A veteran LGBT human rights activist has fallen victim to the growing trend of campus activists refusing to debate issues with those they don’t agree with.
Peter Tatchell, who has been at the forefront of LGBT rights in the UK for five decades, has been dubbed “racist” and a “transphobe” by Fran Cowling, the LGBT Officer for the National Union of Students.
Tatchell and Cowling were invited to take part in a public discussion at Canterbury Christ Church University this week on the topic of “re-radicalising queers”.
Cowling however, refused to speak at the event unless Tatchell was disinvited, a strategy known as “no-platforming”; pressuring organisers of events to block speakers who are deemed “unacceptable”.
According to Tatchell, when he asked Cowling for evidence of her claims against him, “she suddenly went silent”.
He told LBC Radio: “Despite repeated requests by me and others to provide the evidence that I am a racist and transphobe, she is refusing to do so.”
Tatchell has previously come under fire from some activists for his support of freedom of speech even when it offends and makes people unconformable. He’s previously backed the right of feminist Germaine Greer to speak at events despite her controversial views on transgender women.
He also recently backed the right of a Belfast bakery to refuse to bake a cake for a customer that included a message supporting same-sex marriage.
Tatchell has explained that he has never endorsed the views of Greer or the bakery. “I’m on record as opposing them. I’ve challenged them, I’ve criticised them, I’ve condemned them,” he said.
Tatchell went on to say, however, that “even if I disagree with someone… I defend their right to free speech, unless they are inciting violence… “
He added: “The best way to defeat them is by engaging in rational arguments.”
Tatchell told the Observer that the situation was an example of “a witch-hunting, accusatory atmosphere” that threatens “open debate on some university campuses”.
“I’m prepared to share a platform with people I profoundly disagree with, precisely in order to challenge and expose them,” he said.
Writing on Twitter, Tatchell commented: “I support #feminism AND #trans rights. I also support #FreeSpeech AND protests against misogynists, racists & transphobes. Stop ALL hate.”