Not Another Milo/Free Speech Article!

By OFFICIAL LEWEB PHOTOS [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By OFFICIAL LEWEB PHOTOS [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

CN: Transphobia

I know, I know, you’re all sick and tired of hearing about that little shit Milo Yiannopoulos and his freeze peach. However, let me see if I can break it all down for you.

First let me clear something up: I don’t believe in banning people from speaking at colleges just because they’re controversial.

I’ll explain whether or not this applies to Milo in a second, but first I want to say that when it comes to your normal everyday “controversial” speaker like Christina Hoff Sommers or Dave Rubin, I don’t believe banning them from college campuses is the answer. It only fuels the whole “anti-free speech on campus” hysteria. Instead, I suggest attending their talks, fact checking all they have to say, then tell them why they’re wrong during Q&A. Sure, they might get defensive and mumble something about snowflakes, but it’s not really about getting them to change their minds; it’s more about changing the audience’s mind.

I actually saw a real life example of this not too long ago. I attended the Women in Secularism 4 conference back in September, and one of the speakers was Wendy Kaminer, who spoke about the whole Regressive Left Is Stifling Free Speech On Campus Thing. We all gave her a chance to speak (even though we all had resting bitch face), and then when it was time for Q&A, a few people got behind the mic. One woman said, “I’m a biracial bisexual college student, and you don’t know what I go through, so don’t tell me to get over it!” Kaminer then explained that all she meant was “making things less socially acceptable is better than legislating things.” (There’s some debate about whether or not this works, but for now I’ll just share this ACLU article that talks about it.)

Now here’s why Milo’s case is different.

This past December, Milo spoke at the University of Wisconsin where, at one point, he projected a picture of a transgender student along with her name on the big screen and then openly mocked her. He called her a “tranny,” said she was a man trying to get into a women’s bathroom, and ended the rant by saying, “I’d almost still bang him [sic].”

To me, that’s not a “free exchange of ideas.” That’s just flat-out bullying, and there should be consequences.

The funny part is even the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man says free speech has consequences. According to articles 10 and 11:

10. No one shall be disquieted on account of his opinions, including his religious views, provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law.

11. The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write, and print with freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law. [Emphasis mine]

Now here’s where things get tricky again: “established by law.”

While doing research for this blog post, I came across a Vice article about the trans student Milo attacked. Near the end of the article, there are two opposing viewpoints about whether or not Milo’s attack falls under the “abuse as defined by law” thing. First is ACLU senior staff attorney Lee Rowland who says:

“. . . when a visiting speaker chooses to use a speech to attack the identity of an audience member, he is the one who bears moral or legal responsibility for those words.” Trying to hold a university liable for that “would be a death knell for controversial speech on campus.”

On the other hand, National Women’s Law Center director of education Neena Chaudhry says:

Kramer could have a legal basis for arguing that the school should have intervened when Yiannopoulos began to target her directly. According to Chaudhry, the question at hand is when free speech crosses over into harassment. “There’s a legal obligation for schools to address such harassment, and that includes when it’s by a third party,” Chaudhry says.

To me it’s a case of harassment, but I know that I’m not a legal expert, so I could totally be wrong. (Maybe I’ll get Andrew Torrez on the Biskeptical Podcast to talk about it.) In the meantime, I suggest to everyone that if Milo’s coming to you town, email the Dean of your local college, remind him/her of Milo’s past, and say, “You want transphobia on your campus? ‘Cause that’s how you get transphobia on your campus!”


  1. Jeff Lowery says

    There’s free speech, and then there’s discourse. I fully support free speech, but believe that universities and other public forums should only be promoting discourse. Where to draw the line is subject to debate, but certainly there has to be, at a minimum, an honest attempt persuade through reasoned and consistent argument to qualify as discourse. Trolling is not discourse. If you want to call it “performance art”, then have at it. Label it as such. Cities and universities can choose what art they want.

  2. says

    His inalienable right to be a dipshit doesn’t mean that universities (or Twitter) have an obligation to give him platform. Or that students should have an obligation to listen to him. In fact, the very same rights that empower him to be a stupid son of a bitch also empower those students to protest his presence. His 1st amendment rights have never been trampled, he’s just a whiny shit.

    Having said that, I didn’t know he had targeted a specific trans student. That one changes everything.
    I’m pretty damned sure that that particular piece of idiocy is no longer protected under freedom of speech. Let alone bullying, I’ll eat my hat if that doesn’t qualify as harassment, and sexual harassment, at that.

    @1 Jeff Lowery
    Universities, being private enterprises have a right to decide what discourse they want to have presented in their campus, even shitty discourse. Students, being paying costumers, have a right to protest and boicot their universities’ dumbass decisions. All of that is fine and dandy.

    But what he did to that girl goes above and beyond those terms. It was sexual harassment. Had a student placed a picture of a classmate at assembly in front of everyone and said “I’d bang her” on a microphone, he’d likely face expulsion. Worse still, if it had been a professor talking about a student. Speakers cannot be above the rules of the places they go speak in.

    I haven’t checked, but I’d be willing to bet that there is an article somewhere in the University of Wisconsin rulebook that prohibits that exact kind of fucked up behavior. Even if there isn’t, sexual harassment is still a crime and Law>University Rules.

    There’s no need to categorize anything as “speech”, “discourse”, “performance art” or “trolling”. His hateful discourse can be tolerated or banned by private entities willing to take the heat for adopting either stance. He can be crass if he wants, he can be an idiot if he wants and stupid people with means can provide him platform to be an idiot publicly if they really have nothing better to do with their resources.

    What he cannot do is harass people. His comments about the trans student would still be criminal if he had said them in his blog, or on a megaphone just outside of school grounds, or literally anywhere outside of his own house or a private conversation with his friends.

  3. applehead says

    A Milo supporter shot and nearly murdered a peaceful protestor.

    Banning that shitheel Hassprediger is not an attack on free speech and discourse, it’s a defense against attack.

  4. says

    @3 applehead
    I really hope that the Dallas shootings are not used as an excuse to ban Black Lives Matter protests.

    Look, this is just like Obama and drones. You like the guy. You don’t mind that he’s absorbing more and more power. You know that he won’t abuse that power, because you trust him. Problem is, the very next president is an orange maniac who you very much don’t trust with that kind of firepower. You assume that the one wielding the weapon will always be on your side.

    If you set the precedent of banning discourse based on an affiliate doing something monstrous, you are placing the unwinnable bet that it will never happen to your discourse.

    Milo himself abused his speaker status to harass a young attendee, there is no need to take any other route about it. He should be charged for sexual harassment, and banned from speaking at universities, not because his discourse is like… super fucked up, but because he himself is a criminal and a danger to the student body.

  5. Siobhan says

    Actually the specifics of this debate are always what most hand-wringing liberals tend to neglect. Sure, we can have a philosophical discussion on the nature of freedom of speech. But why make it philosophical if you’re going to mention Milo Yiannopoulos, someone who has gone on record to use his platform to sexually harass someone? Suddenly Milo’s speech becomes a lot less defensible.

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