Coffee House

Peter Tatchell has discovered just how cowardly the NUS can be

15 February 2016

2:45 PM

15 February 2016

2:45 PM

Taking petulance to dizzy new heights, the LGBT officer of the National Union of Students has refused to share a platform with Peter Tatchell because she doesn’t like some of his views. Yes, the self-styled spokesperson for gay students is snubbing a man who has spent 40-odd years agitating for gay rights. Tatchell has been denounced, defamed and duffed-up in his struggle to give gay people a voice, and how do radical young gay people choose to use that voice? To bitch about him. To insult the man who helped secure their liberation. It’s ungratefulness of oceangoing proportions.

Fran Cowling, the NUS bureaucrat, pulled out of a panel debate with Tatchell on the basis that he is transphobic and racist. He isn’t, of course. These are simply the McCarthyite slurs of a cranky student leadership that polices language with cult-like vigour and refuses to tolerate anyone who doesn’t 100 percent subscribe to its weird worldview. Disagree with the NUS on trans stuff or Islam? You’re a bigot who must be No Platformed, a fancy phrase for cast out. As Tatchell says, the defamation of him as racist and transphobic speaks to the ‘witch-hunting, accusatory atmosphere’ that has taken hold on campuses.

Tatchell’s crime in the eyes of the student enforcers of correct moral thought is to have backed freedom of speech. He signed a letter that was published in the Observer a year ago today, which criticised the No Platforming of feminists who question the politics of transgenderism. It’s wrong to brand these people ‘transphobic’ and to treat them as moral reprobates, the letter said. And for signing the letter, Tatchell is now branded transphobic and treated as a moral reprobate.

That NUS officials will rage against and libel someone for defending ‘the basic principle of democratic political exchange’ tells you how scarily undemocratic and illiberal they have become, how far beyond repair their moral compasses are. Back free speech and they’ll seek to censor you. It’s Kafkaesque.


Some say Tatchell hasn’t officially been No Platformed, and that’s true. But do not underestimate the chilling effect on freedom of speech of slurring someone as racist, or the censorious intent of leading NUS officials who refuse to rub shoulders with people who hold the ‘wrong views’.

The aim of such cowardly, insidious behaviour is to paint certain individuals as moral wretches, beyond civilised engagement. And if even someone of Tatchell’s stature can be treated as a moral leper by NUS bigwigs, what hope do ordinary students who are ‘problematic’ have? They’ll have learnt an important lesson through the Tatchell scandal and other recent acts of intolerance: go against NUS diktat and you will be demonised,  branded Islamophobic or transphobic or some other bad thing.

And remember that in the 21st century such slurs live forever, online. What student will want to be known as prejudiced scum for the rest of his or her life? Better to stay schtum than risk being painted with a big red P for Phobic by the morality cops of the NUS. Yes, the Tatchell panel debate will go ahead — tonight, at Canterbury Christ Church University — but the LGBT officer’s censorious flounce will still have the chilling impact it is designed to have.

The turn against Tatchell speaks to a worrying trend among today’s young radicals: fury with the very people who fought to make their lives freer and easier.

At Cardiff University, feminist students tried to get Germaine Greer banned on the basis that she’s ‘transphobic’. At the University of Oregon, the student union seriously considered scrubbing Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ quote from the campus walls on the grounds that it focuses only on skin colour, and ‘diversity is so much more than race’. Radicals on other American campuses argue that MLK’s ‘colour-blindness’ — his dream of a nation where people would be judged by their character rather than their colour — negates people’s racial experiences. And now Tatchell, warrior for gay liberation, is snubbed by liberated gay people.

This Veruca Salt-style revolt against late 20th-century liberators, this sullen, thankless turn by radical young women, gay people and black people against those who devoted their lives to fighting for women, gay people and black people, reveals how poisonous the politics of identity has become.

Where late 20th-century warriors for civil rights basically argued for the right of people to be free and equal regardless of their gender, sexuality or race — that is, they wanted identity demoted — today’s identitarians prefer to obsess over people’s natural characteristics and sexual habits. They instinctively loathe King’s claim that character is more important than colour. They hate Greer’s insistence that women are as capable as men (and that a man can’t become a woman at the click of his fingers). They have disappeared so far up the fundament of identity politics that they bristle at any argument that smacks of universalism, which emphasises the sameness and the shared capacity for autonomy of all human beings.

They seem hellbent on reversing the social gains of the late 20th century, preferring to shove people back into the biological, racial boxes from which mankind spent so long trying to escape. It is they, not Tatchell, who are racialist (if not racist), and a threat to what most of us consider to be the decent civilisational value of treating people as people rather than as colours or genders.

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Show comments
  • GCHQ Spying On U

    Fran who???

  • politicalcynic

    “…and a threat to what most of us consider to be the decent civilisational value of treating people as people rather than as colours or genders.”

