Following the decision to prohibit Julie Bindel from speaking at an event hosted by the University of Manchester Free Speech and Secular Society, the Students’ Union Executive Team have now moved to ban men’s rights activist Milo Yiannapoulos, who was originally scheduled to debate alongside her.
Bindel and Yiannapoulos were both booked to speak at a debate entitled “From liberation to censorship: Does modern feminism have a problem with free speech?” to take place on the 15th of October.
In their initial statement the Students’ Union Executive Team rejected Bindel on the grounds that her appearance would be “potentially in breach of [the] safe space policy.”
Yiannopoulos was, however, initially permitted to attend, albeit under the conditions the event had increased security levels and was ticketed.
In a comment on the Manchester Students’ Union Facebook page to this original decision Yiannopoulos wrote, “I’m astonished that I wasn’t outright banned as well. I’ll have to up my game!”
Women’s Officer Jess Lishak posted an extended explanation in a blog post—since removed due to developments in this situation—to her official Facebook page. In this she described Bindel as a “famous transphobe,” and Yiannopoulos as a “professional misogynist.”
Since this, however, the Union has said that they have been made aware of new information and evidence regarding Yiannopoulos and have amended their original statement after seeking legal advice.
In an update to their original announcement, the Union stated: “Further to our previous decision to ban Julie Bindel from speaking on campus, we are extending this decision to Milo Yiannopoulos.
“We have been made aware of various comments lambasting rape survivors and trans* people, and as such we are concerned for the safety of our students on the topic of this event. He is a rape apologist and has repeatedly used derogatory and debasing ableist language when describing members of the trans* community.
“This undermines the principles of liberation enshrined in the Students’ Union, as outlined in the Safe Space policy. We believe these views could incite hatred against both trans* people and women who have experienced sexual violence. As we believe it is probable these views would be aired in this discussion should he be allowed to speak on campus, we have no choice but to ban him.
“As we made clear to the society, this means that this event with the proposed speakers will not be going ahead under the banner of the Students’ Union, with our support or using our resources.”
Yiannopoulos posted an article to his own blog last year titled “Transgenderism is a psychiatric disorder: Its sufferers need therapy, not surgery”.
Responding to the news, Yiannapoulos told The Mancunion: “I’m a provocateur and it’s always going to be easy for uptight, censorious types to misrepresent my tweets, jokes and column-writing as ‘hateful.’
“And I know how badly I get under the skin of authoritarian finger-waggers, so I’m not surprised to have been banned. But I’m shocked that Julie Bindel is still getting this eleven years after a column she has apologised for many times.
“I make no apologies for questioning bullshit rape statistics and setting out my views on better treatment pathways for transgender patients. That I do so in strong and occasionally waspish language is irrelevant.
“Indeed, the whole point of the debate was to consider whether feminism has a problem with unfettered speech. I think now we know.”
The Free Speech and Secular Society posted an official statement to its blog on Thursday, stating: “First, the University of Manchester Student’s Union banned Julie Bindel for views she has expressed on trans people in the past. After ourselves and numerous other students pointed out the inconsistency, the SU announce that they are also banning Milo Yiannopoulos.
“We object to this illiberal banning of both Julie Bindel and Milo Yiannopoulos. We do not endorse the views of either of the speakers but merely wish to hear them speak and challenge them on what they say. While both speakers have said things one might disagree with, they do not incite to violence and do not pose a danger to students.
“We reject the ban of Milo Yiannopoulos on the following grounds:
“1) He has notoriously questioned the efficacy of surgical gender reassignment therapy. As much as this view may be considered offensive or dangerous by some, it is in no way “hate speech” or advocacy of violence.
“2) He rejects the epithet of “rape apologist”. At no point in his literature he has justified such action.
“3) People who find his views questionable could reasonably avoid hearing them. Under the restrictions imposed by the SU, it would, in fact, be much harder to listen to him than to avoid to listen to him.
Julie Bindel also tweeted, directly to the Union: “I am going to fight you in this. You are the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Talks are ongoing between the Executive and the Free Speech and Secular Society about this situation.
The University of Manchester LGBTQ+ Society have fully back the Union’s decision. “We understand the importance of free speech and debate within a university. The main concern, however, was the welfare of transgender students, given that both Yiannopoulos and Bindel had written extremely dehumanising statements about transgender people (particularly trans women).
“Upon asking transgender members of our society what their view was, we received overwhelming support for the Students’ Union’s decision not to use university resources or premises to invite people who had made such statements. We have spoken to the chair of the Free Speech and Secular Society about issues regarding the effects of transphobia on trans students, and we feel that he has been made aware how these views can lead to, for example, higher suicide rates for transgender people.
“According to a survey by Pace, a LGBTQ+ mental health charity, 48 per cent of trans people in the UK under the age of 26 have attempted suicide, a figure exacerbated by high rates of harassment. We feel that the welfare of transgender students is a top priority for the society given these statistics, and hope that we are able to ensure a safe environment.”