the Pacific Northwest. As you know, the Pacific Northwest is very mono-racial. Portland is 70 percent white population. So what you find in those instances is that, oftentimes, white supremacists can hide in plain sight.

She then goes on to discuss free speech issues, the impact of hateful rhetoric and shifting demographics on incidents like these, and the work of the SPLC. The interview ends with a final exhortation, as Lecia calls on people to stand together:

We certainly don’t want to encourage people to get in harm’s way, but we also do want people to stand up against hate. And if we do it together, united, we have a great chance of pushing back. We have to push back. We cannot allow hateful violence and rhetoric to become normalized. We need to marginalize people who are espousing these beliefs and not give them any credence.


Street Roots is a weekly publication based in Portland, OR, and the full article and interview can be found here.

Opportunity to participate in new documentary series

A new documentary produced by Pulse Films is looking to engage family members estranged for reasons of politics or issues related to recent culture wars in the United States. The goal is to rebuild broken bonds using top clinical psychologists and social experiments. With the divide in our country growing, the hope is that bringing families back together will create a momentum of change and acceptance. If you would like an opportunity to participate and tell your story in hopes of mending broken relationships, please submit an application here. Following the documentary, the participants will have access to an aftercare program designed to offer further support.

White nationalists are targeting college campuses, and these students are fighting back

In January, the night before alt-right figure Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak at the University of California, Berkeley, two members of the white supremacist group American Renaissance got in a fistfight with other young men after they were caught plastering trees and buildings around campus with posters that proclaimed, “Embrace white identity!”  

In February, a spoofed faculty email address sent hundreds of University of Michigan students messages that threatened black and Jewish people, using the phrase “Heil Trump.” The emails, which the FBI is investigating, followed the appearance of racist flyers around campus the previous fall.

In the months after the election, as a wave of hate speech and harassment swept the nation, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) recorded more than 150 reports of white nationalist fliers and recruitment materials on college campuses. Intended to frighten minority students as well as to persuade whites to join their causes, these orchestrated campaigns reveal that white nationalists see colleges as an important battleground in their war on a diverse and tolerant United States.

“White nationalists really enjoy campus activism,” says SPLC analyst Keegan Hankes. “They’re often trying to put an intellectual veneer on things, so it makes sense to peddle that on a college campus where you’re dealing with people who may be just starting to form their ideas about the world.”

It wouldn’t be the first time that college students found themselves on the front lines in a fight over civil rights. During the 1960s, it was often students who rode buses through the Deep South for Freedom Rides, staged lunch counter sit-ins, marched against Jim Crow laws and integrated recalcitrant universities. And while today’s white supremacists believe young people are especially receptive to their ideology, many students are, instead, leading the resistance against hate as part of a new Southern Poverty Law Center program called SPLC on Campus.

“We were first inspired to create the program while witnessing a resurgence in student activism on college campuses a few years ago,” explains Lecia Brooks, SPLC’s Director of Outreach. “The Black Lives Matter movement, the effort to address sexual assault and the push by students from marginalized groups for safe and inclusive campuses — all this work sparked something that SPLC wanted to support.”

Since 2015, students on nearly 30 campuses in the South and across the country have started their own SPLC on Campus groups. Among them is P.J. Price, a senior at Clemson University in South Carolina, who founded a chapter on his campus in August 2016. With the presidential campaigns at full tilt, the new group spent the fall semester holding voter registration drives, co-sponsoring a political debate and building coalitions with other progressives on campus. But they discovered a new sense of urgency when white supremacist fliers began appearing around campus shortly before the election.

"Some people, when they think of the KKK and white supremacists, think of their history class, but this is something that is still thriving in many areas of our country, including near Clemson,” Price says. “That’s something that we’ve become increasingly cognizant of since the election.”

In the months since Inauguration Day, Price says, hundreds of Clemson students have turned out for events organized or co-organized by SPLC on Campus, including a demonstration against the so-called “Muslim Ban” in January and a rally for a student who had been unable to enter the United States because of it. While hate groups may be newly emboldened, Price and his classmates realized that those who support civil rights and equity are also newly determined to fight.

“People are rightfully indignant about things,” he says, “and they come to SPLC events to talk about them and express concern about them and say, ‘How can I get more involved?’”

At the University of Kentucky (UK), graduate student Leslie Davis was also looking for a way to get involved. After the election, she became alarmed by the nationwide rise in hate crimes and harassment — a trend reflected in a February SPLC report that found the number of hate groups in the United States was up for a second straight year in 2016. “I felt similarly to a lot of people in feeling really lost and wanting to do something drastic,” she says. “Once I was able to take a breath, I decided I should find something particular to my campus and try to make a difference through the community that I’m already a part of.”