    Which is why I no longer support the left, feminism or much of the current swath of organizations involved in gay rights in the US and Europe-they’ve become regressive, racist, authoritarian bigots. I came out ages ago-in an era long before the SCOTUS ruled sodomy laws unconstitutional-and stood with the left BECAUSE I believed people should be treated as people and not colors, or genders, or orientations-and because it was the left that stood for freedom of speech.

    Sadly, the “progressive left” in the US suffers from the same disease I’m seeing in Europe-progressives have become what they used to claim they opposed-regressive, judgmental and authoritarian. If you are male, lord help you. Cis-gender, you’re awful. White, you’re a hideous racist. And you are utterly damned if you are gay, or a woman, or a minority member, and don’t toe their party line and support them absolutely in their lemming-like march to the sea.

    They have become what they used to oppose. They judge based on race, color, gender and/or orientation, and they oppose free speech in favor of group speech and group think. They are no different than religious radicals-their ideology is their bible and “patriarchy” is their devil. And I cannot support that.

  • Dougie

    “… preferring to shove people back into the biological, racial boxes from which mankind spent so long trying to escape.”
    You’re a bit confused, Brendan. In the case of transgenderism, they want people to be able to choose their gender at will, rather than be confined by their apparent birth biology.

  • Daidragon

    What’s wrong with these people? It genuinely is like a cult.

  • Carl Thompson

    Sorry, Cowling’s actions may be wrongheaded and worthy of criticism, but O’Neill’s broader case against supposedly ‘repressive’ students is ideologically driven and deploys some pretty shoddy journalism. Take the example of Oregon students supposedly wanting to get rid of Martin Luther King’s remarks – but please follow the links through till you get to the source (in the local student journal) of this supposed outburst of PC repressiveness. You can link to this via the Daily Beast article O’Neill links to (which also spins the source story in a dubious fashion), or directly via this link:

    In fact the student union had a debate about whether after 40 years it was time to update the mural; just a couple of students voiced the opinion they could maybe update it so the mural statement became about more than just race (but WITHOUT in any way suggesting MLK was not PC enough). The student union took this on board (freedom of speech in action, surely?) but decided to keep the MLK words. In sum – no real story, no PC conspiracy, just shoddy, dishonest journalism from O’Neill here to use this story in this way and put such weight on it…

  • Hanif Leylabi

    a) NUS has not no platformed Peter Tatchell.
    b) Fran outlined their reason’s for making a personal decision to not speak with Tatchell in *private* emails. This is not libel. Tatchell leaked these emails. He is the attention seeker. It’s a storm in a teacup.

    • Mr B J Mann

      1) The NUS might not have, but their officer refused to go on the platform unless he was taken off it.

      In other words a blatant attempt to no-plaform him!

      2) Are you saying the allegations only occurred in private emails written only to him?

      I they were in the emails sent to the organisers being private isn’t a defence as far as I’m aware!

  • Doctor Crackles

    Revolutions devour their young. Tatchell deserves no sympathy as this is a beast he helped unleash. Tatchell has tirelessly campaigned for buggery to be accepted and encouraged. He still believes that buggery should be inflicted on young men and boys. He is a menace, albeit an intelligent menace. That he denounced by those he has helped to cultivate is wonderful irony.

  • wrinkledweasel

    It will come around. A decade or so from now, historians will start to view this era as an intellectual dark age, largely caused by and concomitant with, the dependence on social media for moral guidance.

  • Penny

    How to WIN any argument, when your view, (probably arrived at emotionally), may be just a little bit flawed.

    1. Reason is overrated. Just deny. Deny. Deny. Deny. If your opponent is even a little shaky, your certainty may move them… and you’ll score a convert! Well done!

    2. Fudge. Ramble around the subject at length. Introduce irrelevancies.

    3. Attack. Could be anything. If you are really unimaginative, go for “You’re getting your knickers in a twist”, or some such.

    4. No platform. Newly fashionable, used to be known as the Miss Piggy. Shake your hair back. stick your nose up and swan off.

    Good luck everyone!

  • trobrianders

    People who bang on about human rights don’t sound human at all.

  • Torybushhug

    Fran, a mighty iconoclast… In her own bedsit

  • ecclesiam

    The left decides to turn on itself. Oh dear, how sad, never mind.

  • Mike De Fleuriot

    These people are being “paid” by extreme conservative factions to undermine liberal progress. This the only logical reason that we are seeing this type of thing happening today. The right realise that they can not compete on a fair playing field, so they change tactics and breed regressive lefties to poison the gains we have made.

    • trobrianders

      It’s the Left that couldn’t compete at elections so 40 odd years ago they began infesting the education system to create an army of morons who could drink and screw themselves to a loonyversity degree.

  • Ivan Ewan

    Nail. Head. You hit it, Brendan.

