Opposition in action: Dueling communities gather to invoke free speech at NMSU


David Castañeda

Protestors lock arms as a symbol of unity. April, 4, 2023.

Hundreds of students and community members flocked to New Mexico State University’s campus to invoke their First Amendment rights on the evening of April 4, 2023. Controversial right-wing commentator Matt Walsh delivered his speech inside Corbett Center Student Union, while counter-protesters gathered outside.  

Jewel Navarrette, chapter president of Young Americans for Freedom at NMSU, opens Tuesday’s event featuring conservative commentator Matt Walsh. April 4, 2023. (Ernesto Cisneros)

Walsh was invited to campus by NMSU’s Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), which is part of the national organization Young America’s Foundation. Walsh, whose Twitter bio reads, “Theocratic fascist, bestselling children’s author, Transphobe Of The Year (2022),” was introduced at the event by YAF chapter president, Jewel Navarrette, as an “honest, determined, and proud conservative speaker.”  

The “Rally for Living Life” was held outside of Corbett Center simultaneously in solidarity against his views. Attended by both students and community members, it was not only a protest against Walsh’s anti-trans speech, but a “celebration” of the queer community and the lives that were scrutinized in his talk. Organized by NMSU’s Students For Reproductive Rights, the rally included crafts, singing, dancing, snacks, and even a mom in the crowd offering free hugs.    

Several students led chants and spoke to the crowd throughout the rally, including sophomore Hunter Butt, who shouted, “Is there a bigger joke in this world than a group proclaiming that they’re for freedom inviting a fascist to this campus?” 

A first amendment issue 

Many community members and NMSU students were outraged not only at Walsh’s ideas and comments, but also that the university itself for allowing him to speak on campus. While NMSU administration was initially silent in regard to both Walsh’s speech and the counter event, former NMSU Chancellor Dan Arvizu sent out a campus-wide email on Wednesday to address some of the public’s concerns. 


Students hold transgender flag in celebration of one another at the protest against right wing speaker Matt Walsh. April, 4, 2023. (David Castañeda )

“As we told those who contacted us, NMSU encourages free expression and peaceful assembly,”  the statement read. “The university also realizes that certain speech may have a negative impact on some members of our community. It’s written into NMSU policy that the free exchange of ideas is a reflection of the university’s public land-grant heritage, interest in diverse points of view, and commitment to excellence in education and research. The freedom of speech is also recognized and protected by the U.S. Constitution. This includes speech that might be offensive or hurtful.” 


The necessity of free speech and expression of different political views on campus was acknowledged by many protestors at the “Rally for Living Life”. However, they felt that Walsh’s ideas endangered many in the NMSU community, therefore making his speech a separate issue. 

“I recognize that it’s important to have conservative speeches or whatever, make sure that we have balanced viewpoints on campus,” said Gauge Burnett, president of Students For Reproductive Rights. “But this is simply not the way to do it. Of all the people who consider themselves conservative, Matt Walsh is probably one of the most outwardly hostile to 10% of the community population. He doesn’t belong here.” 

Sunny Caldwell, another NMSU student, agreed with Burnett and commented that Walsh’s presence on campus made the environment feel unsafe for the LGBTQ+ community. 

“If people are right leaning, that’s absolutely okay,” Caldwell said. “I don’t mind the fact that he’s right leaning; the fact that he is actively spreading misinformation about trans people to spread fear mongering and to make people feel more hostile towards trans people when we’re already a very marginalized group is not okay. And he’s not spreading Republican views. He is spreading objectively hateful views.” 

Walsh’s speech topic changed: Why? 

Before the speech began, NMSU junior Ella Bower mentioned that she was under the impression that Walsh would be speaking about the pro-life movement, and that it was “a women event.” Upon learning the updated title of Walsh’s speech, Bower said that she was interested to hear his thoughts on trans care between children and adults, along with “gender affirming care.” 

Bower was not the only attendee who was confused about the speech’s topic, which may be the result of a change in the lecture name. The speech was originally marketed as a pro-life event, but the title was changed to “Genocide: How The Trans Agenda Destroys Human Life And Common Sense” a few days prior to the talk. Some trans activists believe that this change was a direct response to comments made at NMSU’s “Transgender Day of Visibility Panel,” which took place the Friday before Walsh’s speech. In addition, the Pride Season 2023 Drag Show, hosted by NMSU LGBT+ Programs, was planned and held on April 5, 2023, just one day after the speech  – the timing of which, many said, is no coincidence.  

“It almost feels like a direct attack,” said Dae Romero, NMSU professor of Communications. “It feels kind of planned. But I do think it’s a message. It’s a message to say that they’re kind of gaining strength. But seeing the beautiful queer folk and the community that showed up, I think we’re stronger.” 