Davis decided to create an SPLC on Campus chapter, which officially opened in March with about 30 members, after completing the university approval process. Davis hopes to partner with longstanding UK institutions like the Office of LGBTQ* Resources and the Martin Luther King Center, but she also sees her group as a nimbler, more independent organization that can react immediately to bias incidents and create counterprogramming to address hate and intolerance if it arises. “As a group that’s run by students, I feel like we can be a bit more aggressive in our messaging,” she says.

While many SPLC on Campus groups are contending with the post-election atmosphere, others have taken on more entrenched injustices.

“I’ve always been a big fan of SPLC,” says University of Alabama (UA) senior Joshua Hillman, who has served as president of his SPLC on Campus chapter for a year. This school year, the focus for Hillman and his SPLC Chapter was on building names — he says that at least a dozen buildings on campus are tributes to historical figures with ties to segregation, the Confederacy or racist ideology. For instance, Nott Hall, named for physician Josiah Nott.

“Nott was one of the most virulent polygenists of the1800s,” Hillman says. “He wrote an infamous work on the races being different species, yet you can’t find that information unless you’re looking for it. Just getting markers up by these buildings saying, this is what they were named for, this is what they were famous for and this is what we’re remembering them for — that’s really all we want.”

Hillman says he wanted to renew the conversation about how to address these names because addressing the past will have an impact on the future. He and other SPLC members figured starting a conversation among diverse groups could potentially lead to action down the road, so they brought together student groups and faculty members.

“We really wanted to focus on bringing in students from communities that don’t normally talk about race,” Hillman says.

Despite growing enthusiasm for changing building names, progress has been slow. Hillman and fellow students are now seeking to put up markers that they say will at least make students and campus visitors aware of the back stories to these building names.

The work may be frustrating at times, but it is in keeping with SPLC’s mission to — as Lecia Brooks puts it — “encourage and support student activism in the tradition of the non-violent civil rights movement.” The hard work of that era carries a lesson for today’s activists: that creating lasting change is never immediate, and fighting injustice seldom easy.

“Over the last few years, students have changed some systems on some campuses,” Brooks says. “It will be more difficult now. Battling white nationalism both helps and hurts the cause. But I’m ever hopeful.”

Note: This article was written by Amy Crawford and produced by 500 Pens: An Anti-Hate News Project in partnership with the SPLC.

CofC SPLC on Campus President makes headlines with perceived dress code double standard

Sarah Villafañe, the current president of SPLC on Campus at the College of Charleston, has recently made headlines for her courage to speak out against the dress code and perceived double standard at the college gym after she was asked by staff to change her clothes or leave the gym. She posted her response to the incident on her Facebook profile, and The Huffington Post wrote an article that read in part:

On April 19, Sarah Villafañe posted a photo of herself on Facebook wearing yoga pants and a cropped, black tank top ― what appears to be a rather normal gym outfit. According to Villafañe’s post, however, the College of Charleston gym staff did not think her outfit was up to gym standards. ‘I’ve worn this same outfit all day. Went to 3 classes and spoke personally with each of my professors today and they didn’t have a problem,’ Villafañe wrote. ‘But when I walked into the gym they asked me to put on a different shirt. Obviously I didn’t bring an extra shirt to the gym and wasn’t about to wear my flannel while working out. So I just said mhm ok and went about my work out pretty pissed off that they even asked me to change.’ Villafañe claims that a few minutes later, the gym manager approached her and asked her to put a shirt on. She recalls that that the manager said she’d have to leave if she didn’t change.

Villafañe also spoke about how her comfort and clothes shouldn’t be determined by the distraction it may or may not cause the men utilizing the same facilities. She expressed her disappointment with the college’s stance and her frustration about the incident itself, and said further:

Many people have told me that they have seen girls wearing similar outfits to mine in the [College of Charleston] gym, as well as men wearing muscle tees that expose their midriffs. It is interesting to me that the men I have seen wearing jeans in the gym (a quite obvious violation of their one dress code rule, ‘Athletic attire must be worn’) were not bothered or kicked out for not abiding by the dress code rules.

You can read the full Huffington Post article here.

AUTogether: SPLC on Campus at Auburn cosponsors a much-needed event

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On the evening of April 18th, Auburn University’s campus prepared itself for an appearance by notorious white nationalist Richard Spencer. Just hours before, he won the right to speak in the Foy Hall auditorium after initially having his talk cancelled by the university’s administration concerned about safety issues.