  • Jason Stanidge

    What this all shows is that human-beings are fundamentally guided by an agenda that makes them feel good about the society they’re living in. They decide first hand what this society should be, and THEN define reasons to justify them going about creating this society. Of course, whether or not their agenda succeeds depends upon how much conflict it generates with the agenda of others as talented and strong willed in the art of persuasion.

  • SwingState

    When they start turning on people like Tatchell, you have to wonder how long their population can sustain itself. Their logic starts eating itself so that they start preying on each other.
    Hopefully this will continue until they die out.

  • trobrianders

    Tatchell reaping what he has sewn. Hilarious!

    • Dougie

      I’m assuming that your comment is a delightfully subtle reference to the stereotype of gay men as being somewhat feminine – you know, keen on needlework and such like – rather than a spelling mistake …

      • trobrianders

        Handbags at dawn. That’s how they should settle it.

  • Lina R

    Strange that young people at university could be so close-minded, incurious/intolerant to other views and so arrogant to think they know everything on an subject. It’s often through discussion and debate that you learn other sides to an issue.

  • Wittgensteinsfoot

    Justice for Transgender Hamsters now!!!!

  • Julie A.


  • marti386

    Well, I’m not surprised that the person defending Tatchell is none other than Brendan O’Neil, the asshat who got himself fired from his previous job at Spiked, and who continues to earn a living by writing “articles” about how white male privilege doesn’t exist, how feminists are evil, whines about how picking on homophobes is bad, claims he is against “gayness’, and claims there’s no such thing as transphobia while earning a living writing multiple transphobic articles.

    It’s also pretty funny that O’neil calls activists “petulant”, considering he makes a freaking living acting like a petulant man/child.

    So I have to wonder: WHY is it whenever someone speaks up for people like Tatchell, it’s always people like O’Neil?

  • Strange Brew

    Mr. Corbyn et al must be very proud of them.

  • Snowmuncher

    What kind of twisted and malignant monsters has Britain’s education system and the BBC created over the past 25 years?

    We need new laws to stop Marxist Britain haters indoctrinating children, so they become like those running the NUS

    • trobrianders

      These Marxists have sought cover like roaches under the banner of progressivism the way paedophiles sought cover in the church.

  • JP Janson De Couët

    Unbelievable hypocrisy from the utterly humourless Brendan O’Neill, whose entire career involves a ‘witch-hunting, accusatory atmosphere’ against people who do not share his ideology.

  • Discuscutter

    The NUS and modern left.

    Attacking a gay rights activist as a racist because he challenges those who demand that homosexuals be murdered.

    The left have become so rich and cosseted that identity politics has dissolved reality for them.

  • Torybushhug

    The middle class left has usurped the working class from many realms of life. Just look at how they’ve taken over the Labour party, how they dominate the comedy circuit and things such as TV cookery, having elbowed the working class out of these roles.

    In Italy a bowl of pasta with tomatoes and basil is a poor peasants working class fodder, and yet once again the British lefty middle class has hi-jacked even peasant food and now we are treated to the thoughts of the likes of Nigel Slater. In the past we had good ole working class fat cooks showing us how bread was made, but now we have the ubiquitous middle class ‘artisan’ interloper across our airwaves.

    Gardeners World is another sphere in which Horney handed salt of the earth gardeners have been elbowed aside by the homogeneous middle class presenter.
    How has this happened?

    • trobrianders

      Mediocrity congealing.

  • Torybushhug

    The ‘Liberal’ left in the guise of BBC reporters such as Orla Guerin, John Simpson and Kate Ade along with the powerful British oooman rights lobby and Liberty, caused Assad to hold back on snuffing out the Arab Spring uprising and thus it morphed into something much bigger and now features tribal religious factions all fighting one another for power.

    The pious British Liberal left has so much to answer for in so many realms.
    No platforming is yet another facet of warped lefty ideology and yet again does more harm than good.

    • trobrianders

      You’ve picked up on something that is far greater than anyone understands yet.

  • Kevin

    This article here has some good analysis on the difference between the “old tolerance” and the “new tolerance” which this is a symptom of. – – It’s written in the context of religion but the general points go beyond that.

  • Damaris Tighe

    The left is eating its own – as it always does in the end. The left, being inherently doctrinaire, cannot support free speech for any length of time. It’ll always revert to thought & speech control.

    As for Fran Cowardly (sorry, Cowling), she isn’t fit to lick Tatchell’s boots. Before she was old enough to be out of babygrows, Tatchell had been beaten up several times for his values. He has permanent brain damage as the result of his encounter with Mugabe’s thugs.

    • Ridcully

      “He has permanent brain damage as a result of his encounter with Mugabe’s thugs.”
      What’s Cowling’s excuse?

    • ugly_fish

      Fran is, I believe, not a “she” but in fact a “he” pretending to be a woman, hence the obsession with “transphobia”.

      • Damaris Tighe