Amidst a statewide Texas push to cast parents of trans children as child abusers, a pair of fraternal twins heading up the Young Conservatives of Texas (YCT) are under fire for using student-group resources to push transphobic campaigns at their respective colleges.
The twins, Kelly and Jake Neidert, manage communications for YCT chapters at the University of North Texas and Baylor, respectively. Kelly, who has been at the center of several anti-trans controversies on her campus, faces growing calls from her fellow students to be expelled for allegedly making the environment inhospitable to trans students.
YCT first made national headlines back in October 2021 when the group’s chapter at the University of North Texas in Denton hosted Lance Johnston, a controversial millennial influencer associated with the white nationalist Groyper movement, whose presence on campus was met with a large protest. When protesters chanted Johnston was a Christian fascist, Johnston responded “What’s wrong with Christian fasicsm?” After the event, Kelly Neidert—who is YCT's campus director of communications at Denton—also described herself as a Christian fascist on Twitter.
Months later, Kelly posted a Tik Tok that went viral on February 16, 2022. The video shows a fellow student criticizing her for designing and printing flyers that read, “Criminalize Child Transitions.”
The controversy around the flyers caught the eye of Van Dyke, the former Proud Boys lawyer. In an interview on Feb. 20, Van Dyke mentioned he had been following the group as well as Kelly Neidert after learning she had allegedly received numerous threats due to her activism on campus, including after her Tik Tok went viral.
“I follow certain news stories for my own amusement locally,” Van Dyke said. “There’s a woman who I’ve been seeing getting some death threats about some flyers she printed up at University of North Texas. I’ll tell you what, if I can, if she wants my help, I’m going to help her find out who those people are, I’m going to get protective orders against them and they’re not going to be at UNT anymore. I’ll get them all kicked out.”
A Denton resident who asked not be named claimed to have seen a small group of YCT students, including Kelly, meeting with Van Dyke at a Thai restaurant in Denton in late February. On Feb. 25, Kelly tweeted, “Campus: riled, Lawyer: hired.”
Still, when asked directly whether he is representing Kelly Neidert and YCT, Van Dyke demurred. “I can’t answer that question,” he said.
Kelly Neidert told The Daily Beast, “[Van Dyke] is not performing any services for myself or YCT,” when asked if she or YCT had retained Van Dyke. But when asked whether she had recently spoken with or met with him to discuss the events at the University of North Texas, she did not respond.
Van Dyke’s desire to help a far-right student group is not out of character for him. Back in 2007, years after having been kicked out of Michigan State University for weapons charges, he lent legal aid to the now-infamous chairman of MSU Young Americans for Freedom, white nationalist lawyer Kyle Bristow. (Leading up to and after the tragedy in Charlottesville during the violent Unite the Right rally, Bristow helped construct a network of white nationalist lawyers around the country aimed at bringing white supremacists to speak on college campuses. He founded the now defunct Foundation for the Marketplace of Ideas, of which Van Dyke was named the Director of Legal Advocacy in 2016.) In 2007, MSU YAF became the first student group in the United States to be designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
With Bristow’s support, the MSU YAF chapter carried out strikingly similar tactics of activism and provocation as YCT is doing today at the University of North Texas. They chalked up sidewalks, distributed provocative flyers for events aimed at capturing undocumented students, and turned lecture halls into makeshift culture-war zones that required their escort by police through angry crowds.
Van Dyke also has his own record of making provocative anti-LGBT statements. Back when he was helping MSU YAF, he posted several homophobic statements and wished one reporter die of AIDS. When asked if these views inform his desire to support Neidert and YCT, he says his personal views don’t affect his current position to help the group. (Van Dyke has made his views on the issues clear on his own social media and expressed support and concern for YCT and Kelly Neidert on his Gettr page.)
YCT may not be a designated hate group, but some experts say their actions could be grounds for Title IX complaints from transgender students who view their statements—and the administration’s continued sanctioning of the student group—as fostering an inhospitable environment on campus.
A spokesperson from Campus Pride, an LGBTQ+ college student advocacy organization, noted that the organization encourages and supports filing Title IX complaints and these students are certainly within their rights to file recognizing the inhospitable, unsafe environment created in this case. “However, triggering a Title IX investigation toward a college campus requires meeting a high bar of evidence toward the campus, something which may prove difficult given a lack of direct actions by the campus as well as precedent in this situation,” the spokesperson said.
Title IX is a ruling that stems from a 1972 law that bars federally funded educational institutions from discriminating against students or employees based on sex—which can include the failure to act to prevent a pattern of harassment between students.
