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Paris Lees: On Katie Hopkins, Free Speech and the Hypocrisy of the Left

Columnists leapt to Germaine Greer's defence when she voiced hate speech about trans people. Where are they now?

by Paris Lees
26 May 2017, 3:25pm

The author at a protest against the Daily Mail (Photo: Jake Lewis)

To the delight of right-minded people everywhere – myself included – Katie Hopkins has been dropped from LBC after calling for a "final solution" following the Manchester terror attack. In case you didn't know, that's the term Nazis used to describe the extermination of all Jews. Cute, right?

Twitter is lit. Birds are singing. Staff at LBC reportedly broke into "massive cheers and applause" when the announcement was made. The prevailing feeling is "about bloody time" – of course Hopkins shouldn't be offered a platform from which to spew her bile and hatred. And I quite agree.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, though, the alt-right aren't so happy. People are tweeting shit like "Katie Hopkins: UK Has Gone Mad, We Will Tolerate The Slaughter Of Little Girls But Can't Tolerate Free Speech," and, "Whatever happened to free speech does it not apply to Katie Hopkins?" Truth be told, it's a good question, because I've been led to believe that free speech is absolute and unfettered. I was also under the impression that your right to free speech includes the right to a platform from which to spread your ideas. Or at least, that's what we were told by middle class columnists when students protested Germaine Greer's talk at Cardiff University in 2015 due to her history of hate speech toward transgender people.

Cast your mind back to November of 2015. The British media had worked itself up into a right old tiswas, with both left and right goading everyone into a giant panic attack about the supposed threat to free speech that student activists posed. "Silenced by feminazis," screamed the Daily Mail headline, "The disturbing (and bitterly ironic) story of how Germaine Greer is having her voice snatched away by feminist students." The Guardian's Nicola Dandrige said "universities have a responsibility to promote free speech". The Independent's Howard Jacobson said Greer's views should be tolerated in the name of free speech, and dismissed those who believe her opinions contribute to a culture of stigma and violence against trans people as "touchy fools". There are many more examples but I won't bore you with them here.

Where's this lot now? Why aren't they all leaping to the defence of Katie Hopkins? Because if Germaine Greer has an unquestionable, God-given right to a platform at Cardiff University, then by the same logic Katie Hopkins deserves a platform at LBC. After all, the press and broadcast media play an important role in promoting free speech – right?


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When anti-transphobia campaigners objected to Greer being offered a platform, we were told that free speech was absolute. That anyone could say anything anywhere and no one had any right to object to it or seek to take that person's platform away from them. Trans people asked: "Well where do you draw the line?" and were told, "There is no line!"

As Hopkins has demonstrated this week: OF COURSE THERE IS A FUCKING LINE. The question is and always will be: where do you draw it?

For some people, the line might be if someone appears to defend paedophilia – like Milo, for example, whose book deal was cancelled earlier this year after he said the age of consent was "not this black and white thing", and that relationships "between younger boys and older men … can be hugely positive experiences". For others, the line might be referring to refugees as "cockroaches", as Hopkins did in 2015.

For many people, clearly, referencing the Nazis and calling for a "final solution" is the red line. For trans people, it's when mainstream feminists imply that we are rapists and feed into the dangerous rhetoric that trans women are men in disguise – an idea that is responsible for the deaths of thousands of trans women around the world. So-called "trans panic" – also known as the old "Sorry I killed her, your honour, but I found out that she was really a man" defence – is an admissible defence for murdering a trans woman in 49 states in the US.

Still, rallying around its sacred cows, the left became so obsessed with its reductive, black and white interpretation of free speech that – after I called them out on being a bunch of hypocrites for defending Greer – they actually did start defending right-wing bullies, too.

Milo used his "Dangerous Faggot" tour to harass students at the universities he was speaking at, encouraging his audiences to target "illegals", and outed innocent students as trans, as Broadly reported back in January:

"Adelaide Kramer was in the audience during an event at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she used to be a student, when the speaker, Milo Yiannopoulos, projected a photograph of her on the wall. He then launched into a hateful tirade against Kramer, calling her a 'tranny'. The photo had been taken early in her transition, and the audience – a room filled by her classmates – laughed as Yiannopoulos degraded her."

What on earth, then, was the Guardian thinking – just weeks later – when it published a piece by Matthew D'Ancona arguing that "There must be free speech, even for Milo Yiannopoulos"? The message was clear: free speech is absolute. No matter if you harass vulnerable transgender students or racial minorities. Free speech means free speech.

I say: fuck that. Free speech means you can say whatever you want and the state can't stop you. It does not mean "LBC has to pay you to spew up your wank ideas on air," or "Universities have to give you a platform to harass their students," or, "Cardiff University has to pay you to talk shit in front of an audience." Hopkins is free to say whatever she likes. LBC are free not to pay her to say it. Everyone else is free to say they think she and these other arseholes should be sacked. That's called free speech, baby.

So please can we stop pretending that free speech is absolute, and instead focus on the important issues that cause people actual harm? As Hopkins and Milo have proven, of course free speech isn't absolute. Of course there's a long list of things that people can say or do that will lose them their job, their public speaking engagements and their reputations. Transphobia should be on that list – no ifs or buts.

@parislees