Billed as a celebration of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender "progress, history and visibility," National Coming Out Day draws hundreds of students to a sun-drenched plaza on the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs campus. It's warm for a Thursday in mid-October, and many of the students linger, listening to music or munching on free food.
Any hints that the three-hour event recently collided with an ideological roadblock are subtle. Organizers Jesse Perez and Crystal Duckhorn, co-chairs of a student group known as Spectrum, carry hundreds of paper disks printed with messages like, "I love my lesbian friends!"
The disks were supposed to have been made into buttons, as in previous years. But David Williams, president of the UCCS Student Government Association, refused to sign Spectrum's request in late September to fund the event, causing a weeklong delay. Williams justified his decision to postpone funding, earlier approved by the student senate, in an e-mail expressing disapproval of Spectrum's "message and agenda."
"I do not believe this event is beneficial to our campus or student [sic], and I believe our student fees could be put to better use," Williams wrote.
So the pieces needed to assemble the buttons simply could not be ordered in time. "We have flowers instead," reads a sign next to a pot brimming with carnations. Students who still want buttons are given an e-mail address and the assurance they will be sent out "as soon as possible."
Though National Coming Out Day celebrates "progress" made by the GLBT community, Williams' words hover as a clear reminder that there is still far to go. Duckhorn says Williams violated a bedrock principle of student government, which says student fees must be allocated in a way that is "viewpoint-neutral."
"I think we're going to file a complaint with the judicial board," Duckhorn says.
Where that might lead is uncertain. Williams was elected SGA president last spring, putting him at the head of an organization that must, among other tasks, decide how to award mandatory student fees among clubs and individual students. (The fee comes to $13 a semester for each student.)
Williams is able to approve legislation and funding requests passed by the UCCS house or senate with his signature. He also has the power to veto measures which can be overridden with a two-thirds vote from the original chamber or he can ignore them, essentially allowing them to pass after a five-day delay.
Williams took the final course after the senate passed Spectrum's funding request Sept. 26. He explained in follow-up e-mails that he thought a veto would be overridden, but he could not see signing the measure because he holds "certain religious beliefs that are in direct conflict with homosexuality."
In a telephone interview, Williams says he believes he stayed viewpoint-neutral in making his decision, as required by the SGA constitution.
"I did the best I could," he says.
There's talk now of revising the funding process and holding an SGA workshop about what it means to be viewpoint-neutral.
The constitution also allows that Williams can be removed from office by impeachment or a recall election. Perez says he doesn't know if it will go that far, but he thinks it's important to file a complaint: "I just think something needs to happen so we feel comfortable it won't happen again."