Marriage and family values conference sparks free speech debate at Stanford 

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  • A conservative group and LGBT activists are locking horns at the Stanford campus.
An event next month at Stanford University that will discuss traditional marriage and family values has sparked a free speech debate on campus between a student group hosting the discussion and LGBT advocates who claim it includes discriminatory speakers.

The Stanford Anscombe Society — a student group founded in 2011 that aims to promote the values of marriage, family and sexual integrity on campus — last month was granted $600 from the university’s Graduate Student Council for a Communicating Values conference.

According to the Anscombe Society, the conference will foster a civil environment for students to engage in discourse about such topics, as well as explore how media, entertainment and technology can be used to better communicate the underlying values of marriage.

However, a week after approving the funding, the Graduate Student Council revoked the money when LGBT activists rallied against the university paying for an event that they claim promotes discrimination.

Eduardo Gonzalez-Maldonado, a member of the council, said from the beginning he has not supported Stanford funding the Anscombe Society’s conference.

“The purpose of the event is to promote the cause against LGBT rights,” Gonzalez-Maldonado said.

But Judy Romea, president and co-founder of the Anscombe Society, said the conference will further intellectual diversity on campus and won’t exclude or discriminate against anyone.

“We wanted to host this conference to enable us with this view to articulate our position rationally and carefully,” Romea said.

Despite having acquired enough money from different sources to hold the conference, Romea said she is disappointed with the student council’s decision to reverse the funding, as well as a decision by the Undergraduate Senate to deny funding for the event as well.

“Our student government has set the dangerous precedent of viewpoint discrimination, which is entirely antithetical to the freedom of thought and intellectual diversity that should be the hallmarks of the Stanford experience,” Romea said.

Jeffrey Cohen, vice president of GradQ, an LGBT student group on campus, called the conference “an echo chamber of hate.”

Cohen said that like Gonzalez-Maldonado, he isn’t trying to stop the event from taking place, but believes the Anscombe Society should rely on other sources of funding instead of accepting money from Stanford.

Brendan Hamel-Bissell, president of GradQ, said he agrees that anyone should be allowed to speak on campus but doesn’t support the Graduate Student Council paying for the conference.

“Many gay and straight students are opposed to the Graduate Student Council paying or endorsing the speakers the Anscombe Society has invited to this conference,” Hamel-Bissell said.

In addition to losing funding from the student council, Romea said the society initially learned it would have to pay $5,600 for event security, which she called “a tax on free speech.” But the group said it was later notified that Stanford would cover the security costs, only after the administration “insisted on the added security after a vocal group of LGBTQ activists announced their opposition to the event.”

Stanford officials declined to comment on whether the administration initially told the Anscombe Society that security costs would have to come out of pocket.

“The university will be picking up any costs for security to the event,” Stanford University spokesman Brad Hayward wrote in an email to The San Francisco Examiner.

The issue of free speech has also brought to light ways that the two sides have similarities, according to Cohen.

“Outside of this event, I think the Anscombe Society shares many concerns that I myself share,” Cohen said. “We’re both concerned about people being respected from different opinions on campus, and we’re concerned about making sure Stanford is a safe space for everyone.”

Romea also said she’s grateful that Stanford fosters an environment for free speech, and is hoping that the conference will allow opposing viewpoints to be discussed in a rational way.

“Our relationship has always been respectful,” Romea said of the LGBT community on campus. “Members of the SAS have never treated any members of the LGBT community with disrespect.”

The Communicating Values conference is scheduled from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on April 5 at the Oberndorf Event Center.

About The Author

Laura Dudnick

Laura Dudnick, a Bay Area native, covers education and planning for The San Francisco Examiner. She previously worked as a senior local editor for, and as the San Mateo County bureau reporter and weekend editor for Bay City News Service.
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