Peter Tatchell, no platform, and an abuse of power

I just walked out of a talk by Peter Tatchell at the LGBT History Conference in Manchester. He was talking about colonialism, and I was hoping to ask him some uncomfortable questions about his own colonial attitude to working with LGBT groups in the global south (many prominent LGBT African activists refuse to work with him because he is so paternalistic), and about his views that many people consider islamophobic*. Unfortunately I didnt get that far, because he started off his talk with a lengthy discussion of the recent transphobia scandal he has been embroiled in, and how trans people were making him so anxious because they have been tweeting about the open letter. As one of the few openly and visibly trans people in the room, I felt eyes shift to me, and I got up and left.

Peter Tatchell had recently signed an open letter to the Guardian condemning student’s unions no platforming trans- and sex worker- exclusionary feminists such as Julie Bindel. The letter is littered with mistruths of recent “no platforming” scandals, such as suggesting that the comedienne Kate Smurfwaite being cancelled by Goldsmiths uni comedy society has more to do with institutionalised silencing of feminists than the fact they only managed to sell 8 tickets. This and the other claims of the letter are quite successfully debunked by Sarah Brown’s blog on the matter.

For students unions and societies, no platform is literally the equivalent of saying “hey, we arent going to invite you to speak, and we’re not going to speak at the same event as you”. This is not a free speech issue, no-one is stopping Julie Bindel et al. from speaking in general, they literally are just not inviting her to speak at events in their own building. Its like me turning up to a complete strangers houseparty and being offended that I wasnt invited. No-one owes anyone an invitation or a platform.

Most of the people signing that letter are academics or activists who frequently get platforms to speak at conferences and events in universities and students unions, and no doubt found it easy to get their open letter in one of the countries largest newspapers. As people who are familiar with the university world, all of the signatories will know the difference between students unions and the university itself. Yet the letter seems to imply that its the university institutions who are silencing feminist critique, rather than the student body organising to make universities a safer space for students who are trans or engage in sex work. This is a convenient way of implying that trans people have a lot more power than we actually do.

Tatchell had been invited to speak at two sessions across the weekend of the LGBT history conference.  Across the whole conference, the T seemed to fall off end of the acronym a fair bit and very few sessions seemed to address trans history. Tatchell decided to use his platform at the conference to talk about how trans people, by tweeting about the letter, were making him anxious. He positioned himself as a defender of free speech, against a hoard of nasty trans people. But the thing is, Peter, free speech works both ways. It applies just as equally to our tweets as it does about your access national newspapers or big conferences.

*I would word this more strongly but unfortunately Peter Tatchell is notoriously litigious. He loves free speech, that guy.

– Jess Bradley


2 Replies to “Peter Tatchell, no platform, and an abuse of power”

  1. It’s really sad how activists like Peter Tachell and most of the signers of the “free speech” letter don’t seem to have even a rudimentary understanding of the concept of free speech.

    Freedom of speech covers your right to express your beliefs without government interference or reprisal.

    That’s ALL.

    It doesn’t stop business from blocking individuals from speaking. It doesn’t stop universities from refusing to invite certain individuals from speaking. It doesn’t even stop Twitter or Tumblr from suspending your account if you say something really out of line.

    What I find truly disgusting is, if you were to Google “Peter Tatchell transphobia”, you get EIGHT articles about Peter, painting him as a victim, because trans people had the unmitigated gall to be upset that he basically signed a letter defending the right of transphobes. And that’s just on the FIRST page of the search.

    THINK about that for a moment. Peter is basically on a ton of platforms, all complaining about how he’s been “no-platformed”. Seems like your free speech is WELL protected, Peter.

    Peter likes to claim he’s an advocate and ally of trans people. But being an ally doesn’t give him a free pass when he messes up. And he DID mess up. So now, claiming the marginalized minority he just stepped on is “bullying” him is not just sad, but wrong too. Trans people don’t have the power to “bully” him, or anybody for that matter. But he’s sure busy smearing us everywhere he goes.

    Perhaps he should have done some research into the LONG history of abuse trans people have faced at the hands of TERFs. Maybe he wouldn’t have signed that letter. But even still, not KNOWING that history proves he never felt we warranted his doing deeper research. Which doesn’t make him much of an ally.

    Here’s the thing: in 2015, trans people’s existence is no longer a subject for “debate”. The AMA, the APA and WPATH all make it clear that trans people exist, our gender identities are INDEED real, and we’re not ‘confused, mentally ill people”. Science proves more and more every day that gender is FAR more complex than just what’s between your legs, or what chromosomes you have. We’re DONE “debating” people about it.

    And if you’re a “feminist” who makes a living from trying to push the idea that trans peoples identities are still something to be “challenged”, then I suggest you look for another job.

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