This article was originally published by the invaluable Campus Progress.

When his advisor told him that North Carolina State University’s LGBT Center had been vandalized, Paul Cash dropped his work to look at the damage. “Fags burn,” read the door in purple spray paint. “DIE,” said the center’s glass-covered billboard.

Cash, a 23-year-old second-semester senior and president of NCSU’s GLBT-CommUnity Alliance, was used to reading such sentiments in the university’s “free speech tunnel,” a cross-campus tunnel in which students can express feelings from the profound to the profane. But he hadn’t expected to see them targeting his community out in the open.

“My initial reaction was anger, of course, to think that someone would come over to our center to do that,” Cash told Campus Progress. “I don’t feel unsafe on campus … I wasn’t worried for myself. I was worried for the kids who had yet to come out of the closet.” 

But some of Cash’s initial worries were alleviated by a prompt community response. The NC State Student Government and other campus organizations approached center director Justine Hollingshead to plan a rally in support of LGBT students at the university.

Friday’s “State not Hate” rally, organized in just two days, drew more than 500 students, faculty, and staff members—as well as members of the broader North Carolina LGBT community. Provost Warwick Arden, Vice Chancellor Thomas Stafford, and other university figures spoke out about the importance of the center and the value of diversity on campus; Arden called the vandalism “a reprehensible act of hatred and intimidation.”

A petition rejecting the vandalism, which has circulated since the attack, received over 1,000 signatures by the end of the rally. Students wrote supportive messages on slips of paper for a “chain of hope,” held up at the end of the event to applause.

“I don’t know what the goal of the people who vandalized our center was,” Cash said. “But after that rally I’m sure they didn’t get what they wanted.”

The GLBT Center at NC State opened in 2008, serving a student population that identified as 3.15 percent of the student body in 2004. Campus officials said defacing state property is a crime, but they would not say if they were investigating the incident as a hate crime. 

Following the rally, members of the university community are treating the vandalism with some optimism. “[It’s] an opportunity for an increased level and enhanced level of dialog on the campus about our core values and about who we are as an institution,” Arden said. Cash shared the same hope. “[The rally] spoke volumes louder than a few spray-painted words,” he said.