Friday, November 15

Student photo protests transgender identity, raises free speech debate

(Courtesy of Julia Nista)

(Courtesy of Julia Nista)

Members of the UCLA community launched into a debate about free speech after a UCLA student posted a photograph in which students denounced the validity of identifying as transgender.

In the photograph circulated on Facebook and Twitter, three UCLA students and one UC San Diego student held signs that read, “Get your agenda out of my restroom!” and, “Transgenderism is a mental disorder!”

Julia Nista, incoming internal vice president of Bruin Republicans who posted the photo on Facebook, held a sign that said “There are only two genders!” in the photo. She said the photo was taken at a UC Santa Barbara lecture called “An Encroachment on Liberty: How the Left Exploits Transgender Laws.”

Nista, a third-year political science student, said she doesn’t wish any harm to the transgender community and only took the photograph to show her views on the issue.

“I may disagree with what they are doing, but what I was doing was not harmful,” Nista said. “I never made any threats against them.”

On March 23, North Carolina governor Pat McCrory signed House Bill 2, a bill that requires transgender individuals to use the bathroom in accordance with the sex listed on their birth certificate.

The Department of Justice and civil rights unions filed lawsuits against the bill, condemning it as a violation of human rights. The bill also sparked a series of protests across the country.

On April 1, UCLA implemented a policy that requires UCLA buildings renovated or constructed during or after July 2015 to include a gender-inclusive, single-stall restroom.

Raja Bhattar, director of the UCLA LGBT Campus Resource Center, said they don’t think students in the photos understand the experiences of the transgender community.

“Our communities are not a mental illness and wanting to use a bathroom is not an agenda,” Bhattar said. “It is a basic right.”

Aubrey Sassoon, co-coordinator of Transgender UCLA Pride, or TransUP, who identifies as a lesbian and queer transgender woman, said she doesn’t think the photo is an isolated event. She added this is one incident in a series of national attacks against the transgender community.

After she posted the photos, Nista said she received both supportive and threatening messages. She added people told her they would come after her and threatened other members of Bruin Republicans.

“This (shows) the failure of students and the failure of education to promote respectful discourse, acknowledge opposing opinion and respond respectfully to the message itself,” Nista said

Jacob Kohlhepp, outgoing president of Bruin Republicans and fourth-year political science student, said he thinks members of Bruin Republicans can have personal opinions on any issue. He added Bruin Republicans did not endorse the views represented in the photo, but the club does not believe in punishing people who have controversial opinions.

“I don’t think they should’ve done it,” Kohlhepp said. “I think it was distasteful, but I think it is disgusting that people are responding with death threats.”

Kohlhepp added Bruin Republicans has notified the university police and appropriate university administrators to ensure the security of their members.

Keith Fink, a lecturer in communication studies, said in an email he thinks UCLA students have the right to express their opposition to transgender bathroom laws on campus even if other students find their speech offensive.

Fink added he thinks UCLA should focus on students who have made threats to Nista. He said he thinks the University’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion should support all students’ right to free speech, and UCPD should investigate physical threats to students.

“Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case when student speech doesn’t meet the diversity of thought set forth on the progressive platter,” he said.

UCLA officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Sassoon said she thinks the photo threatened members of the transgender community.

“I think people feel a lot of hate and a lot of fear coming from that photo,” Sassoon said.

She added she thinks members of the transgender and non-binary community don’t always have the numbers or power to assert themselves.

“We need people to speak up when they hear things like that, especially when they know the people who are saying those things,” she said.

Outgoing USAC President Heather Rosen released a statement late Monday night that said she thinks the incident contradicted the purpose of higher education.

“Creating a culture of disrespect does not foster a productive learning environment and is a detriment to the growth and development of our own students,” she said.

Staff and students at the LGBT Campus Resource Center have also reached out to students personally affected by the photo and subsequent comments, Bhattar said. They added other resources, such as Counseling and Psychological Services, the Trevor Project, an organization that aims to reduce suicide rates among LGBTQ communities, and Trans Lifeline, a help line for transgender people experiencing crises, are also available.

Email Shiao at [email protected] or tweet @JaniceShiao.

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  • Alena Neumann

    “This (shows) the failure of students and the failure of education to promote respectful discourse, acknowledge opposing opinion and respond respectfully to the message itself,” Nista said.

    Right, telling people you think they are mentally ill in your unqualified opinion is promoting “respectful discourse”? w/e

    • Julie Smith

      And your qualifications are….?

  • Kitkat Aex

    This isn’t an example of “discourse” of any kind. The only “speech” being “exercised” here is hate speech.

    • Reptilian Hunter

      Even if you were 100% correct, and it is “hate speech”, hate speech is protected by the first amendment. That photo is as protected as someone saying “I enjoy blueberry pie” or “people who put pineapple on pizza are weak and will be unable to survive the long harsh winter”.

