The toys came in different colors and sizes, all 4,500, with optional zip ties for security.
They were handed out for free, waved around for crowd control and dangled from homework-filled backpacks. Some were even juggled.
And on Wednesday, the first day of classes at the University of Texas at Austin, the toys — usually used for sex — morphed instead into a NSFW political symbol for students protesting the state’s new, controversial campus carry law, which makes it legal as of Aug. 1 to bring concealed guns inside the classroom.
Critics say the bill could place a chilling effect on what should be a safe space for learning, especially at the collegiate level, where classroom discussions can easily escalate into heated debates. It could, they say, cause discomfort.
Enter the dildo.
“We’re telling people, the dildos will stay as long as the guns are here,” protester Rosie Zander told the Austin American-Statesman. “So if you’re uncomfortable with my dildo, you cannot imagine how uncomfortable I am with your gun.”
She said they’re fighting “absurdity with absurdity.”
But even more than discomfort, the sex-toy-as-symbolism protest was meant to expose the arguable hypocrisy of what is and is not safe in Texas public spaces.
Carrying a weapon is legal. Brandishing a dildo is not.
University rules bar obscene displays or performances, according to the Statesman, and state laws prohibit the “reckless” display of “obscene material,” though university officials told the newspaper that they had no intention of arresting anyone over a defiant display of a dildo.
“The State of Texas has decided that it is not at all obnoxious to allow deadly concealed weapons in classrooms, however it DOES have strict rules about free sexual expression, to protect your innocence,” reads the protest event page on Facebook, created by former music student Jessica Jin.
“You would receive a citation for taking a DILDO to class before you would get in trouble for taking a gun to class,” the description continues. “Heaven forbid the penis.”
The protest, which inspired its own hashtag and Twitter account, has been in the works for nearly a year, giving organizers plenty of time to raise awareness and collect … supplies. More than 4,500 sex toys were donated by local erotica stores, the Associated Press reported, and the Facebook event called on supporters with “clean and unused spare inventory” to give it up for the cause.
“We’d love to get a dildo into the hands of every young political rebel in America,” the page read.
This is not the first time students have flung around sex toys to make a point. In December, activists marched through campus with sex toys and fart machines to counter-protest a mock mass shooting acted out by gun rights advocates in neon orange T-shirts. The counter-protesters overwhelmed the advocates, both in noise and numbers.
Forrest Sullivan, a third-year student at UT-Austin, told Reuters that he found the protest funny and flashy but was not persuaded by the sex-toy argument. He supports the campus carry law because it makes him feel safe.
“Their rhetorical strategy is going to alienate of people who are on the fence about this,” he said.
ABC news covering @CocksNotGlocks rally: "We cannot show you images of the signs or even say the name of the rally on air"
— Susan Schorn (@SusanSchorn) August 25, 2016
But the sex-toy protest organizers argue their banned weapon of choice, the dildo, is harmless compared with a loaded gun and “just about as effective at protecting us from sociopathic shooters, but much safer for recreational play.”
When the law was passed last year, one professor decided to leave the university and others spoke out publicly against it, including Joan Neuberger, a UT-Austin Russian history professor. She, along with others, formed the group Gun Free UT, which participated in Wednesday’s protest.
She is concerned that the law will stymie free speech, especially because professors are not allowed to ban guns from their own classrooms or ask students whether they are carrying a gun. On Monday, a federal judge denied a request by three other UT-Austin professors for a preliminary injunction that would have given them control over the presence of guns during their classes.
“Not knowing, but thinking there’s a possibility there may be guns, will absolutely change the way I teach,” Neuberger said in January, “and, I think, really interfere with my ability to teach in the best possible way.”
But the protesters plan to keep fighting. On their Facebook event, they called the protest an ongoing effort.
“Why leave your dildos at home if other people won’t leave their guns at home?”