Hug-in surprises some students

Students and community members walk down Green Street in Urbana during the start of a Hug-In on Friday, April 17, 2009. The group gave out free hugs, cookies and balloons as part of an event coinciding with National Day of Silence.

By Mary Beth Versaci

While at first it may have come as a surprise to be asked if they wanted a hug, many passers-by welcomed what the Green Street Hug-In had to offer.

“The response has been generally positive,” said Thomas Skawski, freshman in LAS, who participated in the event Friday night. “People don’t necessarily know what this is, so there’s been nothing negative toward LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered).”

At the event held Friday, individuals were greeted with hugs, balloons, flowers, cookies and candy on every corner from Fourth to Wright streets. Both the Hug-In held last spring and the one held on Friday coincided with the annual “Day of Silence” in the LGBT community. During the day, members of the LGBT community and their supporters drew awareness to the treatment of LGBT people in society as a whole.

The Hug-In was organized in response to the Green Street attack of a gay student on Friday of Moms Weekend last year. Steven Velasquez, junior in AHS, was walking home when an individual shouted at him and then pulled him to the ground, knocking him unconscious.

Tom Bochnak, student from University of Illinois at Chicago, said he did not know the message of the event until he spoke to Marjorie Perry, senior in LAS, who organized it.

Perry said she was walking up and down Green Street, making sure everyone was doing okay and asking if people had been receptive to the activities. She explained the reason behind the Hug-In to Bochnak and other surrounding students when she stopped to photograph some of the participants.

“I hadn’t heard of the particular crime, but it’s good that they’re raising awareness about it,” said Tom Wood, senior in LAS, who also talked to Perry.

Perry said she organized the Hug-In in response to what happened to Velasquez because the campus needed to take a stand.

But while an earlier ruling in Iowa protecting the legality of gay marriage goes into effect April 27, some students might be participating for different reasons.

Bahareh Javadi, freshman in FAA, said that she participated in the Hug-In because she wanted to share affection with people.

“I don’t see why it’s so taboo to hug each other,” Javadi added.

Nathan Fredrickson, graduate student, said he had a certain tactic when approaching people to give them free hugs.

“If you go at it with a positive attitude, then people will respond positively,” he said.

Javadi said that about half of the people she encountered seemed comfortable with the idea of being hugged. While she tended to get strange looks from the rest of the people, it did not discourage her.

“The cause is spreading awareness about the hate crime,” she said. “Hugs are the opposite of that.”