We’re all about free speech here in America. Well, kind of. So let me amend that: We like to think we’re all about free speech here in America. As a friend put it, “I’m proud to live in a country where Donald Trump can say the things he says, but I’m ashamed to live in a country that, after hearing those things, elected him president.”
But he is. President. As disgusting as that is. And he, like a lot of racists and bigots, says a lot of terrible things under the guise of “free speech.” But he, like many others with hateful ideologies, seems to think that his words don’t warrant scrutiny or consequences. But that’s not how this whole free-speech thing works.
Which brings me to Milo Yiannopoulos, who is, essentially, a professional hate tumor. He’s young, handsome, white and gay and says super-outrageous, hateful shit. And conservatives love him. College conservative groups love to invite him to come spew invective at their campuses across the country.
And that hasn’t been going very well lately. He was slated to speak at UC Berkley on Feb. 1 but protests, during which some protesters became violent, forced the school to cancel.
Now, if you’re a Republican, you’ll likely point to the violence (broken windows and fire at a Bank of America, for example) and dismiss the reason for the protest all together while also bemoaning the loss of respect for “free speech.”
But here’s the thing: “Free speech” doesn’t mean that organizations or institutions have to give you a platform to amplify your voice. Especially when you are basically a hateful dick sneeze.
You don’t have to do much digging to find racist and sexist shit Yiannopoulos has said. But a very good example is a speech he gave at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, in December 2016 when he showed the crowd the name and photo of a specific transgender student at the school and proceeded to mock her. “He got into the women’s room the way liberals always operate, using the government and the courts to weasel their way where they don’t belong,” Yiannopoulos said. He then declared that this student wasn’t succeeding in being a “passing tranny.”
“The way that you know he’s failing is I’d almost still bang him,” Yiannopoulos said, purposefully using the incorrect pronouns.
His argument, essentially, is that this student was a threat to women on campus because she was trans and used the same locker rooms. Not exactly a new argument from the right, but this time it was, literally, personal.
Imagine that you are this student for a minute. Well, actually, let’s look at her words: “I did not anticipate being specifically targeted and called out in the way he did. I hadn’t said anything or made even the slightest disruption: He had his harassment of me planned out well in advance,” she wrote in a letter to the school’s chancellor. “I have never, ever, ever been more terrified in my life of being outed. Ever.”
Nope. Free speech doesn’t mean that you get a free pass to terrorize a trans student on campus because you happen to have a “differing viewpoint” about whether her life is worth anything or not.
Free speech is a fundamental right, sure, but the fact that student conservative and Republican groups are paying Yiannopoulos to spew his fascist garbage says an awful lot about what it means to be a conservative Republican these days. And by the looks of the protests against not just Yiannopoulos but also against Trump, Americans will choose equality and justice over those who speak out against them.
D’Anne Witkowski is a poet, writer and comedian living in Michigan with her wife and son. She has been writing about LGBT politics for over a decade. Follow her on Twitter @MamaDWitkowski.