Tensions were high, as alt-right and antifascist groups were expected to show up on campus, and many students struggled with finding an effective and appropriate response to the controversial speaker. In response, some decided to protest or attend a student-led music festival on the campus green during Spencer’s talk. Auburn’s SPLC on Campus club helped sponsor a unique event, “AUTogether: Hashing it Out,” which was already scheduled and coincidentally coincided with Spencer’s appearance.

In the previous week, AU SPLC on Campus hosted an AUTogether town hall with the Black Graduate and Professional Student Association (BGPSA) and the Graduate Student Council (GSC). The town hall was advertised as an opportunity to have frank discussion about how the current political climate in the United States is affecting Auburn’s own social climate, especially regarding diversity, racism, and campus policies.

Then, just before the town hall, a group calling itself the “Auburn White Student Union” began flyering all over campus. Auburn University officials denied that the group denied that the group had any affiliation with the school, but the four college administrators who formed the panel at the town hall faced questions and complaints from both students and faculty about the lack of diversity on campus. Some criticism pointed to a perception that university officials dragged their feet in responding to the recently distributed racist, anti-Semitic flyers.

About 40 students attended the town hall. They discussed safe spaces, finding a balance between free speech and hate speech, the experiences of people of color and international students off campus in the broader Auburn community, and what comes next as the administration addresses these concerns. Both students and faculty seemed to have a productive dialogue with members of the university administration, and, one week later, AU SPLC on Campus, BGPSA, and GSC planned AUTogether: Hashing it Out, where participants could delve further into this dialogue with each other, this time in small groups.  At the end of the town hall, they learned that Richard Spencer was coming to campus.

AUTogether: Hashing it Out had been planned weeks in advance, but many erroneously assumed it was a counter to Spencer’s planned speech. Auburn initially cancelled his speech, and white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and antifascists from several states were expected to converge on the college town to protest what they viewed as an assault on free speech. No one could know exactly what was going to happen that Tuesday, but the AUTogether event went on as planned.

Without the presence of university administrators, about 75 students and faculty further discussed many of the same issues raised at the town hall. Beth Cooper McDaniel and Elizabeth Devore from AU SPLC on Campus helped run the event, but Jessica Norton of the BGPSA primarily facilitated discussion. Spencer was mentioned, of course, but this gathering wasn’t about him.

Many were emotional as they talked in detail about the racism, bias, and exclusion they had experienced since they had become a part of the “Auburn Family.” Both white students and students of color spoke frankly about their own ignorance, being an ally, and not being afraid to make mistakes as they learned and grew together in diversity. More events like this one need to be held, they decided, and club leaders running the event were vocal about reaching out to other student organizations to plan them.

That night, the attention of most students and the media may have been on the tense drama surrounding Richard Spencer’s appearance, but the important dialogue at the AUTogether gathering will bear fruit in the future, long after Spencer’s visit is forgotten. We hope it will lead to finding more common ground between Auburn students and faculty and that it will also inspire other organizations and other colleges to do the same.

For more information, contact Daniel at daniel.davis@splcenter.org.

Introducing Shay DeGolier, Outreach and Organizing Specialist for SPLC on Campus!

Hi all! My name is Shay DeGolier, and as Outreach and Organizing Specialist I am the newest addition to SPLC on Campus. The program is young but full of energy and determination to create lasting change on social justice issues across college campuses.  We aspire to have SPLC on Campus clubs across the country to support and encourage student activism.

I was born and raised in Daytona Beach, FL, to a single mother of five, but the struggles faced in my home are not unique to my family. The challenge, to be faced in the midst of oppression, is a struggle I know all too well. I spent my time in college trying to find answers and solutions to many of the problems engrained in our society. I realized it was going to take mass organizing, peaceful protest, and continued resistance to make a change. SPLC on Campus provides a way for students to make a difference and to get involved in the fight for justice.

I graduated from the University of Central Florida in 2014 with a B.A. in Political Science, and I soon began working in the world of political campaigns. I spent time fighting for progressive goals and outcomes through organizing communities, promoting conversations, and even giving speeches to thousands on the importance of joining the movement. I have a passion for creating awareness around injustices and fighting on behalf of the most vulnerable in our society.

I am excited to begin this next chapter with SPLC on Campus in the quest for equality and justice everywhere. We have great plans for student activism, collaborations with other organizations, and educating students about the dangers of normalizing the “Alt-Right.”

I’d love to hear from you! Contact me at Shay.DeGolier@splcenter.org.

If you’d like to get involved or start an SPLC on Campus club at your school, email us at splconcampus@splcenter.org or register at www.splconcampus.org/register/.