Peter Tatchell cannot win. Accused of being a racist and transphobic, he challenged the assertion. It was made by another invited speaker, Fran Cowling, due to attend the same debate at Canterbury Christ Church. Cowling wrote his speaking invitation should be withdrawn for her to attend. Tatchell loses because as a well known activist and media personality, it was his "white male privilege" to use his own platform to "punch down" on a female NUS student official on LGBT issues, and use the issue to build up his career further.
That a largely unknown person may have been trying their own zero sum game to increase their profile in their little pond by taking on a bigger fish is struck down apparently because she is now the "victim" as people critique her. Tatchell cannot be a victim of baseless accusations, because of his "privilege." There are not enough scare quotes for this Alice through the looking glass of language and obfuscation - and if we go any deeper we might never get out of this warren. Yet we must, including getting past those that insist asking someone to be denied a platform is not to no platform them.
Welcome to the no platform game. To assert free speech defenders are in league with violence, discrimination and hatred. As Tatchell thinks homophobic and transphobic people should be publicly debated to challenge their ideas, and also to help change minds on issues, he is a danger to others.
Therefore to confront bigotry by keeping it as far away as possible from everyone so you do not have to. With fingers in ears, and eyes wide shut, you too can have a bubble where the only ideas you encounter are your own and triggering can be kept to a minimum. Extend that bubble as far as you can to make the world a safe space for all who agree with you.
Start calling statues, of long since dead men on campus, violence on the living. If it was a Weeping Angel they might have a point about Rhodes, but it showed how far people must make themselves victim by language. There is a common denominator in all these debates - honour. To allow some to speak is to honour them at a university. As such, some people should never be honoured by such gravitas but treated as pariahs. Those that do promote violence against gay people most free speech campaigners would agree should be denied; Tatchell's record against such extremist speakers entering the country is there to be seen.
It is legitimate to question who is invited to speak at a University, but this is being used by activists to prevent the very debate that is needed to counter wrong ideas and to change minds. To sharpen arguments in the fire of debate.
Free speech is about allowing a real safe space for us to challenge each other's ideas and opinions. It is about trusting that good ideas will win out over bad ideas as long as bad ideas can be scrutinised. Some are trying to win that debate by preventing one going ahead.
We need to signal not just what we are against, but that we have the ideas and people to debate and take them on. Peter Tatchell has a platform, it is raised by those he has challenged and taken on at risk to himself and his own liberty.
That is what makes the officials running the NUS a laughing stock, full of cowards and charlatan activists in comparison. One can only hope the student body wakes up to this and starts to change the leadership.
Article originally written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus' Weblog