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!”