Accuracy counts

I was indignant on Peter Tatchell’s behalf (and on behalf of reasonable discourse, truth in accusation, and the like) on Sunday when I read that the NUS LGBT officer had called him racist and transphobic in emails to a bunch of people. But now…I’m disappointed in him, because he has failed to defend other people from dishonest accusations.

First, he was on Newsnight last night with Paris Lees. It’s not available in the US (so far at least) so I haven’t seen it, but I have a transcript of part of what Lees said:

PL: I think that, first of all I want to say that Peter Tatchell is not a transphobe, in my opinion, I think it’s, it’s, ludicrous to suggest that, he’s a national bloody treasure as far as I’m concerned, and he’s one of the few people who actually spoke up for transgender rights, with a public platform a few years ago when nobody was talking about this, and I’m very grateful to him for that. I think there’s a lot of anger towards Peter because of signing that letter, not just signing it but I think maybe your reaction afterwards wasn’t that helpful, and I think that, you know, to call him a transphobe is a little bit over the top, but…I think it’s…I think it’s really getting a little bit carried away, but…just to come to the issue of no-platforming, I think it’s unfortunate that Peter’s been involved in this debate, but more broadly – yes I do think it’s right that people shouldn’t engage with transphobes. I don’t think Peter’s one of those people, but I think there are certain people who, there’s just no point talking to them.

KM: But, but there is an argument isn’t there, ah and it has been…through politics and civil rights and gay right and women’s rights…uh, for years, is that you take people on in order to have that debate, and you win it.

PL: Well there is also an argument that marginalised people, you know, have been made to justify themselves and explain themselves over and over again, and there are, there are certain people, um, like Julie Bindel for example who, just aren’t willing to engage in debate, they’ve, they’ve heard the arguments and…that’s a very different kettle of fish from Peter, you know, this, they, you know, this person has made personal attacks on individual trans people before, has argued for conversion therapy which has proven to be very dangerous. Those sort of people shouldn’t be given platforms to re-air their prejudices.

Julie Bindel says those are lies, flat-out. She has debated many times, and she has campaigned against conversion therapy. Tatchell didn’t speak up.

Second, he had this piece in the Telegraph yesterday:

Free speech and enlightenment values are under attack in our universities. In the worthy name of defending the weak and marginalised, many student activists are now adopting the unworthy tactic of seeking to close down open debate. They want to censor people they disagree with. I am their latest victim.

This is not quite the Star Chamber, but it is the same intolerant mentality. Student leader Fran Cowling has denounced me as racist and transphobic, even though I’ve supported every anti-racist and pro-transgender campaign during my 49 years of human rights work.

So far so good. Cowling’s accusations are ridiculous and horrible.

Tatchell says she has every right to refuse to be on a panel with him, but.

But she does not have any right to make false McCarthyite-style smears. When asked to provide evidence of my supposed racism and transphobia, she was not willing to do so. There is none. Privately I tried to get her to withdraw her outrageous, libellous allegations. But she spurned all my attempts to resolve this matter amicably. As a result I have decided to take my case public.

Fair. He clears up some facts; good. But then –

Fran also said that I signed a letter to The Observer last year supporting the right of feminists to be “openly transphobic” and to “incite violence” against transgender people. The letter I signed did not say this. Written in support of free speech, it did not express any anti-transgender views or condone anti-transgender violence. For decades, I have opposed feminists such as Germaine Greer who reject and disparage transgender people and their human rights.

Do it to her, not me? Throw Greer to the wolves, not me?

He shouldn’t be “opposing” Germaine Greer herself. He probably didn’t mean that, but just said it sloppily – but what a thing to be sloppy about. What he should (if so moved) oppose is particular claims she makes, not her as a person. And then is it fair to say she “rejects and disparages transgender people and their human rights”? She does use disparaging language, so that part is fair, but what sense does it make to say she rejects trans people? And I flatly don’t believe she says they shouldn’t have human rights.

And then there’s the breezy way he throws feminists in general in there. Do it to them, not me, eh?

So, I’m disappointed by that.

He ends well enough though.

The race to be more Left-wing and politically correct than anyone else is resulting in an intimidating, excluding atmosphere on campuses. Universal human rights and enlightenment values – including John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty – are often shamefully rubbished as the ideas of Western imperialist white privilege.

I am all in favour of protesting against real racists and transphobes. But the most effective way to do this is to expose and counter their bigoted ideas, not censor and ban them.

But be accurate about it. Don’t accept lies about Julie Bindel and don’t make exaggerated accusations against Germaine Greer and feminists “like” her.

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