Petition opposing Matt Walsh visit nets over 600 signatures

Students, alumni, faculty and staff supported a petition asking the administration to disallow Walsh’s visit


Bri Hatch

Signs mocking Walsh’s “What is a Woman?” event appeared on campus last week. Photo by Bri Hatch, ’23

Shauna Muckle, Editor-in-Chief


President Will Dudley released a statement Tuesday evening in response to the petition.

In a published statement to leaders of queer affinity groups, Dudley said the university allows any group to invite speakers to campus and does not approve or reject based on content. He added that the university does not endorse any invited speaker.

He also reaffirmed his personal support for the LGBTQ+ community and emphasized university resources. But he said the university provides “a setting in which all ideas can be freely exchanged, discussed, and debated.”

“The College Republicans’ planned event this week lays bare deep ideological divides,” Dudley wrote. “I hope our community will use this moment as an occasion to reflect upon what it means to freely exchange, discuss, and debate ideas, and upon the kinds of events and speakers that are most conducive to stimulating thoughtful, intellectual conversations.”

Also on Tuesday evening, Dudley donated $1,000 to a fundraiser organized by OutLaw, the affinity group for queer law students.


When Maddie Bellew, ’24L, learned that self-professed “transphobe” Matt Walsh was coming to Washington and Lee’s campus, she knew she had to do something.

Walsh is scheduled to speak on his documentary denying the existence of transgender people at University Chapel on March 30. College Republicans and The Spectator, a conservative magazine on campus, invited Walsh to speak. 

Bellew, who uses she/they pronouns, is secretary of OutLaw, the queer affinity group for law students. On March 14, Bellew began drafting a statement imploring the university administration, including President Will Dudley and Dean Sidney Evans, to disinvite Matt Walsh from campus. They sent it to OutLaw co-presidents Audrey Curelop, ’23L, and Sica Matsuda, ’23L, who added insights.

From there, the three law students began seeking community support. They forwarded the petition to OutLaw and other law student affinity groups, as well as the Queer Liberation Alliance, the university’s undergraduate LGBTQ+ affinity group, and College Democrats. Members of those organizations added edits and began sharing the petition, which went live on March 19, on social media and through other student channels like GroupMe.

The petition lays out actions that Walsh, a conservative commentator, has taken against the transgender community—including referring to himself as “Transphobe of the Year 2022” in his Twitter bio, intentionally misgendering transgender celebrities, and accusing Boston Children’s Hospital of “mutilating” children seeking gender-affirming surgery.

The last act led to threats of violence against staff at Boston Children’s Hospital, NBC reported in August 2022.

More than 90 faculty and staff also signed the petition. Some started sharing it with other faculty members and alumni.

“I hope to see your names on this petition, because the students need to see their professors and staff across departments and facilities vocalizing our support of them as members and allies of the vulnerable communities on campus,” wrote English professor Brenna Womer in an email to her colleagues March 21.

Young America’s Foundation published an article lambasting the petition and calling the writers “intolerant leftists” on March 22.

In the end, a petition with 575 signatures was printed and delivered to the offices of President Will Dudley, Vice President for Student Affairs Sidney Evans, Director of Student Activities Laura Ulmer and the university’s Office of General Counsel on Friday, March 24. The number of signatures has now grown to 613. 

The OutLaw executive team also requested a meeting with Dudley, which took place Tuesday morning, Curelop told the Phi.

“We just want to put some faces to names,” Matsuda said. “There’s a lot of names on there. This is what students here feel and this is what they look like. Please look them in the eyes whatever decision you make.”

Students, professors push administration to act

The petition preempts an administration counter-argument. Washington and Lee’s facility use policy declares that events on campus don’t necessarily indicate university endorsement. But giving Walsh a platform at all sends signals to the broader community, authors of the petition said.

“Allowing Matt Walsh to headline an event on our campus advocating for unapologetically transphobic views sends a message to current and prospective students, alumni, faculty, staff, and the surrounding community that transphobia is not just accepted on our campus, but it is welcomed,” the petition reads. 

Bellew, Curelop and Matsuda said they want a complete disavowal of Walsh from the administration. But if the administration declines, then they’ll shift their efforts towards protesting and healing from the event.

“What can you do at that point? As much as we want to push the administration to do something specific, we need to worry about our own community and their safety within the school,” Curelop said.

