On Feb. 25 the Student Action branch of The Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property stood on the sidewalk in front of the University of St. Thomas fountains on Yoakum Boulevard with bagpipes and banners, distributing pamphlets against gay marriage.
The pamphlet handed out to students and faculty read “10 Reasons Why Homosexual “Marriage” is Harmful and Must be Opposed.”
Freshman communication major Ariana Morales was notified of the group’s presence by a friend on her way to class. She contacted Assistant Dean of Students Amanda Villanueva and asked if she was aware of the demonstrators.
“We immediately got USTPD involved,” Villanueva wrote in an email to the Independent. “These demonstrators operated outside of our university boundaries, which means they were not beholden to our Code of Conduct.”
Morales said she had expected the group to be gone by the time she got out of class and was confused when she saw them in front of the fountains next to the Cameron School of Business.
“That’s when I went over to the group,” she said. “I was just standing for a minute. They were in a “P” formation just screaming a prayer, chant or song, I’m pretty sure it was a prayer.”
She said she engaged in a conversation with the demonstrators and wanted to figure out what their goal was by appearing at UST and distributing pamphlets.
“They said ‘we aren’t against lgbtq we’re against their sins’,” Morales said.
Morales said she was more concerned by how the group’s presence would make other students feel on campus.
“A lot of students come to school to feel accepted,” she said. “I wanted to ask them, if you know in a Catholic environment it’s already hard to be out and to discuss these topics, what is your goal here?”
The Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property could not be reached for comment despite numerous attempts from the Independent.
Chief of Police H.E. Jenkins said the streets running through campus are city streets, and because the protests were technically on a city sidewalk, University police action was limited. He said there is no city ordinance that says groups need a permit to distribute pamphlets.
“When people say they were on campus, technically they’re correct, but they’re not correct,” Jenkins said. “Technically, by city standards, they are still on city property.”
However, the city requires a permit for bagpipes the group used to draw attention.
Jenkins said as soon as USTPD asked the demonstrators to put away the bagpipes, they complied.
“Two of my officers went over there at different times and told them to be respectful of our community,” Jenkins said. “Don’t try to impede our students from coming onto campus by pushing your own agenda,” [we told them].
He said because the organization didn’t tell the University about their demonstration, it would have constituted criminal trespassing had they stepped on campus.
Jenkins said that as a private university, UST has the privilege of determining who can come onto campus to speak. He said he has two “hard and fast” rules for enforcing criminal trespassing. If a visiting organization breaks state or federal law, they are automatically guilty of criminally trespassing.
“Also, if we believe it’s in the best interest of the University and our students that you are no longer here, then we ‘criminally trespass’ you,” he said.
The Student Action branch of The Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property was previously at UST during the fall 2019 semester. On that appearance, they distributed pamphlets against abortion.
Jenkins said after the group left campus, he joined a meeting with other administrators and spoke about the demonstration.
“We talked about wanting to be a campus that engages both sides of issues, not just be inclusive to one side of the issue,” he said.