More than 60 people argued over transgender rights during a forum at the University of South Carolina’s Russell House on Wednesday night.
The event was organized by the USC chapter of Turning Point USA, a nonprofit that advocates for conservative politics on high school and college campuses. The group planned to discuss transgender women in sports, South Carolina legislation concerning transgender health care, and “What is a woman?”
Before the event began, shouting echoed through a small auditorium in the Russell House.
“Tell me how disgusting I am!” one protester yelled.
Marc Shook, dean of students, explained to the crowd that everyone was welcome to share their opinions, but warned against a “heckler’s veto.”
“Please be aware that if you are disrupting the event or prohibiting anyone from the ability to speak their opinion, you will be asked to leave. If you choose not to leave we have the right to engage police presence,” Shook told the attendees. “That’s on both sides.”
The nearly two-hour event was an intense back-and-forth, often accompanied by shouting and pointed insults, but it did not escalate into violence.
From religious texts to peer-reviewed studies to personal experience, protesters and Turning Point members alike came armed to argue.
Turning Point USA members argued that transgender women shouldn’t compete with cisgender women in sports, and that children shouldn’t receive gender-affirming surgery. Some suggested that women are women if they are biological females.
“How fair of a boxing match would it be if prime Mike Tyson got a sex change and fought women?” one student asked. “He would kill them!”
“Facts don’t care about your feelings,” said another.
Meanwhile, protesters touched on the perceptions of gender viewed as non-binary throughout different cultures and time periods, and some suggested that sports be divided not by gender, but weight class.
One student shared their experience of being outed as trans to their parents in high school. As a result they were kicked out and left homeless in a rural South Carolina community at 17.
Emma Farrell, president of USC’s Turning Point USA chapter, moderated the event. She said she expected opposition and was happy with how the event went. It was meant to foster discussion, she said. It wasn’t Turning Point taking a side on the issue.
But Seb, a USC student who did not wish to share their last name for fear of being outed to their parents, said that framing it as a debate with two sides is violence.
“To put it simply, they want us to stop existing,” Seb said. “So that’s not an argument or a discussion.”
Seb is part of Organize Against Transphobia, a group of grassroots activists who organized protesters to attend the event.
“Trans people will not disappear,” Seb said. “We will not go away, and so I think it was appropriate for us to give them a very visual and auditory reminder of that.”
Cyprus Hartford, a USC student, said they were proud to have their voice heard.
“Nobody here is going to change their opinion because of this meeting, that’s just a fact,” Hartford said. “But what we were able to do is show trans people and show queer people in the state of South Carolina that hate won’t go unanswered.”
When the event ended, protesters stood up, waved flags and chanted.
“Trans rights are human rights!”