Is “No Platforming” bullying?

Scottish Poetry Library in transphobia row shock! No-one knows whether the Scottish Poetry Library supports transphobes or not, but they have said suspicious things.

They have a code of conduct which says supportive things about trans people: we will not tolerate abuse on the grounds of a person’s… gender identity. However, they also claim they can police all the conduct of people involved with them: Misconduct is when the behaviour of someone undertaking work for, with or on behalf of the SPL does not meet expected standards of behaviour, and their actions or conduct leads to … harm of other people… our code of conduct applies to online activity.

That is, the SPL claims the right to no-platform people when they tweet negatively about others. As an organisation booking speakers and letting rooms, they can’t refuse to book you because you are trans or a woman, but they can if they think you have behaved offensively. Any organisation chooses who may speak from their platform. Others may write criticising those choices, and whether they are listened to depends on how prominent a platform they have.

Then they put out a statement, criticising “disharmony” on social media. Good luck with that. We will no longer ignore bullying and calls for no-platforming of writers. Well. Hachette has cancelled its plans to publish Woody Allen’s memoir, because of protests by staff: they withdrew their platform. There is no-platforming for all sorts of reasons, but only calls for no-platforming when there is disagreement. No openly racist speaker is going to get a platform at the SPL, but what about transphobes? Transphobes get prominent platforms all the time, and trans people and our allies call for it to be withdrawn- on our twitter accounts and in blogs if we have no better platform, in emails and protests.

There are only calls to no-platform someone when the speaker is privileged and protected, and the protesters are weak. Otherwise, the platform is denied without fuss, by the powerful. Transphobe speakers are privileged- prominent in labour unions and universities, with powerful backing from Rupert Murdoch and the Heritage Foundation among others. Someone tweeting that a transphobe should not speak is not a bully, because if they had power they would not need to tweet. If a crowd of people come together on Twitter objecting to a transphobe speaking, they are met with strong tweeted resistance from transphobes powerful and powerless. Who bullies whom?

Trans people and allies sent an open letter to the SPL, worried that their powerless calls for no-platforming would be used as an excuse to no-platform them. They write in solidarity with writers combatting racism, misogyny, ableism and other structural oppressions, so that oppressive action can be freely spoken about. They ask for clarification on SPL’s support for trans people, who receive exceptional online abuse and media scrutiny. They are against bullying and for freedom of expression, but want to call for no-platforming of bullies and transphobes, and want trans people involved in reporting transphobia. They fear the SPL statement means trans people, objecting to transphobes getting to speak. The Times report and many tweets connected the SPL statement to opposition to transphobia, and the SPL tweeted that Times article. Asif Khan of the SPL seems to think trans rights conflict with women’s rights, though they do not. We believe that it is a vital right of people to name oppressive action when we experience it, and to seek accountability from people and institutions who have acted oppressively and made space for oppressive action- by internal procedures and public statements. From the Forstater case, “freedom of speech” is not a legal protection for transphobic statements.

Prominent and less prominent transphobes made a counter-statement, extensively quoted by the Guardian, claiming to promote “intellectual debate and thought” “outside a very narrow ideology” when they were being transphobic. Of course they deny being transphobic, spread transphobic myths, and claim to support “Women’s rights”. No transphobe will ever admit their transphobia.

Scottish PEN’s slogan is “Defending the freedom of writers and readers”. They are aware that hate speech, including transphobia, inhibits and restricts the free speech of trans people and others. PEN says the SPL has a responsibility to the community to consider equality issues, and its workings should be public and open to criticism. Free expression is complex and any policy that ignores such complexity can stifle the free expression of a range of stakeholders, most notably members of marginalised communities. Such as trans people.

Race Reflections beautifully expresses this discussing “Freedom of Speech” as the right to say anything without consequences. The demand for such freedom is “Insidious reversing”, where the oppressed trans people are positioned as the oppressor. It takes away our right to resist the violence practised against us.

One thought on “Is “No Platforming” bullying?

  1. Pingback: Freedom of speech as silencing | Race Reflections

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