UM protest rule clashes with trans-rights activists

Photo credit: Roberta Macedo

Planned, shared, then soon-after canceled.

University of Miami transgender-rights activists were unable to participate in a walkout Friday, March 31, to celebrate the International Transgender Day of Visibility and protest Florida anti-transgender legislation also passed in the Florida House that day.

The walkout, planned a week in advance, conflicted with university policy, requiring that students request an available space and get the action approved through a form and interview.

As Luna Plaza, a first-year student majoring in psychology and anthropology, described, a walkout should be spontaneous and disruptive.

She feels the university’s formalities defeat the purpose of the walkout.

“The action was meant to be disruptive, so therefore not asking permission to walk out and exercise the first amendment,” Plaza said. “We’re trying to disrupt business as usual so people can understand the urgency of what we’re facing right now.”

Plaza was initially involved in organizing the walkout prior to its cancellation. She was one of few students comfortable speaking about the incident given threats of university disciplinary action.

She received an email Thursday, March 30, the day before the protest, from Dean of Students Ryan Holmes advising her that an unplanned demonstration went directly against UM’s policies.

According to UM’s “Student Rights and Responsibilities Handbook,” the university “reserves the right to use its sole discretion to refuse any request for the use of University space or facilities deemed inconsistent with the values and mission of the University.”

Holmes previously weighed in on the issue during a past unplanned protest.

In a Miami Hurricane article from Oct. 8, 2020, “Holmes reiterated the university would not reject a protest because of content, even if it may be about the administration. It would only be rejected, for instance, if it were to hinder the academic mission of the university or be a public safety issue.”

Plaza believes there is more at stake at the university, especially given its presence within Florida. As one of the most prominent Florida private universities, UM enjoys privileges in education and university policy that its public counterparts lack.

Just a week ago, UM hosted the tenth anniversary of DragOut, an annual fundraiser and charity drag show, amidst a national crackdown on drag and other transgender traditions. UM posted the event to its official Instagram page of over 170,000 followers.

Under the post, comments of support piled in, some applauding the university for hosting a Drag event given Florida’s state policies. However, other users derided the university and insulted the event.

The moment demonstrated the university’s power as a private institution amidst the ongoing challenges to LGBT students at UM.

“They understand what is happening in the state of Florida,” Plaza said, referencing the university.

She added that she understood the university’s reasons for its policies, but disagreed with them.

Following personal experiences with instances of police brutality during protests, Plaza feels mandating police at university demonstrations creates an unsafe atmosphere for protestors. She says this feeling stems from witnessing friends be tear gassed and shot with rubber bullets during protests in 2020.

“I myself do not feel comfortable with UMPD being present,” Plaza said. “Anyone who is seeking to keep us safe, to uphold that, I want them to be involved in the action. Not just outside the action.”

Due to the university’s rules, Plaza plans to participate and help organize future demonstrations off campus.

She encourages students to get involved.

“This is, at the end of the day, a collective process.”