Lynn Raridon knows what it’s like to fight Texas law. During her decades as owner of the adult store Forbidden Fruit, in Austin, Ms. Raridon has faced legal trouble — including a raid by the city’s Vice Unit — for selling obscene devices.
Until 2008 it was illegal in Texas to sell or promote sex objects such as dildos and fake vaginas. The store’s legal problems and Texas’ law, Ms. Raridon said, attracted a film crew to document Forbidden Fruit’s story, eventually producing Dildo Diaries.
"In Texas, guns were legal but dildos were not," she said.
A similar scenario is playing out this year at the University of Texas at Austin, where, because of the state’s new campus-carry law, university rules allow students with permits to carry concealed guns, but prohibit the display of dildos, sex toys that resemble penises.
In protest, on Wednesday afternoon, the first day of classes, many Austin students strapped dildos to their backpacks. Their aim? To "fight absurdity with absurdity." The protest was dubbed "Cocks Not Glocks," after a popular brand of handgun.
Ever since the state ban on sex objects was overturned, Forbidden Fruit has made its mission not just the sale of sex toys but the destigmatization of sex and sexuality, Ms. Raridon said.
That’s why this week, she’s lending a hand to the university protesters. Ms. Raridon has donated dildos for the protests, and Forbidden Fruit has stocked a shelf of dildos for Austin students with a 50-percent discount, she said.
And she’s not the only one. Shannon Molina, who manages social-media marketing for the Dreamers adult store, said that when she heard about the event, she jumped at the opportunity to help the protesters and fulfill the store’s sex-positive and sex-education mission.
"What we saw in this is being able to destigmatize sexuality," Ms. Molina said. "I post for our social-media page, and I find it very hard to engage people about sex when it’s something that’s commonplace. It’s the norm, as opposed to guns being carried in the classroom."
The store’s vendors sent Dreamers free dildos to use for the event, Ms. Molina said. Since then students have come to the store for free dildos after showing their student IDs. About 1,000 dildos were distributed as of Tuesday, she said.
Dreamers employees, who will also attend the rally to hand out dildos, stored other sex shops’ merchandise in their warehouse before the event, Ms. Molina said.
Since Dreamers has a location near the campus, Ms. Molina said she hopes it will not only benefit the protests but also encourage students to walk into the store and ask questions about sexual health and wellness.
In the same vein, Antony Gatto, manager of the adult store AAAnews, said he hopes his store’s donation of dildos would give students the extra nudge they may need to become his customers.
Young people typically purchase sex toys online, he said, and consequently don’t benefit from buying at a store where they can ask questions of trained staff members, get a better sense of the choices, and support a local business.
"Part of the promotion that I was doing here was more of trying to get people to choose their own," Mr. Gatto said.
Connie Ybarra, owner of Naughty Cakes, a bakery specializing in sexual images, donated cupcakes topped with frosting and black and white penises. After hearing about the campus-carry law, Ms. Ybarra said, she felt nervous for the Austin students, and worried that many talented young people would be too fearful to enroll. She hopes the protests pave the way for the campus-carry law to be overturned.
But campus-carry will be the law for the foreseeable future. Elyse Avina, a senior majoring in rhetoric and writing and president of Students Against Campus Carry, said the Cocks Not Glocks event gives students and community members an inventive way to speak out against guns on the campus.
During the legislative session at which the law was passed, Ms. Avina said, many students felt as if they had been left out, and this protest sends a clear message.
Even advocates of the campus-carry law seemed to support the protest. In a news release headlined "Students for Concealed Carry Embraces UT Dildos," the group said it endorsed protesters who wanted to openly carry dildos on the campus.
"If carrying a phallus to class helps you express yourself, go for it. We welcome this demonstration that freedom of speech and concealed carry of handguns can coexist on the same campus," the release said.
While it’s against university rules for students to display sexual objects, such as fake penises and vaginas, the protest has been cleared by Austin officials.
Now it’s up to the students to keep the momentum going and stay with the spirit of the protest, Ms. Avina said.
"We wanted to give students a fun and creative outlet to voice their opinions," she said. "It’s meant to have students think about what’s going on at their university."
Correction (8/24/2016, 3:26 p.m.): This article originally misstated the university rule on dildos and other sexual objects. Students are forbidden to display them, not to own them. The article has been updated accordingly.