OutLaw, QLA and College Democrats, among other campus groups, are organizing a protest prior to the event. OutLaw also launched a fundraiser on Monday that aims to raise $20,000 for the Shenandoah LGBTQ Center, a local organization that provides gender-affirming care, programming and other services.

A graphic with the words Standing against Bigotry. Show your support for the LGBTQIA plus community by donating to help fund the Shenandoah LGBTQ Center Inc. The words are on a pink background above a graphic of a group of people with many different gender expressions and outfits.
OutLaw launched a fundraiser Monday that aims to raise $20,000. As of Tuesday evening, they had raised over $7,000. Photo courtesy of @wlulawoutlaw Instagram

Bellew, Curelop and Matsuda said they planned to ask Dudley to have the university match a $20,000 donation.

“If you’re going to put your name and your money behind this guy, then you owe us the same fucking exact thing,” Matsuda said. “The school owes us a match of that.”

The Spectator raised funds for Walsh’s speaker fees entirely through private contributions, said Kamron Spivey, ’24, the publication’s co-editor. The university was expected to provide increased security via Public Safety for the event.

Students aren’t the only ones seeking action from the university. Washington and Lee’s LGBTQ+ Resource Center published a statement condemning the event and pledging to host programming during and after the event.

Womer, the first professor to sign the petition, has also sent Dudley and others in the administration two emails, the first on March 16, pushing them to disinvite Walsh.

In her most recent email on March 23, Womer noted that the ticketing platform Eventbrite had removed the Walsh event because it violated the site’s community guidelines, which prohibit “misleading content that promotes fear, hate and/or prejudice and encourages violence against an individual or specific group of people.”

“If not even a ticketing site will host Walsh’s event because he encourages the dehumanization of and violence against trans and nonbinary people, why is W&L giving him a literal platform in a known place of honor on campus?” Womer wrote.

Womer, who uses she/they pronouns, said the university hadn’t sent them a response.

The university can forbid events, law professor says

Law professor Carliss Chatman, who signed the petition, said the university can’t claim it is powerless to stop the event.

She said as a private institution, Washington and Lee has discretion over its policies and norms—and that those should preclude speakers who perpetuate hate speech on campus.

“The idea that we are helpless in the face of hate speech because of freedom of speech is just a cop out,” Chatman said. “And it makes me question whether the real issue is, are there members of our community who agree with these speakers that are so hateful and so harmful? And is that part of the reason why we can’t seem to stop a lot of hate speech on this campus?”

Though the university changed the name of Lee Chapel to University Chapel in 2021, Chatman said recent speakers—including Walsh and Rodney Mims Cook Jr., who compared the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. to Robert E. Lee in January—render that act hollow.

“Changing the name of the building yet continuing to have speakers who promote bigotry tells me that it’s a change in name only,” she said. “It’s not a change in intention.”

Meanwhile, Womer contrasted Walsh’s talk with visits by other conservative speakers like Mike Pence, which received significantly less community pushback.

“Matt Walsh is different than some kind of political bobble head like Mike Pence,” she said in an interview. Walsh “represents an active physical and ideological and psychological threat to human bodies, to trans bodies, to queer bodies.”

‘Word is going to get around that we’re not safe’

Bellew, Matsuda and Curelop said that while the law school has become more welcoming, and more people on campus are out, their time in Lexington as queer students hasn’t always been easy.

A former student warned Bellew about areas outside of campus where they could be unsafe. 

“Say when you get out to the Walmart you might want to be careful with how you’re presenting,” they said. “There’s quite a range in levels of safety.”

Bellew said the university will inevitably see consequences if speakers like Cook and Walsh continue coming to campus.

“If these events continue to happen and the support continues to be absent, when students are asking about Washington and Lee, they’re gonna hear the truth,” she said. “Word is going to get around that we’re not safe here.” 

“If this school’s intention is to drive out minority students for generations to come, then they’re doing the right thing,” Bellew added. “But I would hope that’s not their intention.”

For queer students, being on the front lines of opposing Walsh and researching his transphobic comments has taken significant emotional labor, Matsuda and Curelop said. 

“We should come here and be able to have a really good academic experience and not have to worry about defending our identity,” Curelop said. “Not only does it hurt, it takes away from the reason we’re here in the first place.”