April 8, 2023 • 11:15 am
This is what is known as a “viral” story, probably because it encapsulates the vitriol heaped upon those who don’t think that transgender women (especially those who have gone through male puberty) should participate in women’s sports. That happens to be a hot issue, at least among political people, both Left and Right.
People are of course free to express their opinion about this issue one way or another, but what you cannot do, at least at a state university, is disrupt and, yes, PHYSICALLY ATTACK someone expressing a view you don’t like.
So here we are back at San Francisco State University (SFSU), site of another fracas involving a professor who showed a painting of Muhammad (see my report here). SFSU must be a hotbed of The Intolerant Offended.
In this case we have two reports; the first one below is from CNN, the second from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE). Both report the same incident: Riley Gaines, a former college swimmer, gave a talk at SFSU in which she opposed allowing transgender women to compete in women’s sports. This time the reaction was violent: although I think she actually delivered the talk (through disruptions), she was physically attacked thereafter (as a “transphobe,” of course), and had to hide for several hours.
Click either screenshot to read.
Former NCAA swimmer Riley Gaines said she was assaulted Thursday on the campus of San Francisco State University.
“I was physically assaulted by one person. I was struck twice, both times hitting my shoulder with the second strike grazing my face,” Gaines told CNN’s Natasha Chen.“The rest of the protestors just ambushed and cornered me before I was able to move out with the help of campus police.”
A video Gaines posted from the event showed her moving quickly while surrounded by security officers. A protester can be heard shouting “trans rights are human rights,” but the video is shaky and does not appear to show an assault.
FIRE’s account, in which she apparently gave her talk, or at least most of it, but was disrupted:
Well, that wasn’t an exaggeration. Last night, protestors at San Francisco State University attempted to shout down and shut down a speaking event with former NCAA swimmer Riley Gaines. The school’s Turning Point USA chapter had invited Gaines to campus to talk about gender and sports, but she was met by an angry crowd chanting and screaming at her to leave.
While Gaines gave her speech, protestors continued to disrupt the event, drowning her out by stomping and yelling inside the room and in the hallway immediately outside while she spoke. After her speech, police attempted to escort Gaines to a secure location, but the crowd followed them out of the room and down the hallway, screaming and shouting until police locked Gaines in a secure room. Gaines reportedly remained trapped inside the room for almost three hours until the protestors dispersed and police escorted her out.
Here’s the video she tweeted and and then a news report:
The prisoners are running the asylum at SFSU...I was ambushed and physically hit twice by a man. This is proof that women need sex-protected spaces.— Riley Gaines (@Riley_Gaines_) April 7, 2023
Still only further assures me I'm doing something right. When they want you silent, speak louder. 🗣️ pic.twitter.com/uJW3x9RERf
A news report (from Fox News, of course) with more video:
Of course nobody was arrested; these hecklers are free to disrupt anybody anywhere, apparently. Here’s a bit more from CNN. The disruption was condemned by both a conservative and by a liberal organization.
Andrew Kolvet, a spokesperson for Turning Point USA [organizers of the event], said he spoke to three people who were in the room Thursday night.
He said they told him Gaines spoke to a room of people during the event, including individuals who disagreed with her viewpoint. According to those present, Kolvet said the conversation was constructive and polite, and that the disruption happened as the event was wrapping up.
Kolvet was not present Thursday evening but was in communication with Gaines via text while she was brought by campus police into a computer room during the incident, where they remained locked inside while protestors were at the door. . . .
. . . “We are conducting an ongoing investigation into the situation. There were no arrests related to the event,” the university police department said in a statement. “The disruption occurred after the conclusion of the event which made it necessary for UPD officers to move the event speaker from the room to a different, safe location.”
University police did not immediately respond to an inquiry by CNN on the nature of “the disruption” and whether the investigation is related to the alleged assault.
Gaines tied transgender swimmer Lia Thomas for fifth place in the women’s 200-meter freestyle final at the 2022 NCAA swimming and diving championships and has been vocal about her opposition to the inclusion of trans women in women’s swimming.
“This is an appalling attack on free speech on a college campus,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said on Twitter. “House Republicans stand with Riley Gaines and her brave and tireless efforts to protect women’s sports.”
PEN America, a literary and free expression advocacy organization, called the incident a “disaster.”
“Physical intimidation or violence is never an acceptable response to speech, no matter how hateful or controversial that speech may be,” said Kristen Shahverdian, PEN America’s senior manager in free expression and education.
And from FIRE:
SFSU must, in fact, investigate the disruption of last night’s event and determine whether the administration and campus security took appropriate action to satisfy the university’s duty to ensure protected speech and expressive events can occur on campus, and whether they had any role in fomenting or sustaining the disruption.
This latest incident at SFSU illustrates a broader trend of students shouting down speakers with whom they disagree. We saw similar shout-downs on Tuesday at UAlbany and at Stanford Law School last month.
To be clear, the heckler’s veto — substantial disruption of expressive events — is not protected speech. The students who protested outside the event without disrupting it engaged in First Amendment protected activity. But those who stomped and yelled during Gaines’ appearance in an attempt to drown her out, or accosted her in the halls to intimidate her, did not.
If you want to send either a pre-written message or your own message to the President of SFSU, click on the box below, which you can use to send an email. I’ve already done so (the form is at the bottom of the linked page):
This is what I wrote:
Dear President Lynn Mahoney:
This is the second time in two weeks that SFSU has been the venue for illiberal protests against reasonable views (the first incident involved the showing a picture of Muhammad, which you are illegally “investigating,” and now we have a physical attack on swimmer Riley Gaines. Apparently nobody was detained after physically attacking Gaines, even though this was clearly illegal assault.
SFSU needs to educate its students about the First Amendment and the proper way to oppose speech without disrupting it. Otherwise, like Hamline University, you’re going to get a terrible national reputation. I would suggest that students who attack others be arrested, and that you start taking concrete steps to educate people about free speech and then enforce the rules you have (you ARE a state institution). Oh, and please drop the “investigation” of professor Maziar Behrooz, which is unconscionable. You surely know that he did nothing wrong.
Dept. Ecology & Evolution
The University of Chicago
What is sad about this is that the question of how transgender people can participate in sport is going to become an increasingly important question over time given the huge rise in transitioning, so we need to have a discussion about it NOW, before these problems become quite frequent. The discussion needs to involve science (what criteria do we use to determine eligibility?), philosophy, and ethics (how do you balance fairness towards transgender athletes with fairness towards women?) Cisgender men are involved as well, but to a lesser extent.
It’s a shame that nobody can discuss this civilly—at least nobody calling for bans or caution—without being slurred as a “transphobe” or even without being physically attacked.
Women like Gaines who have to swim against biological men who identify as women have a special right to express their views and to be heard, as they are the ones who feel the unfairness on the “cis” side. But no, that’s not in the card: people like Gaines, Martina Navratilova, and J. K. Rowling are the ones deemed most reprehensible.
So it goes.