Story at a glance
- Former far-right Breitbart journalist Milo Yiannopoulos is scheduled to speak at Penn State University next week about free speech, faith and conversion therapy.
- Students and university leaders have condemned Yiannopoulos’ visit, but are unable to cancel it due to the First Amendment.
- Campus leaders have instructed students to ignore Yiannopoulos and attend other LGBTQ+ events.
Penn State University students and faculty are pushing back against an upcoming on-campus event with the controversial right-wing political commentator Milo Yiannopoulos, but they are unable to stop the visit due to First Amendment protections.
The Nov. 3 event, titled “Pray the Gay Away,” is being hosted by the student group Uncensored America, created last year to “to empower young Americans to fight for free speech in order to make American culture free and fun again,” according to the organization’s website.
Yiannopoulos plans to speak next week about, among other things, conversion therapy, a pseudoscientific practice that aims to change one’s sexual orientation from gay or bisexual to heterosexual.
Yiannopoulos, who resigned from the far-right media site Breitbart News after appearing to condone pedophilia, has also made headlines for blaming Muslims for the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, and his Twitter account was permanently suspended in 2016 after he tweeted slurs at actress Leslie Jones, who is Black, following her role in the all-female remake of the movie “Ghostbusters.”
He identifies as an “ex-gay,” and in a March interview with right-wing publication LifeSiteNews, said his husband, whom he married in 2017, had been “demoted to a housemate.”
Student groups expressed their disappointment in Yiannopoulos’ visit and called on the school’s administration to cancel the event and remove all advertisements for the event from the campus.
“The College Democrats at Penn State stand with LGBTQIA+ students. We condemn both Yiannopoulos for his actions, and the Penn State Administration for allowing this event to occur on our campus,” the university’s College Democrats wrote in a statement.
The group encouraged students to boycott Yiannopoulos’ visit and instead attend an event hosted by the school’s Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity that is scheduled at the same time.
This isn’t the first time Yiannopoulos’ visit to a university has been met with pushback from students and faculty. His 2017 event at UC Berkeley was met with violent protests that caused $100,000 worth of damage to the campus.
In a joint statement issued this week, three university officials said Yiannopoulos’ “past presentations on the nation’s college campuses have been antithetical to Penn State’s values, and we share the profound dismay others have already expressed in response to his forthcoming appearance here.”
The statement, signed by Penn State Vice President for Student Affairs, Damon Sims; Vice Provost of Educational Equity, Marcus Whitehurst; and Vice President and General Counsel Steve Dunham, explained that university officials are unable to stop Yiannopoulos’ appearance next week due to the First Amendment, which protects the freedom of speech.
Students planning to demonstrate at the event should refrain from doing so, as that “will only ensure the national attention a provocateur craves,” they wrote.
“Instead, if you oppose bigotry, misogyny, transphobia, and anyone who is determined to make their living by dividing us, make that opposition known by uniting against Yiannopoulos in the most effective way possible — by ignoring him,” they wrote.
READ MORE STORIES FROM CHANGING AMERICA