      True threats and actual incitements to violence are not protected. But the speaker also needs that intent. Just because someone says something that makes you feel “unsafe” does not mean that it is expression that is undeserving of First Amendment protection.

      • Julie Smith


    • Julie Smith

      The truth is hate speech?

    • BlackNRight

      Of course it is hate speech because you don’t agree with it. If you did agree then you would be shouting about freedom of speech from the rooftops because that it how the Left works. I agree with what is being said but I have also in the past defended the speech of people I disagreed with 100 percent. Why? Because I am truly a conservative.

  • Raven Hats

    It is one thing to express a personal opinion that is controversial. It is a whole other thing, however to be elected as an title holding member representing a group, while publicly expressing hate speech. If the Bruin Republican organization does, “not endorse the views represented in the photo,” then it should show it by taking action and making that directly clear. Being challenged to take action against transphobia and ableism within your organization is not a challenge to freedom of speech, but rather a direct expression of it.

    My life and the lives of my transgender siblings are not up for debate, and our experiences shouldn’t be used as a political issue to be debated on by those outside of our community. While I am opposed to any sort of physical threats, I keep hearing these threats being used as talking point for those justifying these photographs without any sort of context as to where these threats are coming from or an acknowledgement to the discrimination and danger transgender face DAILY by transgender students. This discrimination is often perpetuated and encourage by these students and their colleagues. Despite UCLA having wonderful support networks such as the LGBT campus resource center, CAPS, and many outstanding student groups such as TransUP and SONG, the campus still remains a very dangerous environment both mentally and physically for many transgender students.

    Although I remained very active and engaged while I was studying at UCLA, as a transgender woman and lesbian I often felt unsafe just leaving my home or speaking up. I was lucky if I experienced discrimination just a few times a week, and often felt like I needed to be on guard for my physical safety. We can and must continue to push for an environment on campus for transgender and gender non-conforming students that is not only safer, but also remains and continues to be more affirming. Being a transgender and gender non-conforming person is difficult enough without any extra barriers and stigma. It is important as a campus that we recognize this and show our campus community that we do not tolerate ignorance, hatred, or fear, but rather present an atmosphere of welcoming, inclusion, and love for each other.

    • Reptilian Hunter

      “Hate” speech is still protected speech. The speaker must intend to make a threat or incite violence to lose that protection.

      Anyone else’s feelings about the expression don’t change that.

    • Julie Smith

      The truth is not hate speech. Please educate yourself before posting. Transgenderism is a WIDELY recognized mental disorder.

  • LiberalsAreSensitiveBeings

    Freedom of Speech: Not applicable when you’re not a leftist.

    • Diane Miller

      Oh? Has Congress passed a law prohibiting things like this? I must have missed that.

    • LaDiablaBlanca

      Criticism is free speech…you know that right? Or does that ruin your juvenile understanding of how people approach bigots?

    • Julie Smith


  • Pablito

    Look at those smiling faces! My, how they beam with pride. They are overjoyed to be marginalizing and demeaning their fellow students! How aspirational!

    Now I understand where Fox News gets its ‘talent.’

    • Julie Smith

      the LBGT community politicized this mental disorder. These students are merely telling telling truth.

  • N A

    Those signs are going to be heavily photoshopped. It’s like they took the photo in hopes of becoming a meme.

  • equality4all

    “What I was doing was not harmful” – Nista. Efforts to limit human rights are always harmful.

  • ChloeAlexa Landry

    The three students should realize that they are an example of a failing educational system at their University.

    Take the young lady with the sign.

    Get your agenda out of my restroom. Well lady, just where do you think all US Trans have been going to Pee all these years of public bathrooms. Hey they are ours also.

    The second lady with: There are only Two Genders. A college student that is so dense as to not be able to GOOGLE that question before she made a sign to exhibit her Ignorance of the subject. Sorry you Fail on your sign. Please do some research on the subject.

    The third lady with the sign Transgenderism [Not really a proper word] is a Mental Disorder. Sorry dear that was a very old idea now since debunked by many scientific papers and tests. Lets see what the Federal Government states this week:

    There was no hemming or hawing, no use of euphemisms. Vanita Gupta, the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, followed and stated clearly -

    Transgender men are men – they live, work and study as men. Transgender women are women – they live, work and study as women.

    There is what the educated world sees and also your Ignorance of a serious subject without knowledge of it.

    The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.

    • Reptilian Hunter

      Yes. There are more than two genders.

      I identify as an attack helicopter. Please respect my identity.

      [Angry Helicopter Noises]

    • Julie Smith

      I think they’re responding to years of mentally ill people throwing their deviant sexuality in the faces of others who (A) really didn’t care and (B) didn’t want to hear about it. Unfortunately, these people now have to share their traditional safe space bathrooms with people who are mentally ill and possibly violent.

