Protestor heckles Pit Preacher
An unidentified man who went head-to-head with the controversial Pit Preacher Gary Birdsong faced a warning from the Department of Public Safety’s penal system Tuesday.
The shirtless individual – whose student status could not be confirmed — had a homosexual slur painted on his chest and a dildo sticking out of his pants. He approached Birdsong and simulated masturbation while waving the sex toy at the preacher.
When someone reported the incident to the Student Union, the demonstrator was taken into the Union. Student employees stood with him until DPS arrived to trespass him from campus.
“I think normally we would say, ‘Okay, you’re both going to exercise your right to free speech,’ until such time that somebody seems to think something is out of control,” said Joe Singer, senior associate director of events management at the Student Union.
“Our office is supposed to be content-neutral. Our role is to provide the space to speak.”
Posting on Facebook under the name “Unc DildoBoy,” the demonstrator stated his actions were not made as an attack on Birdsong or anti-gay sentiments, but on a technologically driven, post-industrial civilization. The individual did not give a real name to be interviewed.
While he refused to speak on the record, he posted a letter explaining his actions on the Facebook page.
“Because of the total penetration of mass media, humans on YouTube or Facebook, or people who are TV stars or politicians are put in a situation we humans are simply incapable of dealing with,” he wrote.
DPS spokesman Randy Young said if a person on campus is engaged in a situation or activity that could be considered provocative, results in harm to anyone or interferes with operations of the University or another person’s free speech, DPS may get involved. It is then at the discretion of the responding officers whether the disruptive individual is removed from a specific area like the Pit or from campus entirely, he said.
Cathy Packer, a professor who specializes in media law, said legally the Pit falls under what is considered a dedicated or limited forum. That means UNC, as a public university, can limit the forum for certain topics or speakers as long as it does not favor one viewpoint over another.
Packer said although she wholeheartedly disagrees with what the demonstrator did, she supports his First Amendment rights. She said his actions would not fall under a judicial definition of obscenity, but that it is irrelevant if he was removed for trespassing.
“My view about all of that is that the reason people come to Carolina is to see and hear things they didn’t hear at home,” Packer said.
“You go to Carolina and see some of what the rest of the world looks like and all the opinions other people have that your parents didn’t have.”