Protestors march, chant against Florida’s DeSantis at Utah Republican convention
When the Utah Republican Party announced that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis would be its convention’s keynote speaker, some members of the Utah Valley University community, the event’s host site, and others across Utah were outraged. And as DeSantis gave his speech to over 2,000 people in the UCCU Center on Saturday, more than 100 angry Utahns outside the venue were marching and chanting together.
Chants ranged from the tame — “DeSantis is not welcome here” — to the explicit — “F— Ron DeSantis” and “F— Mike Lee.”
Starting on the UVU pedestrian bridge above Interstate 15, protestors marched through the university’s parking lots before stopping just in front of the arena’s main entrance.
From there, it was a steady stream of guest speakers, many of whom were young LGBTQ+ people attending UVU. As the wider protest continued on, convention attendees leaving he UCCU Center would either slow or stop to listen to what protestors had to say.
Most walked away shaking their heads or outright laughing at the speakers. There were no safety issues during the protest, according to organizers, though there were several incidents of protestors and attendees shouting back and forth with one another.
“Ron DeSantis isn’t our target audience for this protest, it’s the community. We want to be able to say that we can show up, show out, show solidarity and find love and community,” Luna, a protest organizers who declined to offer a last name, told the Daily Herald. “We want people to walk away from this not just feeling angry and spiteful, but feeling hopeful.”
Protest speakers focused on the location of the speech, saying DeSantis’ willingness to speak on UVU’s campus shows he believes it to be a “safe space.” During the 2020 presidential election between incumbent Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden, Trump won 58.13% of votes in Utah.
In Utah County, 66.69% of votes were cast for Trump compared to 26.30% for Biden, the highest vote share a Democrat received in a presidential election in the county since Jimmy Carter in 1976. In Orem, home of UVU, Trump garnered 62.44% of votes, and the university later hosted Trump’s former vice president, Mike Pence, for a speech in September 2022 through the Gary R. Herbert Institute for Public Policy.
Being in a deep-red area, though, was not a negative for organizers. They see it as an opportunity.
“In states that have the most conservative-leaning lawmakers, you see more left-leaning action emerge, more radical action, because there is this reactionary effect,” Luna said. “Not only that, I don’t think that conservatives have completely opposite views as us. We share a lot of the same values, we want to build family — we translate that as a larger community. They want to protect themselves, we want to protect ourselves from the government that is doing the attacking, and so you have to be able to find that common ground.”
The protest announcement was originally shared by an anarchist collective based in Provo and Orem known as “Trashbird Distro,” though it was soon shared through leftist political and community groups throughout the region along with a demonstration by the Party for Socialism and Liberation.
Announcement of the protest drew the ire of many Utah Republicans when, in a digital poster announcing the time and location, a swastika was photoshopped onto DeSantis’ forehead. Utah GOP Chair Carson Jorgensen on Thursday said the post was “in bad taste” while U.S. Sen. Mike Lee called it “wildly inappropriate on every level.”
Even on Saturday, Republican officials shared discomfort with language used in the protest. State Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, tweeted a picture of the protest including a cardboard sign with “F— your racist” written on it.
“I always like a good protest, but way to keep it classy. Not sure how this helps,” he wrote.
When one commenter asked what part offended McKell, he wrote “Maybe you like using the F-bomb. I certainly don’t.”
These condemnations meant nothing to Cedric Cody, Gus Gubler and the handful of protestors standing outside the UCCU Center well before the convention began, holding signs calling DeSantis a “fascist” and “nazi scum.”
“We’re not letting this fascist Nazi scum come and represent himself here,” Gubler said. Gubler focused on book burnings, common in Nazi Germany in the 1930s and early 1940s, in which large groups of people sought to censor materials considered “un-German,” according to the United States Holocaust Museum.
They compared the destruction of those books, often focused on LGBTQ+ people and stories, with Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill introduced and supported by DeSantis, which banned classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools.
“The fact that a kid in school in Florida, now that it’s K-12 — a fully-grown adult basically at that point, 18 year olds, a senior in high school — they feel closeted at home, don’t feel comfortable talking to their parents, they want to confide in a teacher, they can’t. The teacher legally cannot console them in Florida,” Gubler said. “It’s trying to go back to f—— before — Nazi Germany — and just say, ‘Oh, these people don’t exist. And if they do, we’re not gonna give them resources.'”
Cody, a regular protestor around the state living in Heber City, would tell convention attendees questioning the comparison that he doesn’t say so lightly. Born in Germany, he received regular education about the Holocaust and World War II atrocities.
“These comparisons, especially when we’re talking about banning even talking about gay people in school, you’re solely trying to demonize a minority group and we’ve seen historically where that starts and where that ends if you don’t push back,” Cody said.
Throughout the day, convention attendees interacted with Cody and other protestors. Some of the conversations were fruitful, they told the Daily Herald, while others were far from civil.
“It’s just been a lot of just demeaning. And I mean, I’m used to that from people who hold Trump flags or just trying to talk louder than you and, you know, voice you down, almost hit you personally,” Gubler said. “I have talked with about three people where they have stormed away angrily at me while I’m just trying to have a decent conversation with them.”