A controversial right-wing figure linked to hate speech against various groups is expected to speak on the Penn State campus next week, drawing widespread condemnation from both the student body and university leaders.
Political commentator Milo Yiannopoulos – whom the Anti-Defamation League described as “a misogynistic, racist, xenophobic, transphobic troll” – will speak on November 3 at 101 Thomas Building on “Freedom of speech, faith, conversion therapy, hairstyling and more” according to the event’s web page. In a written statement, university officials explained that they were opposed to the event but could not stop it due to the First Amendment.
The slogan of the event is “Pray the gays away” and is hosted by the Uncensored America student group, which was established last year.
“(Yiannopoulos’) past presentations on college campuses across the country have been contrary to Penn State’s values, and we share the deep dismay others have already expressed in response to his upcoming appearance here,” read a joint statement Monday evening from three university officials to Steve Dunham, vice president and general counsel; Damon Sims, vice president for student affairs; and Marcus Whitehurst, vice-president, equity in education.
The statement continued: “Yet, as offensive and offensive as Yiannopoulos’ comments were and still are likely to be, and despite our own aversion to such statements and the promotional tactics used, Uncensored America has the unmistakable constitutional right to sponsor this presentation on our campus, the university is not allowed to do anything to stop it.
Yiannopoulos, former editor of the far-right media outlet Breitbart News, is no stranger to the controversy. He was permanently banned from Twitter in 2016 after calling black comedian / actress Leslie Jones a man and a monkey, while mounting an abusive campaign against her. He was also banned from Facebook and Instagram a year later after platforms tagged him. “dangerous” for its promotion of hate speech and / or violence.
He was forced to resign from Breitbart in 2017 over remarks that appeared to condone sex between older men and boys as young as 13. (The Conservative Union of America has canceled its invitation to speak to CPAC on the controversy.)
He now hopes to open a “Conversion therapy” in Florida, which seeks to change a person’s gender orientation or gender identity. Conversion therapy is banned in 14 states, while dozens of national organizations – like the American Medical Association – have denounced such practices.
In a joint statement on Tuesday, the University Park undergraduate student government and two LGBTQ groups “strongly condemned” The appearance of Yiannopoulos, claiming that it promotes homophobia on campus.
“Bigotry and discrimination have no place at Penn State, and the university must take action to combat hate speech and protect the LGBTQIA + community.” the statement read, before continuing later, “The presence (of Yiannopoulos) poses a threat to students on campus, and the university should treat it as such.”
The statement, which called for the event to be canceled, was signed by undergraduate government president Erin Boas and vice president Najee Rodriguez; Lion PRIDE Co-Chairs Josh Bannon and Cydney Howard; and Celeste Good, president of Queer and Trans People of Color.
Uncensored America, the student group that hosted the event, told CDT in a written statement that they invited Yiannopoulos because he is the “Ultimate martyr of freedom of expression”.
“The reaction to our event – with many requests from Penn State canceling it simply because they don’t like Milo – proves that we don’t live in an environment where people can really talk freely,” the statement read. “We don’t live in a country where we can have an open conversation without fear of intimidation or censorship. We cannot grow up and live in a better nation if we are not willing to discuss any issue from all sides. “
In a separate statement sent to the CDT, Bannon and Howard of Lion PRIDE wrote that they understood the university was limited in what it could do due to the protection of free speech – but they commended them. Penn State officials for speaking out. They also said they are currently working with PSU staff. “Ensure the safety of all students, especially those who are part of the LGBTQ + community”.
Lion PRIDE and other organizations also announced a “Spread love, not hate” event the same evening as Yiannopoulos’ speech. This event will take place at Heritage Hall from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., while the speech will begin at 8 p.m.