“Political leaders around the country, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, have put a target on transgender youth and their families,” says Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, executive director for the National Center for Transgender Equality. “They have sent a message that hateful, harassing behavior is acceptable. Transgender students have a right to an education without fear of harassment, discrimination and violence. These actions show, once again, how political posturing can put the health and well-being of real people at risk.”
But even if YCT’s actions at the University of North Texas don’t meet the high bar required for Title IX enforcement, there is reason to believe that they may run afoul of university policy, which explicitly prohibits “discrimination and harassment because of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, disability, genetic information, veteran status, or any other characteristic protected under applicable federal or state law.” Indeed, Campus Pride’s Index of LGBT friendly universities, which rates the University of North Texas 2.5 out of 5 stars, notes the school has anti-discrimination statements and an established procedure for reporting LGBTQ-related bias incidents and hate crimes.
For months, YCT chapters have put out a steady stream of anti-trans messaging, such as a March 7 tweet that reads, “Transgender people do not exist ‼️” They’ve also boosted the messaging of the YCT chapter at Baylor University, where Kelly’s fraternal twin brother, Jake Neidert, is also the director or communications. “Does the “G” in LGBT stand for “Grooms kids”?” reads a March 7 tweet from the Baylor group, which came under fire in 2020 for posting controversial tweets targeting the LGBT community. Both Kelly and Jake have also shared anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ views and memes on their personal social media accounts.
Most explosively, the YCT chapter in Denton held a March 2 event with Republican Texas state house candidate Jeff Younger, a man who lost custody of his own trans child and has based his campaign primarily around his desire to criminalize child transitions (an issue that is broadly a red herring given that medical transitions are not legally advised before the age of 18). During the event, Younger misgendered his own child, which garnered chants of “fuck you, fascist” from the crowd of disapproving students. After, Younger and Kelly Neidert were escorted by police out of the building and into a university police SUV, which then apparently struck a trans student protester before speeding away into the night. The injured protester was taken to a hospital, where police later took their statement and unfortunately misgendered the victim in initial reports. “Denton Police did respond to a local hospital last night to take a report from a complainant who reported [they had] been hit by a UNT Police Department vehicle during the protest on the campus of UNT,” said Frank Dixon, Chief of Denton Police. “A report was taken by Denton PD, and the case will be forwarded to another agency for investigation. Denton PD will not be involved in the investigation and would direct you to UNT PD for further information.”
The UNT Police Department did not respond to request for comment.
In a statement released after the event, University of North Texas Denton President Neal Smatresk framed the incident as a matter of “open discourse,” defended the right of the student group to hold such events on campus, asserted without evidence that outside agitators had been responsible for the the unrest, and downplayed the reports that a trans student had been hit by a police car as unconfirmed—despite the fact that a video, eyewitness statements, and a statement from the Denton Police Department had already emerged.
Smatresk did not respond to requests for comment regarding the incident and his subsequent statement, but he did appear at an anti-YCT protest last Thursday during which he said he “abhor[s] what YCT has said and done” and that the university will “take actions within the constraints of law and the constraints of the policy we have developed.”
Jesse Sanders, a student journalist who was in the room with Younger that evening, disputes Smatresk’s description of the event. “ What I saw was not open discourse,” Sanders said. “I saw a political candidate come to campus and lead a coordinated provocation of trans and gender nonconforming people at UNT.”
Right-wing media outlet Current Revolt was present to film the event and push it out with messages of ridicule: “UNT MASS STUDENT PSYCHOSIS” reads one post sharing a video of protesters shouting down Younger. The video made the rounds in rightwing media, which sought to cast Kelly Neidert and Younger as victims of a violent crowd, despite the fact that the only person confirmed injured was a trans student protester hit by a police vehicle.
But the effort to frame the narrative did not convince all conservative students on campus, if the Denton chairman of Young Americans for Freedom is a representative voice.
“It’s clear that Younger would rather antagonize than communicate his views,” said chairman Corbet Cox on Twitter. “Statesman [sic] are expected to behave with a measure of decorum, he obviously doesn't care. Their officers did nothing but fan the flames. Nothing there was Conservatism.”
Disapproval from fellow conservatives may prove to be the least of YCT’s concerns, however, as outraged students at the University of North Texas and their allies call for the administration to take action. A petition calling for Kelly Neidert’s expulsion from the university for violating student code of conduct has received over 18,000 signatures while students have created a document compiling her pattern of discriminatory statements, some of which have targeted specific students on campus.
“As a university we should certainly embrace discussing a variety of viewpoints,” says University of North Texas student Zoe Trejo, a student who attended a recent protest against YCT. “But there’s a difference between having that discussion and then someone having views that literally delegitimize somebody else’s existence.”