Protesters filled the sidewalk across from the Center for Tomorrow as event attendees lined up to see former All-American swimmer turned political commentator Riley Gaines speak on UB’s North Campus Thursday night. Six University Police officers assembled barricades across the street to block off the road, while protesters waved signs.
Gaines, whose Division-I swimming career at the University of Kentucky ended last year, has gained national attention for her controversial belief that transgender women shouldn’t compete in women’s sports.
Her speech, hosted by the UB chapter of Turning Point USA (TPUSA) — a conservative club on campus — was titled “Protecting Women’s Sports.” Gaines spoke to about 100 people on how she felt a sense of “betrayal” by having to change in the same locker room as Lia Thomas, a transgender woman. Gaines also encouraged others to speak out against trans people in sports.
One protester was arrested after striking an event photographer with their poster. The protester attempted to flee the scene, but ultimately complied with UPD and was handcuffed once police caught up to them.
The protester, a 22-year-old individual unaffiliated with UB, was arrested for harassment and disorderly conduct. They were released with an appearance ticket, according to UB spokesperson John Della Contrada.
Rayna Cooke, a co-chair of the UB chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA), helped organize the protest of Gaines’ speech, which attracted around 50 protestors.
“We know that we can’t get them to stop speaking,” Cooke said. “But we can show trans students on campus that there are people that love them, support them, care about them and will fight for them, and we are those people. So that’s what we’re trying to do, is to make trans students feel safer on campus and also show administration that this is not OK.”
Protesters raised signs in the air as they chanted, “Hey hey, ho ho, Riley Gaines has got to go” with signs as attendees filed into the building.
Kevin Lockhert, who drove to UB from Rochester to attend the event, shared his thoughts with The Spectrum about how what he called “woke mind infection” has prevented liberals from having discussions with conservatives on issues such as allowing transgender women in women’s sports.
“Every once in a while there’s a rare opportunity to be at the right place at the right time and affect change in a positive way,” Lockhert said. “If I can’t be here and something bad happens, I always think that if I were there, I could have intervened and prevented it from happening. Because you know how it is — if you want anything done, you have to go do it yourself.”
Officers at the protest intervened after a heated discussion between Lockhert and a protester.
Tracy Jones, a protester who doesn’t attend UB, spoke to attendees through a microphone across the road throughout the night. Jones said it was an “absolute tragedy” that Gaines came to campus. He says his goal is to help prevent anti-LGBTQ speakers from being invited to UB.
After the speech began, protesters moved from the sidewalk to the barricades on the other side of the road. As the sun set, protesters sat on the crosswalk and ate donuts.
“We strongly believe that transgender women deserve to compete with other women in sports at the college level and we think that her [Gaines’] words are hateful in that sense,” Joey Sechrist, a fourth-year English Ph.D. student, said.
When Gaines was done speaking, attendees walked out of the event as protesters chanted “silence equals death.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article listed Rayna Cooke as the co-chair of the Young Democratic Socialists of America. That is inaccurate. Cooke is actually the co-chair of the UB chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America. We regret this error.
Amy Maslin is a sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Katie Skoog is a features editor and can be reached at email@example.com