Update : Yesterday, Florida Atlantic University miraculously found a new place for South Florida Gay News to distribute. All it took was the threat of topless women strolling around campus, handing out copies of a gay newspaper.
(Original Story) FAU had insisted it would take 16 months – until May 2017 – to “renovate” the single metal rack where SFGN offered free copies of its weekly issues. FAU has built parking garages quicker than that.
Now SFGN will have two campus locations: one outside the library, the other outside the student union. After a month of ignoring his efforts at compromise, SFGN editor Jason Parsley says FAU promised him those racks would be installed within the next 2-3 weeks.
“I’m happy we were able to resolve this issue so quickly,” Parsley says. “But in the future, I would advise FAU to respond to people in a timely fashion, in order to avoid a situation like this spiraling out of control.”
Yesterday, FAU’s student newspaper offered to help. Editor Emily Bloch says SFGN can borrow some University Press racks until SFGN’s racks are ready.
Parsley is pleased, and he has no regrets…
“This was just one distribution point out of hundreds that we have here at SFGN. I could have just as easily said it wasn’t worth my time. While I’m sure FAU sees this differently, I saw it as First Amendment issue. And it’s important to remember the First Amendment is non-negotiable. Our freedom of speech and the press are two civil rights that nobody can take away.”
So all’s well that started stupidly. Alas, the topless distribution protest has been called off.
Too bad, because I was really looking forward to FAU frat boys eagerly accepting newspapers from topless women, only to read them and realize, “Hey, this is gay!”
This post originally appeared online at College Media Watchdog.
FAU Suspends SFGN’s On Campus Distribution
On Wednesday, topless women will distribute a gay newspaper at a public university in South Florida.
Why? To defend a free press.
South Florida Gay News is the Southeast U.S.’s largest weekly gay newspaper, but Florida Atlantic University only allows SFGN to distribute in a single spot on campus.
It’s a metal rack FAU built, which sounds generous until you learn the school banned SFGN from having its own racks. The school says it’s trying to “beautify” the campus by getting rid of ugly newspaper boxes.
That’s fine as far as it goes – those things are ugly – but earlier this month, FAU sent this poorly written email to SFGN editor Jason Parsley.
The newspaper racks that was assigned for placing the South Florida Gay News publication were removed from the breezeway for renovation project. At this time we do not have an alternate location. Please suspend the delivery of the magazine until further notice.
Parsley inquired, “Do you have a timeframe on when the project will be complete?”
This is the full text of FAU’s reply: “The project is expected to be finished in May of 2017.”
That’s a long time to renovate a metal box. It’s also illegal, as we’ll see in a moment.
Parsley didn’t give up: “Are there other locations on campus where publications display their products?”
FAU didn’t give in: “Unfortunately the breezeway was the only location. I will let you know if we will identify other locations in the meantime.”
Parsley tried again, but FAU is no longer responding. On his own, he learned FAU also booted a couple other free publications. But they don’t cover news – they’re glorified shoppers – and they didn’t object.
So what’s going on here? I have a theory: FAU is banning several small publications to get to SFGN, and it has nothing to do with being gay.
Two weeks before FAU ousted Parsley’s newspaper, he wrote a column criticizing his alma mater for violating Florida’s open-meetings law. (Parsley was editor of FAU’s student newspaper in 2007.)
Is FAU retaliating against SFGN? If not, this sure is a coincidence. Which isn’t lost on Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center in Washington, DC.
“A public university can’t single out certain disfavored publications based on editorial content and give them inferior distribution locations – or none at all – to penalize or restrain unwanted messages,” LoMonte says.
LoMonte says the law is “murky” about public universities being required to distribute off-campus publications.
Once a college in fact has made the decision to allow news racks on campus walkways, then there must be some reasonable justification for deviating from that policy unrelated to the publication’s content, and the speaker must be provided with some reasonable alternative way of reaching the audience.
If FAU is effectively banning the publication from campus, it would have the burden of showing that the decision is both unrelated to the publication’s content and that no alternative location exists, which would be awfully hard to do.
That’s “awfully hard” because only 16 days separate Parsley’s critical column and FAU’s ungrammatical emails. Plus, two daily newspapers aren’t being booted for renovations. LoMonte calls this “circumstantial evidence of a cause-and-effect” – and he says it’s “quite strong.”
So SFGN could sue FAU. And it might. SFGN’s publisher is an attorney who has gone to court over First Amendment issues before – and won. If a lawsuit happens, SMACK (Student Media Aid Cash and Know-How) will help him apply to SPJ’s Legal Defense Fund.
But that could take months. We have a better, quicker idea.
If FAU doesn’t back down, SMACK will take off the gloves – and the tops. On Wednesday, volunteers will walk around campus handing out SFGN’s latest issue.
You can see the cover above. It’s about the Go Topless Movement, which seeks equal treatment under the law: If men can walk around bare-chested, why can’t women?
So it only makes sense that topless women will hand out the paper. Luckily, the forecast is sunny and 74 degrees. (This plan wouldn’t work at the University of Vermont.)
We’ll notify local media, and our volunteers will even hand-deliver copies to the office of FAU President John Kelly.
If campus cops arrest our volunteers, SMACK will throw their bail. And if everyone has a good time, we just might do this for every weekly issue of SFGN.
Or FAU can finally reply to Parsley and come up with a solution that won’t take 16 months. But now that we’ve organized all of this, I kind of hope they don’t.