Turning Point USA, a non-partisan student group on campus, held a “Conservative Coming Out Day” at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 11. The event included a discussion about what it’s like to be a conservative on campus, as well as a debate about conflicting viewpoints.
TPUSA is an organization that was founded five years ago by Charlie Kirk, a political activist who wanted to educate, identify and promote freedom and the idea of limited government involvement on college campuses. Elena Ehrlin, a sophomore political science and pre-law major, is the president of TPUSA at UNC.
“We went to the Western Regional Conference, and a man spoke about how his passion for politics began when his university held a conservative coming out day,” Ehrlin said. “We wanted conservatives to come and talk about their political beliefs, and we wanted people to experience what that man did.”
Mark Cota, a senior jazz studies major, is the vice president of TPUSA on UNC’s campus.
“A lot of us on campus, as conservatives, feel suppressed, and we feel shut down,” Cota said.
Students from the audience discussed how they felt it was difficult to come out to professors, how they felt they had to censor themselves, and how they’ve been called names because they considered themselves to be conservative.
“When I decided to talk about the point that I was conservative, and although I didn’t originally support Trump, once he was elected as the primary candidate for the Republican party, I said ‘okay, fine. I will support Republicans views to a certain extent, so I will support him,'” said a student who wished to remain anonymous. “I had people threatening me to burn my house down. I’ve had people threaten me left and right calling me names and all these different things just because I say I like his politics. Doesn’t mean I like him, but I liked his politics.”
One audience member asked why conservatives felt so ashamed if they felt so strongly about their beliefs, and why they feel that they can’t come out. Another student audience member asked why the Conservatives were willing to vote for someone if they were hesitant to not associate with that candidate, but also be so defensive about the policies that Trump has.
“I don’t think anyone is saying that conservatives are exactly the right climate, we’re just saying that we want more diversity in our thoughts because currently conservatism is pushed so far to the side that it’s like you’re only allowed to express one view without somebody yelling at you calling you racist,” the anonymous student said. “But the whole country is founded on the ideology of having different thoughts and being able to peacefully express those without feeling oppressed. Currently, conservatism is being oppressed on college campuses especially, so we just want to make it a more equal ground so that it’s not completely turning into a one-sided thing because that’s not what our country is based on.”
The “Conservative Coming Out Day” also caused a lot of controversy in the LGBTQ community.
Many of the Conservatives posters were torn down or had posters taped above them that showed the protests. Some of the slogans on these posters read “How dare you use my sexual identity as a joke!” and “Your political agenda and ideologies, even if unpopular, DO NOT warrant a subversion of my sexual identity and the oppression that comes with coming out!”
According to Ehrlin and Cota, planning the “Conservative Coming Out” day on “National Coming Out” day was completely coincidental.
“We held a meeting on Monday and decided to hold the event on Wednesday due to the fact that we never hold events on Thursdays or Fridays,” Ehrlin said.
“TPUSA respects everyone’s right to free speech, including those who disagree with us. The purpose of this event was to embolden conservatives, who feel as if their voices are silenced on UNC’s predominantly liberal campus, to come out with their beliefs fearlessly. This event gave conservatives on campus a chance to meet like-minded people, and it served as a catalyst to start a dialogue on campus about diversity of thought,” Turning Point leadership said over text.
Ehrlin said that she was glad to see people from all backgrounds and beliefs having a discussion in the same room.
“I thought the turnout was awesome. People coming out and asking questions was valuable, and people discussing their beliefs was great. That’s how you get the conversation started,” Ehrlin said. “We just want everyone to know that their opinions are valid, and we accomplished that today.”