Amid protests and counterprotests at Penn State University involving Riley Gaines, a former Division I swimmer who speaks out against transgender athletes’ inclusion in women’s sports, Pennsylvania state Senator Cris Dush threatened to pull university funding while clashing with transgender activists.
Gaines was set to speak at the university on Tuesday for what she dubbed “Real Women’s Day.” But the speech did not take place as her event was not booked properly, according to Penn State. Gaines said the scheduling difficulties were being used as cover to censor speech for which the university feared backlash.
In response, the Penn State chapter of Turning Point USA and Young Americans for Freedom at Penn State held a “Free Speech Rally” in support of Gaines but were soon met with counterprotests on the HUB-Robeson Center Lawn.
The counterprotest drew many in the transgender and LGBTQ+ community and student activists, as Gaines—host of OutKick’s Gaines for Girls—has become a controversial figure to some for her call to ban transgender athletes from women’s sports.
In a video shared to X, formerly Twitter, by The College Fix shows the counterprotesters along with the Republican senator as he calls out the counterprotesters for their behavior and threatens to pull Penn State funding.
“You wanna lose 150 million dollars to the campus for your friends. I’m state senator Cris Dush, if you guys don’t behave yourselves, you very well…,” Dush said.
In response, a counterprotester asks the senator if he supports anti-trans people.
“I support the people who are here like Riley Gaines,” Dush said.
The exchange came after Penn State leaders in early September requested an increase in appropriations for the 2024-25 fiscal year that, if approved by the state, would narrow the per-student funding gap that exists between Penn State and Pennsylvania’s other public universities.
As a state representative in 2017, Dush complained about sending money to universities after schools threatened to raise tuition rates for the 2017 spring semester if the state funding didn’t come through.
In response to Tuesday’s protests, Gaines supported Dush’s stance to stand with women in a statement emailed to Newsweek.
“Civil discourse and freedom of speech are critical for academic institutions like Penn State to embrace and uphold,” she said. “Without them, we will never find common ground and solutions to issues. We must hold those who seek to silence and cancel accountable. I applaud Senator Dush for his support of equal opportunity for women, for standing with women, and for holding PSU and its administrators’ feet to the fire.”
The university said it did not cancel Gaines’ speech and believes in free speech as protesters and counterprotesters were allowed to voice their concerns on Tuesday.
“Penn State believes in free speech for all. Ms. Gaines had a megaphone, while counter protesters had their voices. Both sides were heard,” Penn State said in statement emailed to Newsweek.
As a result of the protests, two people were detained by police on the campus after appearing to cause a disturbance during Gaines’ appearance.
In a statement to Newsweek, the university said that “we’d like to clarify that the individuals removed from yesterday’s event are two non-students who will be issued summary citations.”
Penn State earned a spot on Campus Pride’s “Best of the Best” LGBTQ-friendly College and Universities list, achieving an overall 5 out of 5 stars in the Campus Pride Index for 2023.
Newsweek reached out to Dush, Penn State University and Penn State’s Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity organization via email for further comment.