Students at Cleveland State University (CSU) in Ohio were shocked to find flyers urging LGBTQ people to commit suicide posted to bulletin boards on their campus.
The flyers depicted a man's silhouette hanging by a noose with the text, "Follow Your Fellow F****ts" in rainbow colors. It also included statistics on transgender, bisexual and general LGBTQ-related suicide rates.
William Dube, a spokesman for the university, told NBC News on Wednesday the flyers have since been taken down. It is not yet publicly known who created and disseminated them.
"Anti-LGBTQ+ posters were seen in one building on the CSU campus on Thursday morning. The posters did not conform with CSU policies and procedures regarding posting and were removed," Dube said in a statement. "The Vice President of Student Affairs met with LGBTQ+ students on Friday to address their concerns regarding the posters."
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"In addition, President Ronald Berkman will be hosting a forum for the CSU community today to further discuss the incident," Dube concluded.
Initially, however, Berkman released a statement saying CSU "remains fully committed to a campus community that respects all individuals" but "also is committed to upholding the First Amendment, even with regard to controversial issues where opinion is divided."
Following the backlash to Berkman's response, he released a follow-up statement in which he said he "failed to express" his "personal outrage" over the flyers in his previous statement.
"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," his statement said.
Hayley Gorenberg, general counsel at Lambda Legal, told NBC News the free speech situation on campus is legally dicey, but she said the damaging effects a flyer like this could have on LGBTQ students is clear.
"The law is complex in this area," Gorenberg said, referring to a recent case in Massachusetts involving a young woman who was sentenced to 15 months in jail for allegedly urging her boyfriend to commit suicide. Gorenberg said the case has been hotly debated in legal circles and noted it is currently on appeal.
However, she added, "the big picture is LGBTQ students can be put at risk in hostile environments that can be connected to suicide."
Gorenberg added the flyer appears to have a racial element as well.
"This is very provocative and hostile not only to LGBTQ people, but I [would] also note that this is a figure that was drawn in black in a noose, and so that rings a lynching bell," Gorenberg said, adding that while the flyers appear to be a "First Amendment trap" to bait the school, the flyer is "extremely painful and disturbing to the community for which it is aimed."
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