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Anti-LGBTQ+ Sen. Ben Sasse Met With Protests Over Fla. University Job

Ben Sasse
Photo by Tasos Katopodis-Pool/Getty Images

Sasse, of Nebraska, has been recommended to serve as president of the University of Florida. However, students aren't impressed.

Days after a search committee recommended that U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska, become the next University of Florida president, pro-LGBTQ+ rights protesters shut down a town hall with the senator on campus.

Student protesters interrupted a question-and-answer session at the university's campus in Gainesville, where the first inquiry the Republican fielded involved his record opposing marriage equality. Sasse said he understands Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality, is the "law of the land," according to The Hill.

"Every person has immeasurable worth and dignity, and we need to create a community of inclusion and respect and trust where people feel heard and appreciated and cherished," Sasse said.

However, protesters noted Sasse's record in the Senate doesn't line up with that sudden embrace of inclusivity.

UF junior Leyka Rumalla documented Sasse's history of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and votes in a petition opposing his selection as UF president.

Sasse released a statement criticizing the Obergefell decision in 2015.

"Marriage brings a wife and a husband together so their children can have a mom and a dad," he said then.

Sasse notably has not evolved since. He opposes the Respect For Marriage Act that passed the House in 2022.

He also publicly sided with baseball commentator Curt Schilling after the ex-Red Sox pitcher shared a meme opposing bathroom access for transgender individuals. When ESPN in 2016 fired Schilling over the matter, Sasse tweeted, "Are you really changing sports history based on your preference in present culture-warring?"

All this makes Sasse unfit to lead a 21st-century institution, Rumalla's petition states.

"The University of Florida should strive to be an establishment where everybody, regardless of their background, feels like they are in an environment that nurtures their identity and makes them feel safe," she wrote. "If the individual heading our university doesn't value that safety and accommodation then it's virtually impossible for the students to feel secure in their environment as well. The executive board at UF values itself as a prestigious institution. Appointing an individual who exhibits blatant disrespect for the identity of many individuals in the student body does more to diminish that prestige."

Students speaking at a Q&A made clear the sentiment exists widely on campus. "Hey hey, ho ho, Ben Sasse has got to go," many chanted outside Emerson Alumni Hall as Sasse spoke inside, according to the university's Independent Florida Alligator.

Grace Smith, a junior who identified herself as queer to the student newspaper, said protests would persist if the university hired Sasse.

"I think he's a coward," Smith said. "As a queer student, I think his presence is a threat to my well-being here, and if he actually becomes president, he won't live a day of peace."

The student session was the second meet-and-greet held Monday with Sasse, but after the event devolved amid protests, a final event with staff and faculty was held online to avoid disruption.

A search committee last week named Sasse as the only finalist recommended for consideration by UF's Board of Trustees.The board is chaired by Mori Hosseini, a close ally of anti-LGBTQ+ Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who already signaled his support for hiring Sasse.

"I am grateful to the Search Committee, thankful for the engagement of the UF community that helped inform this search, and thrilled with the unanimous recommendation for Dr. Ben Sasse as our next president," Hosseini said. "I am excited to take this recommendation to our Board of Trustees for its consideration and for Ben's upcoming visit to campus where our community will have the opportunity to meet and share their vision of the future with him."

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