Vagina billboard controversy: Groups post 12 vagina photographs on University of Cincinnati campus

CINCINNATI - Temporary billboards placed on the University of Cincinnati campus are causing controversy among students.

Twelve billboard-sized photographs of vaginas will be placed outside McMicken Hall through Friday by the UC LGBTQ Alliance and UC Feminists. The student groups say the "Re-Envisioning the Female Body" project is their way of countering an abortion protest that happened on campus last year. (NOTE GRAPHIC CONTENT: To find out more about the project, you can visit their Facebook page .)

The groups say The Genocide Project compared abortion and a woman's choice to the holocaust.

"We're using shock as a tactic to start conversation," said Kate Elliot, who helped organize the project.

Thursday's demonstration was planned over the course of several months and features artwork by a UC student.

"Our hope for this project is to combat social inequalities and abuses through the use of our vaginas as a form of collective resistance to oppression and to claim our positions as individuals with unique experiences, perceptions, and needs," a post on the group's Facebook page explained.

The anatomical images are accompanied by statements from the models, who are all local adults dealing with their feelings regarding their sexuality.

"Our demonstration serves to call attention to the vagina as a site of conflict in medical, legislative, domestic, and representational arenas," the post said on the event's Facebook page.

The UC Students For Life group is tried to put a stop to the display before it went up, saying the billboards have no purpose other than "shock value."

"It's just pornographic," said vice president of UC Students for Life, Annmarie Condit. "An exploitation of women, and it is really, really disappointing that our university is allowing this."

In a letter given to UC President Santa Ono and Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, an attorney for UC Students For Life wrote, "the billboards are a clear violation of Ohio law," according to a press release. The name of the attorney was not released.

The attorney argues the groups are pandering obscenity, which is a felony offense. The attorney states even more laws could be violated if juveniles are exposed to the photos.

"All this display was going to do is promote a rape culture on campus. These pictures look at women the way a rapist would look at them," added Condit.

Ono said that the exhibit, although controversial, will stay up under First Amendment rights, according to a statement he released Wednesday.

"We are, first and always, an academic community where ideas and images, however complex or controversial, are carefully analyzed and debated," Ono said in the statement. "These intellectual exchanges, while invigorating, can also be challenging and at times polarizing, but at a university like ours they cannot be extinguished, for they are part and parcel of who we are and what we do.  Furthermore, as the Ohio Attorney General has reiterated, we are a public institution obligated to protect the First Amendment, even—perhaps especially—when that protection results in disagreement."

Ono added that the university will post signs indicating the provocative nature of the material. (To read Ono's full statement, go to http://www.uc.edu/president/communications/03-06-2013_statement-on-student-art.html .)

Despite the objections voiced by Condit to 9 On Your Side, the event drew no major protests Thursday afternoon, according to project organizers.

"It's been very, very calm, but we think that's a great thing," said Zachary Gray, president of UC LGBTQ Alliances.

The UC LGBTQ Alliances and UC Feminists say they expect students to have concerns and some students to be frustrated. The groups are providing a "safe space" for people to talk about their thoughts with trained volunteers.

As of Thursday morning, the "Re-Envisioning the Female Body" Facebook invite has had more than 600 people who say they will attend and support the message of the billboard. Some comments on the page are in support of the event, while others argue the billboards are nothing more than free pornography.

The billboards will be posted from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. through Friday on McMicken Commons on the UC campus.

WCPO reporter Scott Wegener contributed to this report.

For more information on the project, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/444063195640516 (NOTE GRAPHIC CONTENT.)

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