Student's campaign suspended for criticizing gender-neutral bathrooms

A student at Southern Oregon University (SOU) was forced to suspend his campaign for a senate seat on his school’s student government after an opposing candidate filed a grievance against him for refusing to use gender-neutral pronouns.

“I would like to know why you should be able to take office despite your homophobic and transphobic comments on Facebook,” candidate Oneta Cantlon asked during an open forum with one of her opponents, Chase Gildea.

“Answer the fucking question!” some students in attendance shouted.

Gildea, although open to debate, refused to back down from his criticisms of gender-neutral bathrooms and pronouns, prompting Cantlon to file an official grievance against him, citing a violation of the student government’s commitment to inclusivity.

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Consequently, the student government’s elections committee suspended Gildea’s campaign for one day pending further investigation. Gildea was later allowed to restart his campaign but the damage had already been done after he lost in the school’s election Friday.

Now, results of the investigation show that some social media posts made more than two years ago were the subject of Cantlon’s attacks, according to the school’s student newspaper. In one post, Gildea allegedly used a homophobic slur to describe Kim Jong Un in 2014 but apologized for the post long before running for office.

In some more recent posts, Gildea expressed distaste for the practice of announcing gender pronouns before a conversation commences and argued that gender-neutral bathrooms could be unsafe for students.

“Some of the recent posts are just my views, and I don’t even remember saying some of those things,” Gildea said of the matter. “I just didn’t feel comfortable doing it.”

Although Gildea did admit to writing the posts, a copy of the minutes from the elections committee’s grievance hearing shows that Cantlon was unable to provide concrete examples when pressed by Gildea.

“I did approach Oneta after the speech asking if she would provide examples but she would not look at me and others began screaming to get away,” Gildea noted during the hearing.

On several occasions throughout the hearing, Gildea was questioned on whether or not he has changed his views since making the posts and asked if he would support gender-neutral bathrooms if elected to office.

“We keep talking about change, so I want to ask you, Chase, if your views have changed since 2014 and how you plan to represent your constituents,” one member of the elections committee commented during the hearing.

“My views are my views,” Gildea replied.

Another member of the committee then accused Gildea of “not having the proper education,” saying his posts were a result of ignorance rather than well-founded opinions.

“I think everyone can be more educated, but I do not think we should demonize someone for not having the proper education,” the member stated.

The chief justice of SOU’s student government then blatantly asked Gildea if he would “feel comfortable supporting something such as a gender-neutral bathrooms,” later asserting that Gildea “should also respect pronouns.”

Ultimately, Gildea was suspended from campaigning for one-day during the election week after a vote to suspend him for two days failed to pass.

Several of Gildea’s student government peers, and even some SOU staffers, have since been highly critical of his campaign platform.

“Keep in mind I don’t know exactly what Chase said… but pronouns are a way to really recognize someone and to not do misgendering,” said Coordinator of the Queer Resource Center, Thomas Arce. “[It’s a way to] say don’t look at me for how my gender expression is, I’m going to tell you what my pronouns are and that’s how I want to be known. [At SOU] it has really helped students feel affirming.”

In addition to the one-day suspension, the elections committee requested that Gildea visit SOU’s Queer and Women’s Resource Center and required him, if elected, to make regular visits, even asking for written confirmation from faculty advisors to the center.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AGockowski