Controversial York Free Speech Event Postponed

Due to criticism from York's LGBTQ Network and other liberation societies, York Free Speech's 'Feminism and Free Speech' event has been postponed.

Previously planned to take place on Wednesday 16th March as a regular speaker event, approved by YUSU, the event with Julie Bindel has now been adapted due to the threat of protest from other societies.

Aiming to discuss ‘prostitution, porn and political lesbianism’, York Free Speech society faced mass backlash on its’ choice of guest speaker, leading to picketing by liberation societies such as the LGBTQ Network.

With an open letter on social media claiming Bindel to be ‘biphobic, transphobic and misogynistic’, the controversial event was initially taken down from the University website prior to the changing of the event to a ‘Special Meeting’.

In a statement on the event, York Free Speech has declared that despite the apparent postponing of the event as planned, the university will still ‘continue to work with the society’ and ‘uphold lawful freedom of speech on campus’. A speaker from the society is ‘hopeful it can be rearranged but not overly optimistic’ as there is a personal view that the University was ‘being deliberately slow and unhelpful in order to avoid backlash’.

York Free Speech apologised to its’ members for the last-minute changes to the event, citing them as ‘out of their control’. Stating that ‘it would be a shame to see students reduce Free Speech to something that is partisan and provocative’, the society urges students to ‘attend one of our society events and enter into good faith debate’.

Reassuring its members that the society ‘support the right to protest and would have taken the opportunity to engage with protesters’, York Free Speech are left waiting for the university to reschedule the event. According to York Free Speech, the event has been postponed to discuss additional safety measures and will take place at a later date.

As President of YUSU, Patrick O’Donnell insists that ‘student wellbeing is a priority’ but that ‘YUSU is absolutely committed to ensuring that those that wish to challenge or protest peacefully will equally be supported and enabled to do so’.

As an event now under the scope of University regulation as a result of the Education Act, the University, and YUSU, must follow all procedures. 

Patrick assures Vision that they are planning to ‘work with the Free Speech Society to support the proposed event’ in line with safety recommendations, but emphasises that ‘students have the right to express opposition to the views’.

Any student experiencing psychological or mental health difficulties does not have to struggle alone. Support is available through the University at University of York Report & Support Tool and YUSU LGBTQ+ Network.

Stonewall UK can offer help and support – day or night, 365 days a year. You can call them on 0800 0502020 from 9:30am-4:30pm Monday to Friday, or visit Stonewall Help & Advice to find your nearest branch.