‘Policing Speech’: Radical Gender Ideology Chills Discussions About Transgender Issues On College Campuses, Expert Says

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Alexa Schwerha Contributor
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  • University of Wisconsin System students are uncomfortable speaking about transgender issues, according to a survey released earlier this month.
  • The survey reported students’ attitudes toward diverse viewpoints including transgender issues, abortion, the COVID-19 vaccine and immigration.
  • “The advocates of radical gender ideology (which is not the same as transgender civil rights) have been very aggressive in policing speech around gender and sexuality, especially (but not only) in universities,” Jonathan Rauch, a Brookings Institute senior fellow, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Students in the University of Wisconsin System (UW) are overwhelmingly hesitant to talk about transgender issues on campus, a campus-wide survey released in February revealed.

The survey, which gauged students’ attitudes about diverse viewpoints including transgender issues, abortion, immigration and gun control, revealed that students are most uncomfortable speaking about transgender issues on campus. Forty-four percent of students admitted to be uncomfortable discussing the topic, and were most comfortable discussing topics including climate change and COVID-19 vaccines. (RELATED: Colleges — And Students — Took An Axe To Free Speech In 2022. Here Are Some Of The Worst Examples)

Jonathan Rauch, a Brookings Institute senior fellow, tweeted about the results on Twitter, sharing that “as a long-time gay activist and defender of free speech, this breaks my heart.”

“Speaking as a long-time (since the early 1990s) advocate for the equal rights of gay and lesbian Americans and other sexual minorities, I am disappointed to see the results of the U-Wisc. survey, which finds that transgender issues are the most chilled discussion topic on campus,” Rauch told the DCNF. “Unfortunately, I’m not surprised. The advocates of radical gender ideology (which is not the same as transgender civil rights) have been very aggressive in policing speech around gender and sexuality, especially (but not only) in universities.”

A majority of students reported to not consider viewpoints they disagree with about transgender issues. When asked about their attitudes “toward views perceived as offensive,” 43% answered that those views can be considered an “act of violence” while 36% said opposing views cause “harm to those they offend.”

“So…I’d love to see gender and sexuality issues become more freely and openly debated on campus, without fear. Chilling and bullying may stifle conversations, but it won’t change minds,” Rauch told the DCNF.

Students attempted to disrupt or shut down campus appearances by conservative commentator Matt Walsh during the fall 2022 semester to screen his Daily Wire documentary “What is a Woman?,” which examined the growing transgender movement in the United States.

Student protesters tore up a Bible during a confrontation outside Walsh’s appearance at the UW-Madison campus in October, student newspaper the Badger Herald reported. A student was arrested after protests began at the University of Houston, according to the Daily Cougar, while opponents attempted to censor the event the week of by removing over 100 flyers advertising the speech.

In March 2022, students at the University of North Texas disrupted a speech by then Texas House candidate Jeff Younger about child transitioning, the Daily Caller reported. Protesters shouted “f*ck these fascists” before Younger and event host Kelly Neidert were escorted from the building by police.

Neidert, who was temporarily separated from the police by protesters, and hid in a janitorial closet.

“In the movement for gay equality and same-sex marriage, we campaigned for the rights of ALL Americans—gay and straight, left and right—to speak freely and give voice to their authentic selves,” Rauch said. “It was not our goal to turn the tables and force our opponents into the same closets of shame and silence we once occupied. It just breaks my heart to see activists on and off campus use some of the same tactics of bullying and chilling that were once used, so devastatingly, against us.”

The top three subjects UW students reported being comfortable discussing were climate change, “bridges and roads” and sexual assault, according to the survey results. Students were most uncomfortable discussing transgender issues, police misconduct and gun control.

More biological men and “cisgender” students reported being uncomfortable talking about transgender issues than biological women and “non-cisgender.” Conservative and republican students also reported being more uncomfortable to discuss the topic than liberal and democratic students, according to the survey results.

Students reportedly being afraid to voice their opinions on campus has been a developing trend for years, previous studies conducted by free speech advocates show. In 2022, 63% of students feared “repetitional damage” for voicing their opinions on campus, according to a 2022-2023 report published by free speech watchdog Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE).

On the transgender issue, 74% of respondents said that a speaker “who says transgender people have a mental disorder” should not be allowed on campus. A majority of students also supported banning speakers who question the integrity of the 2020 election, support a complete abortion ban or call Black Lives Matter a “hate group.”

The UW System and FIRE did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

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