A group of about 20 University of Oregon students and Eugene community members showed up today to protest the appearance of celebrity Caitlyn Jenner and publicist Alan Nierob for a talk in Straub Hall about public relations.
Some students said the university did not consult UO’s transgender community — some examples of which include the LGBTQA3 Alliance and the LGBT Education and Support Services department — about inviting Jenner to campus.
UO Ph.D. student Bethany Grace Howe, a transgender woman, is the one who invited Jenner and Nierob to come to campus and has been in contact with the pair ever since she heard Nierob speak during a class years ago.
“So when I talk about Jenner,” wrote Howe in a UO School of Journalism and Communication blog post, “and when I host her on Tuesday, it is not a celebrity I see, but a friend I’m finally getting to show around my home.” Howe has been talking to Jenner since 2016.
Andrew Robbins, one of the organizers of the protest, said that although transgender people are becoming more visible and that the idea of gender diversity is becoming normalized, Jenner should not be the only representative of transgender people in the media.
“If Caitlyn Jenner is the only person people have reference to, then whose lives are being silenced?” Robbins said.
The event was about the public relations strategies that Nierob used when Jenner came out as transgender. SOJC students were first invited via an email sent out on May 17, and tickets for the event sold out about four hours later. Tickets were only for UO students and staff, and about 500 were distributed.
Some students attended the event just to learn from Nierob about strategies within public relations. Michael Murray, a UO student majoring in public relations, said he attended purely out of interest.
“I think it will be interesting to learn about what [Nierob] does and how their relationship works,” Murray said.
Some students and community members wanted to take action in other ways than the organized protest before the event.
Avi Yocheved, a first-year UO student, and two other individuals who did not want to disclose their names, approached and spoke with attendees who were in line before the event started to inform them about resources for transgender people, such as Trans Lifeline, the TGI Justice Project and the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund. They were not part of the protest.
Yocheved — who uses they/them/theirs pronouns — said they wanted to use the publicity of the event to raise awareness for organizations that contribute to transgender who have fewer financial resources than Jenner. Yocheved works with the UO LGBT Education and Support Services department and brainstormed with their co-workers and classmates from their transgender studies course about actions they could take at the event.
“We already knew there were people protesting,” Yocheved said. “So we felt like we could do something more useful than adding ourselves to that.”
Leaflets were distributed days before the event by an unidentified source about the event in at least one campus building, saying that the wider transgender community was left out of the decision to invite Jenner to campus.