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A University President Defended Posters That Encouraged LGBT Students To Kill Themselves

Cleveland State University's president later apologized for failing to "express personal outrage" over the anti-LGBT posters found on campus that he said were protected as free speech.

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Cleveland State University is facing backlash after its president defended the posting of hateful posters found on campus that urged LGBT students to kill themselves.

The posters found in the main campus building last week, appeared to be distributed by a group called Fascist Solutions. The image of a man hanging by a rope was accompanied by statistics on LGBT suicides and the message: "Follow your fellow faggots."

According to a 2014 study, suicide attempts among trans men was 46% and for trans women it was 42% compared to the 4.6% of the overall US population who reported a lifetime suicide attempt. Ten to 20% of lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults reported attempting suicide, the study said.

In response to the fliers, Cleveland State president Ronald Berkman said in a statement Monday that while the university respected all individuals, it would protect free speech and uphold the First Amendment "even with regard to controversial issues where opinion is divided."

Berkman's response to the fliers sparked a backlash from many students and LGBT activists.

I love that these photos went up at my university Cleveland State University& the President's response was to say "… https://t.co/jRwTH8WPZb

One person called his response a "cowardly endorsement of violence."

this isn't upholding of freedom or neutrality @PresBerkman this is cowardly endorsement of violence and there will… https://t.co/I5TVwfy1Zw

Others said the message on the fliers was "beyond hate speech."

This is beyond hate speech. This poster literally says "Fascist Solutions." The way @CLE_State responded is absolut… https://t.co/3jk4MylN3O

"This is a disgrace and you should be ashamed of your inability to support and protect your students," another said.

CSU: this is a disgrace and you should be ashamed of your inability to support and protect your students.

School officials said that the fliers were only taken down because they did not follow CSU "posting" policies.

Since when is Hate Speech and suggesting people commit suicide protected by the 1st Amendment? @CLE_State

The anti-LGBT posters "did not conform with CSU policies and procedures regarding posting and were removed," William Dube, the university's spokesperson, told BuzzFeed News on Wednesday.

Dube told WOIO-TV that the posters were removed because they did not get prior approval to be added to the billboard.

He said that the Vice President of Student Affairs met with LGBT students on Friday to address their concerns regarding the posters.

People were dismayed by the fact that the posters were only taken down because they did not get prior approval.

So apparently, at @CLE_State you can put up a poster like this so long as you get prior approval. Seriously, the on… https://t.co/n1avl8EbM9

Following the backlash, Berkman issued another statement on Tuesday, saying that he "failed to express my personal outrage" over the poster. However, he doubled down on protecting the posters as free speech.

Dear CSU community, please join me for an open meeting tomorrow to discuss a recent incident involving an anti-LGBT… https://t.co/y6BSROtGkK

"While I find the message of this poster reprehensible, the current legal framework regarding free speech makes it difficult to prevent these messages from being disseminated," Berkman said in a statement.

Demi Overley, a member of CSU's Queer Student Alliance, said that the president's hands were "tied by the laws of Ohio."

While many students were disappointed in Berkman's initial response, Overley said the focus should be on changing state laws on free speech, instead of criticizing the school's response.

"We are not really satisfied with his seeming support of the message of the fliers," Overley said. However, Overley, acknowledged that it was "hard for [the school] to go above and beyond the law of the state."

Overley said that the Office for Institutional Equity at the school was investigating who was responsible for the fliers. The office did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News' request for comment.

Berkman called on students to join him in a open meeting on Wednesday to discuss the incident.

His office did not respond to BuzzFeed News' request for comment.

Tasneem Nashrulla is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Tasneem Nashrulla at tasneem.nashrulla@buzzfeed.com.

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