The Guardian report that the LGBT officer for the National Union of Students (NUS), Fran Cowling, declined to share a platform with Peter Tatchell at an upcoming talk on the subject of ‘re-radicalising queers’. The first I heard of this was from various social media posts from people outraged that Peter Tatchell, of all people, had been no-platformed. This wasn’t the case though as he hasn’t been denied a platform and Cowling has simply stated in correspondence with the event organisers that she would not share a platform with him.
Cowling claims that Tachell is transphobic and this is her reason for this decision – a claim that Tachell says he has asked her to back up with evidence which she has not done.
NUS student leader denounces me as racist & transphobic. Refuses to provide evidence. Won’t speak unless I’m dropped https://t.co/vGmE95MaEm
— Peter Tatchell (@PeterTatchell) February 14, 2016
Refusing to share a platform with someone you disagree with is the easy way out and achieves less that confronting what you believe to be bad or false information with good information and evidence. That said, we are all entitled to be able to choose our responses. If anything, Cowling has no-platformed herself here, and has denied herself a voice which is an interesting choice to make.
It could be argued that refusing to share a platform with someone is a demand that they not be allowed to talk, but unless Tatchell is refused a platform as a result of this it isn’t equal to being denied a platform as people such as Kate Smurthwaite, Julie Bindel, and others have experienced recently – often for the protection of so-called safe spaces at universities. Such actions are in direct conflict with the safeguarding of free speech. They are forms of censorship and in a world where people are being murdered for expressing dissenting opinions it is vital that such censoring actions be challenged and that free expression isn’t silenced by a minority who would seek to not hear an opinion they do not agree with- whether feminists offended by alleged transphobia or muslims offended by atheists.
But in the process of defending freedom of speech we must ensure that we do not paint targets on the backs of those who are not attempting to censor others for fear of building Straw Men when in reality there are enough enemies of reason out there already happily censoring others.