Throwback: Young Conservatives of Texas have history of not shying away from controversy

Sara Reinsch

The Young Conservatives of Texas, also known as YCT, have not shied away from provocative stances and displays throughout their past, and the group’s latest demonstration is no exception. 

On Tuesday, after a flood of negative feedback from University students and administrators, YCT canceled its “Catch an Illegal Immigrant” event because the group was worried about University repercussions and the safety of its members. The group had planned to give out gift cards to students who could find individuals walking around with “illegal immigrant” labels on their clothes at the event. 

The Daily Texan reported a slew of attention-grabbing incidents involving YCT throughout the ’90s and 2000s.

YCT was the subject of ire in 2005 for trying to hold almost the same event as it proposed earlier this week. A post on the group’s website and a discussion at one of its meetings led to a protest where more than 200 angry demonstrators claimed YCT would be holding a “Capture an Illegal Immigrant” event on Texas Independence Day.

“We had discussed the idea because another chapter had done it,” YCT treasurer Michelle Putman said in an article published on March 2, 2005. “After we realized the numerous consequences and how the event could be misconstrued, we as an organization decided not to go through with it.”

In the same article, YCT Chairwoman Lauren Conner said the group did not support bigotry and hatred.

In September 1994, driven by its opposition to the promotion of the “gay and lesbian lifestyle,” YCT tried to cut University funding for a series of self-help workshops for gay, lesbian and bisexual students. Sherry Bell, the Student Health Center’s assistant director for health education at the time, said in a Sept. 13, 1994 article that the program had drawn between 25 and 60 students per workshop in the previous school year. 

YCT’s initial goal was to pressure the health center into supporting the program with gift funds rather than student fees. The health center gave in to the funding swap after the group gained a state representative’s support and threatened to protest the meetings.

“We had to kill ‘Living With Pride,’” YCT Chairman Ashley Callahan said in a Sept. 22, 1994 article. “It was intolerable. … I want to save these people. I don’t want to encourage them in a lifestyle that is a one-way ticket to hell.”

Despite this funding “victory,” a few weeks later, YCT filed an open records request to obtain the names of the private donors who had contributed to the gift fund.

“I have a strong intuition that the people donating money to the Student Health Center didn’t intend for their gift funds to be used for something as objectionable as ‘Living With Pride,’” Callahan said in an article published on Sept. 29, 1994. “Once the donors to the University see what kind of program UT is sponsoring, they will take care of the problem for us.”

An Austin counseling center that worked with gay, lesbian and bisexual students said it would cover the costs of the workshops a week later, according to an Oct. 7, 1994 article.

YCT was involved in another debate three years later, when, at a September 1997 news conference supporting a ban on affirmative action, UT law professor Lino Graglia said blacks and Mexican-Americans were not academically competitive with whites. Graglia’s comment led several opponents to call for his job, but YCT stood by him.

“I think it’s an atrocity that our elected officials would suggest that a tenured professor should be removed from his job simply because he expressed a view that may be unpopular,” YCT Chairwoman Sonia Mohammed said in a Sept. 16, 1997 article.

As illustrated by this week’s incidents and the group’s past involvement in debates over immigration, gay and lesbian rights and a broad range of other political issues, YCT has never shied away from stances and actions that make it a vehicle for occasional controversy.