Peer disinvited from university debating society over support for Ricky Gervais trans joke
A peer has been disinvited from a university debating society over her support for a transgender joke made by Ricky Gervais.
Baroness Claire Fox, the founder of the Institute of Ideas free speech think tank, was invited to Royal Holloway, University of London, to speak to students about the importance of discussion.
But the university’s debating society claimed it was “strong armed” and “bullied” into cancelling the talk by Royal Holloway’s students’ union (RHSU).
The latest no-platforming row to flare on British campuses comes as Baroness Fox is to fight a Lords amendment on Tuesday to soften a legal tort in the upcoming Higher Education (Free Speech) Bill which will allow cancelled speakers to seek compensation.
She plans to mention the Royal Holloway row as a reason to keep the measure in the Bill.
In an email seen by The Telegraph, Maia Jarvis, RHSU’s president, flagged to the society how “Claire Fox re-tweets and praises this video of Ricky Gervais being overtly transphobic”.
The tweet she cited was a 60-second clip of a stand-up routine, in which the comedian joked about “the old fashioned women, you know, the ones with wombs” and “the new ones we’ve been seeing lately with beards and c----”.
Baroness Fox, a non-affiliated life peer, had tweeted her support for how the video “skewered ... trans-identity ideology”, adding: “I laughed. Kudos to @rickygervais for this.”
Ms Jarvis added in her email to the society: “I wonder if you have thought about the impact of bringing a person who is an advocate for hate towards trans people and publicly ridicules them.”
Six other student societies also wrote to students’ union chiefs demanding the Feb 23 talk be cancelled because of “transphobic views”.
It prompted Adam Ryan-Self, the debating society president, to axe the event because of “repeated attempts from the Students’ Union to cancel the event”, hitting out at officials “censoring those that do not align with their [often Left] ideology”.
Mr Ryan-Self told Baroness Fox: “After back and forth with the SU, it seems that they will find any way to make your visit onto campus an issue of student safety and wellbeing. I see it as nothing less than bullying.”
Baroness Fox told The Telegraph the society was “bullied into cancelling” which was “based on the false allegation that my gender-critical views are in any way anti-trans people or a threat to trans student's safety, a malicious slur”.
She added: “This is why new legislation needs teeth, so students denied their right to invite guest speakers, hear dissenting views, make academic freedom a reality not a box to tick, need to know they have tort as an option.”
Prof Julie Sanders, the principal of Royal Holloway, claimed in a letter last week to the Free Speech Union – who protested – that the event could not “safely” proceed without security measures for “wellbeing considerations”, but Baroness Fox accused her of “gaslighting” and “victim-blaming” the debating society.
Royal Holloway students’ union said societies were “given as much autonomy and freedom to operate as possible” but “the health and wellbeing of our members is our first priority at all times”.
A spokesman added: “We are supportive of the decision to cancel the event in order to safeguard our transgender community, and will always seek to protect the safety of marginalised people on campus.”