Case Study

Students at Elgin Community College counterprotest an anti-LGBTQIA+ group

Photo credit: Lance Lagoni/Elgin Community College Observer (used with permission)


In February 2017, two representatives of an antigay organization, Heterosexuals Organized for a Moral Environment (HOME), set up an informational table about conversion therapy in an Elgin Community College building. A group of students quickly responded, organizing a counter-event with rainbow flags, free food, and music to drown them out, leading them to move their table. A year later, representatives of HOME again set up a table, and again were met with a swift response: A group of students handed out opposing materials, encouraged others to avoid the hallway where the table was located, and, with support from faculty, set up a counter-event in an auditorium to provide support for LGBTQIA+ students. A similar incident occurred in 2019. Each year, some students have been upset that “hate speech” was allowed on the Elgin, Illinois, campus, while others see it as an opportunity for LGBTQIA+ to “collectively organize and express themselves.” Elgin has publicly stated its disagreements with HOME, but its commitment to free speech prevents it from banning the organization from campus.

PEN America Analysis

This is an excellent example of students and faculty forcefully responding to hate without infringing on speech rights. Each year, rather than trying to kick out the controversial table sitters, they have used their own right to counterprotest to provide vocal support for the campus LGBTQIA+ community. While PEN America does not endorse playing loud music to drown out voices, offering dissenting materials and events is an admirable and effective response. Elgin’s public comments could have explicitly affirmed support for the gay community on campus, acknowledged the importance of free speech, and emphasized the legality and potency of the students’ responses.

Further Reading