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Senator Rob Portman (R-OH)

Right before Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) got up to speak at University of Michigan Law School’s commencement Saturday, 100 students from the graduating class got up and walked out. The senator is has become known amongst the LGBT community an their allies for his anti-gay stances on marriage equality and other gay rights issues. The small group  of studetnts who organized the protest were unhappy with Portman’s ant-gay voting record and offended by the fact that the university would invite someone who has voted to take away their rights to mark the special occasion.

Pride Source reports on the details of the protest:

In his opening remarks, Law School Dean Evan Caminker said that the law school would always be there to welcome its graduates home. Part of the purpose of Senior Day is to bring back Michigan Law grads who have been successful since leaving Ann Arbor. As he explained in a letter to the seniors on April 14, he said “We seek speakers who have achieved success and accomplishment in their professional careers, rather than speakers whose views are representative of all or a majority of the students at the law school.”

Caminker said the senator was a great example of where a Michigan Law degree can take a person: “anywhere.” Before being elected to the U.S. Senate in November 2010, Portman served as a Congressman and in 2005 was appointed U.S. Trade Representative and later the director of the Office of Management, both cabinet-level positions under President George W. Bush.

Bringing Portman back to Ann Arbor might be custom, but Selbst and others said it was unacceptable, given Portman’s votes against gay marriage and, more recently, gay adoption in Washington, D.C. A number of students who took part in the protest described gay marriage and gay adoption as human rights, as issues that don’t permit reasonable people to disagree.

Outside the Hill Auditorium guests attending Senior Day were handed a pamphlet explaining the coming protest. About 60 percent of the graduates wore rainbow buttons or flair on their gowns. Family and friends of the graduates wore the rainbow ribbon to show solidarity with grads who would be affected by Portman’s votes.

The pamphlet contained a letter from more than 200 Michigan Law alumni to Dean Caminker.

“Senator Portman, in public life, has actively worked to deny some members of the graduating class their civil rights … Our objection is not a political one … rather we are concerned about the message Michigan Law is sending by giving an anti-gay rights speaker the honor of marking what should be a joyful occasion,” the letter read.

Watch as two students recount the details of the powerful demonstration below:

(video via Think Progress)


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