Polarizing Speaker Coming to Kent

John Jones reacts to a video of Dr. Umar Johnson being shown during a Pride! Kent general meeting
John Jones reacts to a video of Dr. Umar Johnson being shown during a Pride! Kent general meeting

The League of Conscious Knowledge Seekers () will bring polarizing speaker Dr. to the KIVA on Monday, Feb. 8, at 7 p.m. Johnson is known for making negative characterizations regarding homosexuality and lesbianism in his talks.

In August, The Breakfast Club talk show on Power 105.1 FM in New York City, hosted Johnson. During the interview DJ Envy prompted Johnson with, “a lot of gay people say they were born gay.” Johnson responded with, “A lot of murderers say they were born murderers, a lot of pedophiles say they were born pedophiles.”

In a video on YouTube titled “History of Homosexuality,” Johnson said, “I treat homosexuality and lesbianism as a mental disorder.” He then explains until 1973, homosexuality was categorized as a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). He uses this piece of history as a defense for his beliefs on homosexuality.

Johnson contradicts himself in another YouTube video by Xseed in Life, a teen and young adult empowerment organization based in Kansas City, Missouri. Johnson said homosexuality was taken out of the DSM in 1994, differing from his previous statement. He uses this date a few more times, most notably in his interview on The Rock Newman Show airing on Howard University Television in Washington D.C.

When asked about Johnson’s controversial views, LOCKS faculty adviser, Dr. Amoaba Gooden said his views are “homophobic, heterosexist and misogynistic.”

LOCKS president John Jones confirmed funds were “allocated from Undergraduate Student Government” () to pay Johnson to speak. Donna Carlton, special coordinator for the Division of Student Affairs and adviser for USG, confirmed via email the money for Johnson’s engagement “went through allocations and was funded in the amount of $3,000.00.”

The USG office explained that the money used to pay Dr. Johnson came from the student activity fees. But the office assured Fusion “not even 15 percent” of the activities fee is used for USG, and cites “sports and other activities” as claiming most of the monies allocated in the activities fee.

Preston Mitchum, a 2008 Kent graduate and a current policy analyst for the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) and a policy co-chair for the Black Youth Project 100 in Washington D.C., contacted a number of on-campus groups concerning Johnson’s scheduled appearance at Kent, including the Office of the President, Center for Student Involvement, LOCKS, Black United Students, USG, the Student Center and the Department of Pan-African Studies.

Mitchum heard about the situation through alumni friends as well as a post on Twitter. Mitchum felt “not only disappointed but in a certain respect disgusted,” when he heard the news about Johnson. Mitchum felt this way because he is very aware of Johnson’s track record and even though he claims to be a black activist, “all the focus he has is on cisgender, heterosexual, black men.”

Johnson’s focus on only the cisgender, heterosexual black man has caused a backlash among student organizations on campus. Pride! Kent, the LGBTQ Student Center and strive to be positive supportive voices for the LGBTQ community on campus.

Brandon Stephens, a fifth-year double major in criminology and justice studies as well as political science is the president of PRIDE! Kent. Stephens is working closely with other members of the PRIDE! Kent executive board and has confirmed there will be a protest outside the KIVA on Monday starting at 6 p.m. PRIDE! Kent board members are also planning on asking Johnson questions with the intent to “force him to defend his positions.”

Stephens said Pride! Kent contacted Dr. Alfreda Brown, vice president of the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion who offered her support of its efforts to raise awareness of Johnson’s visit to campus.

Under Brown’s direction, the LGBTQ Student Center as well as the Women’s Center confirmed they will be open late on Monday to provide a safe space for people who do not want to be exposed to Johnson’s rhetoric. The LGBTQ Student Center will remain open until 8:30 p.m. and the Women’s Center until 8 p.m.

PRIDE! Kent was not directly contacted about the speaking engagement, but an executive board member received a forwarded email from one of the student organizations Mitchum contacted.

Gabrielle Cooper, the director of Diversity Initiatives for PRIDE! Kent and president of Threads, an organization with a focus on LGBTQ people of color, received a copy of Mitchum’s email on Sunday and she brought it to the attention of the executive board the same night. Cooper has been working closely with both organizations to help plan any and all demonstrations in response to Johnson.

When Cooper received the email she was “shocked that people like this still exist” and was especially troubled with the fact someone she knows may agree with Dr. Johnson’s remarks and viewpoints.

Brown declined to answer questions emailed to her by Fusion, but said “I prefer to find out exactly what will happen here at KSU before I make any statements.” Dr. Shay Davis Little, interim vice president of student affairs, did not return several calls and emails from Fusion.

The Ohio Student Association (OSA) was also contacted and declined to comment but at the Feb. 4 Pride! Kent general meeting, OSA representative Dondreya Allen gave Pride! Kent her group’s full support.

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