Friday, June 9, 2023

MTSU Activist Coalition Protests On-Campus Screening of Matt Walsh Documentary


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Story by Alyssa Williams | Contributing Writer

A screening of a documentary that questions many transgender issues, including surgery, in America was met with a protest by a coalition of political and pride groups on Oct. 5. 

The film, “What is a Woman?” starring conservative podcast host and children’s author Matt Walsh was shown on campus by student activist organization Turning Point USA. The nationwide organization has hosted events across Tennessee to show the documentary.

In the film, Walsh asks the movie’s title question to medical experts, psychologists, politicians, activists, laymen and even African tribesmen. The film examines sex and gender identity with emphasis on the transgender movement in America. Many have found the questions raised by Walsh to be controversial, which prompted the protests.

MTSU’s protest was led by members of Young Democrats, the Young Democratic Socialists of America and MT Lambda.

MTSU College Democrats Vice President Davina Miller-Clements helped spearhead the protest.

“We are hoping to make this a safer campus for our genderqueer peers and to bring awareness to the fact that we think this should be a safe place for all,” Miller-Clements said. “I feel that it is important to use our voices as allies to magnify that cause, and I feel that these types of events are designed to spread fear and disseminate trust of people that are different than us.”

Miller-Clements believes that this documentary is created by people who wish to spread hate and distrust across the country.

“I find that abhorrent,” she said. “I think that everyone in this country has the right to be who they want to be, and that’s what this country was founded on. Everybody in this country has the right to pursue freedoms and the dignity that they want in this country. And, I think that when you come onto this campus and spread something that is against those values, you are coming up against the values of this school.”

The organizations taped their signs to the windows of the room they reserved for that evening. (Photo by Alyssa Williams)

MTSU College Democrats President and transgender student Theo Baker, agreed with Miller-Clements.

“We’re hoping to show that we will not stand for transphobia on the MTSU campus,” he said. “As a trans person myself, I want to show solidarity and representation for other people who can’t come out and protest on nights like these.”

The main thing they both wished to keep, though, is the peace between the two sides.

“We came in the effort of making friends with people,” Miller-Clements said. “We came in the effort of building bonds with people, building bridges between people, building common ground with people. This is our ability to use our voices as citizens of this campus, citizens of this state, citizens of this country.”

Turning Point USA at Middle Tennessee State University closes their blinds in response to protesters with signs gathered outside a screening of “What is a Woman?” (Photo by Alyssa Williams)

Neither Turning Point nor anyone who attended the screening would provide comment to MTSU Sidelines.

“Things have been a bit tense,” Baker said. “We were confined to our rooms, but I think things have gone well for us. We have been able to put up our signs and keep our windows open, meanwhile they’ve shut themselves in.”

A protester’s sign taped to a wall across the hall from Turning Point USA’s screening of “What is a Woman?” reads, “Closed blinds = echo chamber behavior.” (Photo by Alyssa Williams)

Campus police showed up at the event to ensure safety. Officers came to the protesters’ meeting space and instructed them to stay in the room they reserved for the evening and not disrupt the screening, which was in a room across the hall.

This frustrated Miller-Clements, as the protestors had kept to their room during the entirety of their preparation.

“We came here with the intent of having a peaceful protest, a peaceful reaction to what we felt was injustice on our campus,” she said. “ We were told that if we left this room, we could face suspension from school.”

It did not, however, prevent the protestors from showing up to fight for what they believe in.

Transgender student Eli Certain, not a member of any of the organizations that planned the protest, showed up.

“I’m really hoping to spread some knowledge on the real trans agenda, which is to live as a normal American and not to impose my lifestyle and beliefs onto any other people,” Certain said.

Certain then explained how the documentary goes against their agenda.

“In the reviews and self-reported summaries, it has become increasingly aware to me that this documentary is focusing primarily on how trans people are predatory towards children, in which they are not,” Certain said. “I’m concerned that we won’t be heard, especially by the university.”

The turnout was more than any of the clubs expected. MTSU College Democrats learned of the documentary showing, planned the protest and coordinated with YDSA all in the same day.

“We didn’t have a lot of time to throw anything together for a protest. Most of us found out about this just today,” said Ty Stallings, YDSA President at MTSU who uses they/them pronouns. “And, even then, we managed to organize something successful between a lot of people.”

By Stalling’s count, about 30 people attended the protest.

“It just shows that more and more people are willing to show up on the dime for an unplanned event that is in support of solidarity for trans people,” Stallings said. “I find that to be a very touching thing.”

MTSU is not the first campus to see protests as a result of on-campus screenings of the conservative documentary.

At East Tennessee State University, Turning Point also planned an event to show the documentary on Sept. 29, prompting students to voice concern. ETSU’s Turning Point moved the screening’s location after they were asked to. ETSU College Democrats and ETSU Young Democratic Socialists of America hosted a protest around the same time of the screening.

Walsh garnered controversy earlier this year for the release of his children’s book “Johnny the Walrus,” which tells the story of a boy named Johnny who pretends to be a walrus but is pressured by his mother and online activists to live as if he were one.

Turning Point USA is an American conservative nonprofit that organizes students to promote freedom, free markets and limited government. 

To contact News Editor Matthew Giffin and Assistant News Editor Kailee Shores, email

For more news, visit, or follow us on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines or on Twitter at @Sidelines_News.

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