Impressions on younger generations 

NMSU student Malena Gonzales remarked that one’s identity is not solely defined by their sex, as a large portion of identity comes from self-expression. Gonzales said that many of Walsh’s issues with the trans community seem to surround the idea that being different is a bad thing. Gonzales also mentioned that everyone is born completely unique, so people – especially young people – shouldn’t be expected to think and act exactly the same as one another. 

NMSU student and parent speaks out against the overturning of Roe v. Wade. April,4, 2023. (David Castañeda )

“I think the reason why it’s harmful is because there are so many young people here that are impressionable,” Gonzales said. “They [anti-trans activists] talk about protecting our youth – well, we are the youth.” 

During his speech, Walsh remarked that many children “fall victim to the trans cult,” and are too young to consent to castration and sterilization or “understand what is being done to them.” He commented that children who transition will be stuck in a “limbo state,” where they will be unable to fully resemble either their true sex or the one they’re transitioning to. This phenomenon is what Walsh calls a “genocide.”  

Multiple children accompanied their parents to either the “Rally for Living Life” or Walsh’s speech. While the external influences on younger generations have been a hot topic for many, NMSU student Casey Combs said that although they are disappointed in many parents for subjecting their children to Walsh’s “hateful rhetoric,” that it’s important to have compassion for the kids themselves.  

“​​I know that it’s not their fault that they’re here tonight,” Combs said. “I know that it’s their parents bringing them here. And I truly, truly feel so sorry that they’re going to have to do so much work in a couple of years to learn how to unlearn that hate, and how to love themselves instead. And how that love is so much more powerful than any hate that they’ve been fed as children.” 

Questions about anti-trans laws 

Conservative commentator Matt Walsh speaks to a packed house at the Corbett Center Student Union during Tuesday’s Young Americans for Freedom event, April 4, 2023. (Ernesto Cisneros)

To open the Q&A held after Walsh’s initial speech, Florencia Makk, a member of the YAF chapter at NMSU, asked Walsh if he thinks legislation preventing “the abuse and indoctrination of kids by the gender ideology movements” is attainable in New Mexico, and how he would recommend that his supporters “start that revolution.” 

In response to Makk, Walsh remarked that the federal government “needs to act to protect kids from this mutilation and abuse,” but until a Republican candidate is explicitly vocal about banning legislation that protects trans youth, it will be an “uphill battle” in New Mexico. 

Meanwhile, several state legislators attended the protest outside. In a speech to the crowdgoers, District 38 Sen. Carrie Hamblen (D-N.M.) let the NMSU trans population know they were loved and supported. She also confirmed Walsh’s concerns with regard to protective legislation by telling the protestors that current New Mexico legislators are committed to keeping rhetoric like Walsh’s from being spread on campus in the future.  


“In this last legislative session, we passed the Human Rights Modification Act, which includes LGBTQ+ people,” Hamblen said. “Which means any institution that receives state money would no longer discriminate against that protected class. You are seen and you are heard, and this state will not allow any institution that receives state money to discriminate.” 


New Mexico Senator Carrie Hamblen spoke up for the Aggies in the rally for transgender rights. April, 4, 2023. (David Castañeda )

While this legislation could be vital in protecting the LGBTQ+ community in New Mexico, many allies and members of the queer community who attended the protest noted that the fight to protect transgender lives is far from over. Both sides of the issue are committed to upholding their ideals – not only at NMSU or in New Mexico, but across the nation.  

Visibility versus victimization  

“Trans ideology is the most toxic evil our nation faces today, and it must be burned to the ground – destroyed completely,” Walsh said. “Now, if you are a trans-identified person and you hear that, you should be the most on board with this, because trans ideology has taken more from you than it’s taken from me, or any of the rest of us. You are a victim … just not in the way that you think.”  

Walsh, nearing the end of his speech, expressed that trans people have “fallen prey to this ideology” and that they are “wrong” about their view of themselves and of the world.  

In response to these ideas, Burnett said that Walsh’s rhetoric is scary for the trans community who are “targets of violence.” Burnett commented that a part of Walsh’s mission is designed to force queer people “back into the closet” and that they will not stand for it. Instead, they want to continue celebrating who they are, as they did at the “Rally for Living Life.” 

“You know, we didn’t come out here to change anyone’s mind,” Burnett said. “We came out here to remind each other that we’re present, that we’re visible, that there is a community of people who don’t want to destroy us and burn our beliefs and our feelings and our bodies to the ground. So, the next step is we go home and we hug each other and we eat some pizza, and we get mad about it in the morning.” 

The Round Up reached out to YAF members and the organization’s chapter president for a comment regarding the event, but they did not reply.   

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