    • Wm Armstrong

      Transgender women are NOT women. They do not understand what a woman goes through in having a period, or the mental anguish of the first period. Transgender women do NOT understand pregnancy and never will. The same goes for transgender men, they are NOT men. All of them are playacting for attention, trying to solve their problems by pretending to inhabit a different universe than the one they actually inahbit.

      • ChloeAlexa Landry

        And who made you an expert on a subject you know nothing about. All medical studies have proven we have the Brain structure of females, starting with studies in the Netherlands, in the 90′s. This has been even more corroborated by other brain studies, in the Us, and now using a MRI test that also show that fact. You would really know that and more if you were Trans as I am.
        You are either really Ignorant or like to show your stupidity of a subject. Stupidity is not the lack of knowledge, but the Illusion of it. That could be your difficulty in that you’re an Illusionist. Please research a subject before running with false assumptions, that happen to be what you want them to be.

  • Julie Smith

    Before you criticize these students, please know that transgenderism is a
    trendy pathology known as ‘gender identity disorder’ and it’s a mental
    disorder which should not be encouraged. There are only 2 genders, XX
    and XY. If a person wants to ‘pretend’ and play ‘make believe’ that’s
    certainly a choice, but the truth is, transgenderism is a mental
    disorder, and that’s not an opinion, it’s a fact, based in scientific
    reasoning and bolstered by professionals with advanced degrees in mental
    health and mental pathologies, like transgenderism.

    De Gascun, C., et al. “Gender identity disorder.” Irish medical journal 99.5 (2006): 146-148.

    Zucker, Kenneth J. “Gender identity disorder.” Handbook of developmental psychopathology. Springer US, 2000. 671-686.

    Burgess, Kristen A., and Charles F. Gillespie. “Gender Identity Disorder.” Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology.


    Cohen-Kettenis, Peggy T.,
    and Friedemann Pfäfflin. “The DSM diagnostic criteria for gender
    identity disorder in adolescents and adults.” Archives of sexual behavior 39.2 (2010): 499-513.

    • Alena Neumann

      1) Gender dysphoria doesn’t make being trans a mental disorder, just like postpartum depression doesn’t make pregnancy a mental disorder.
      2) Shame on you for attacking people struggling w/mental illness and increasing the difficulty of their struggles. There is nothing shameful about having a mental illness.

      Stop hating hater!

      • Julie Smith

        You’re reacting based on emotion instead of reason. Calling transgenderism a mental disorder is not ‘hateful.’ Postpartum depression is a temporary depression caused by the wild variation in hormonal levels after giving birth. It has nothing to do with the mental disorder known as gender identity disorder, other than the fact that psychiatrists have successfully treated both disorders using pharmacology. Gender dysphoria is a hallmark and a leading indicator of the mental illness known as transgenderism. No one is attacking the mental ill. You, however, are attacking students and commenters who have an opinion, based in science, backed with countless scientific articles, by experts in the field. You are projecting your own hateful feelings onto others. I ask again: What are your qualifications to discuss this topic intelligently, if any?

        • Alena Neumann

          Look up hate. If you won’t own a strong dislike of trans people, for which there is abundant evidence in the bias that shapes your opinions and comments, there is clearly no point in engaging such intellectual dishonesty.

        • Kelc

          You could have avoided a lot of controversy if you had stated the fact that there are only two Sexes with the exception of intersex people of course which is another matter that you seem not to have contemplated . Gender is up for debate being mainly a cultural constructed concept. You do not have the right to determine someone else’s concept of gender. You site experts in the field as support for your position but certainly you are aware that there is an equal if not greater pool of experts who will take the opposite view.

  • Wild Bill Kinda

    The girls that fall for this transgenderism are the same ones who fall for the “free breast examination” card trick guys use in bars. It’s a trick you dumb bimbos! A bunch of perverts got together and thought of this plan to get free jollies because the internet isn’t doing it anymore!

  • Fern Galooth

    If I identify as a chair leg in one of Matisse’s paintings, that was destroyed in a fire, am I sane or insane ? I know that that is really an absurd question because I have 26 Y chrosomes and am really a photon a few dozen light years from the Andromeda galaxy. I’m having a great deal of difficulty finding a restroom and have been looking for some 2 billion years. Life is hard.

    • Alphabet_Soup

      Since we all get to choose our gender and the loonies have determined that there are no limits I’ve decided to identify as a stripper pole at Diamond Lil’s. Come to papa girls!

  • David

    The main purpose of the 1st Amendment is to protect political speech. These people have every right to speak out against the Left’s politics of sexual confusion and family destruction.

  • Dave_Cognac

    “Our communities are not a mental illness and wanting to use a bathroom is not an agenda,” Bhattar said. “It is a basic right.”

    Why? Because you say it is? Of course, that is the new norm of the progressive movement. Our words are true and cannot be disagreed with or discussed. Filthy fascists!