A small group of protesters at Towson University with signs promising “hellfire” to gay people, Muslims and other groups were met by hundreds of counterprotesting students Thursday afternoon.
As the group of about five people waved signs and called students homophobic slurs through a megaphone, hundreds of students waving rainbow flags surrounded them, screaming and chanting, “Love is love.” A band played and they danced and cheered at a TV news helicopter overhead.
Towson University Police formed a barrier around the protesters on Cross Campus Drive. University spokesman Sean Welsh said because the protesters were on public property, police could not remove them.
About eight police officers stood in a circle with barely 4 feet between protesters and furious counterprotesters.
Police escorted the protesters from the scene at about 3:30 p.m. and told a reporter not to come near them. One of the protesters, wearing a sweatshirt with the wording “Fear God and give glory to him,” said he did not want to answer questions. “I’m just giving life to Jesus,” he said.
The protesters would not say who they were. Their signs were inscribed with an online link to the Key of David Christian Center, whose website says it is a church based north of Philadelphia.
Key of David did not immediately return requests for comment.
Towson University president Kim Schatzel released a statement Thursday night to the university community and said the group of demonstrators called themselves the “Bible Believers” and came to the campus to “use public space to spread their racist, anti-LGBTQ+, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-woman messages.”
“It was very upsetting,” said Maia Fulton, 22, a junior, saying the protesters were “spewing hate.”
Fulton saw the signs when she left class and said, as a self-described activist, she felt it was her duty to stay and confront the protesters.
“This is our campus, this is our home when we’re not at home,” Fulton said. “We’re not going to let people intrude and disrupt us. We have to protect it and we have to protect each other.”
Theodore Thomas, 20, a sophomore, said he watched as a friend was punched by one of the protesters, breaking his glasses.
An adult male with no ties to Towson University was arrested during the demonstration, Welsh said, nothing that charges were pending.No Towson University students were charged, he said.
Welsh said the university’s police department was notified earlier in the day that an external group of protesters had plans to “exercise free speech” on campus.
Welsh said the police department relocated and isolated the group to the public right of way, communicated to Baltimore County Police Department, and monitored the situation to ensure the safety of students and community members.
In her statement Thursday night, Schatzel said, “While Towson University recognizes this group’s right to free speech under the constitution and its legal right to occupy designated public use space on our campus, their messages are at odds with our relentless effort toward a more diverse and inclusive campus that supports every TU community member to thrive, regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation or levels of ableness.
“I am proud of our students’ and our community’s positive response,” she said. “The demonstrators’ unsuccessful attempt to challenge our institutional values as a welcoming, diverse and inclusive campus was met with a community that proudly displayed our support for each other and our priority for safety.”
Schatzel also said that a university-wide Teach-In is being planned by and for the community “so that we can continue to work together to best reflect and support our values.” She said more details about the Teach-In event would be released in the coming days.