Campus, News

Students walk out in protest of conservative speaker event at BU

Nine minutes into Michael Knowles’ speech, students in social activist groups at Boston University walked out of the Law Auditorium in a Thursday protest.

Michael Knowles protest
The Young America’s Foundation website. Some students from Boston University’s social activist groups walked out in protest of an event organized by BU YAF, which featured conservative political commentator Michael Knowles. ANH NGUYEN/DFP STAFF

Knowles — who is a conservative political commentator — was at BU to deliver a speech titled  “Teach the ABCs, not the LGB(T)s”  focusing on gender identity in primary education.

At one point during the sold-out event, organized by BU’s Young Americans for Freedom, Knowles discussed parents’ first-hand experience with the “gender unicorn” — a tool used by primary education teachers to help students understand their gender identity and sexual orientation — after distanced learning began at the start of the pandemic.

“They [parents] saw teachers in middle schools, in elementary schools, sometimes even preschools, presenting kids with sexual classroom materials such as the gender unicorn. Are you familiar with the gender unicorn?” he asked, at which point students took off in the dozens.

Schools and teachers across the country have been criticized in recent years for including the “gender unicorn” in their curricula. Some parents and lawmakers have argued it is inappropriate to teach its material to young children.

Alex Brumfield, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences, said the walkout was organized by several student activist organizations.

“We wanted to stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ community and trans community on campus,” Brumfield said outside the auditorium, moments after the walkout.

BU YAF coordinated with the University to establish a security detail, Rishi Anand, BU YAF president and CAS junior, wrote in an email.

Anand added it was a “shame” students walked out, but wrote that the overall event went well.

“What I want at BU is dialogue between students who disagree, that’s why I came to BU and that’s why I am the head of the YAF chapter here at BU,” Anand wrote. “Not having the dialogue and having them leave and know that they were going to leave in some sort of solidarity shows how on campus we do not have that dialogue across the aisle that I want and I hope for.” 

In the hours following the speech, several student organizations released statements in solidarity with the transgender community across the University — among them, the Queer Activist Collective and BU Students for Reproductive Freedom.

 “Transphobia and homophobia in any form are deeply harmful and we are appalled and disappointed in BU administration’s failure to ‘restrict the speech that is directly incompatible with the safety of the community,’ ” SRF’s statement reads, quoting BU’s Statement on Free Speech and Expression

University spokesperson Colin Riley declined to comment on the event, deferring to BU YAF.

A podcast host and author of Speechless — a book on the idea and history of political correctness — Knowles is a frequent speaker on college campuses. His March 3 speech “Banning Transgenderism” at Washburn University was met with protests at the time.

Knowles addressed the walkout a few more times throughout his speech after students left, using the term  “wacko leftists” to refer to its organizers. He said he invites liberal students to hear his speeches, adding he tries to “speak the truth with love.”

“It was the libs who decided to reserve a bunch of tickets and then tried to keep this event silent by not showing up, or showing up and then making a big spectacle of themselves and storming out,” Knowles said.

Senior newswriter Emilia Wisniewski contributed to the reporting of this article.

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  1. Difference of opinion is not harmful, it’s debatable. Grow up and face the world, don’t run away fromit.

  2. It may have been “sold out,” but they weren’t even able to fill half the seats – and that’s before half the audience walked out!

    In all seriousness, this is not a simple “difference of an opinion,” but a human rights issue. You don’t get to opine whether or not a massive human population gets the basic human right to simply exist.

    This speaker has a history of violent rhetoric and advocating for the erasure of LGBTQ people.

    • “You don’t get to opine” oh but you do? You say who gets to “opine” and who doesn’t? You’re so convinced that you’re right that you believe others don’t have the right to disagree? Rather than debate or discuss, you just shut it down with “you don’t get to opine?” This is the obvious deep hypocrisy of liberalism ruck amoke and liberated from its own true meaning free which used to be free of dogma and ideology. Anyone at anytime who says, “you don’t get to…” needs to do a lot of growing up.

  3. Human rights are not a debate. It is incredibly offensive for BU to allow speakers who degrade minority communities and turn their struggles into a “matter of opinion.” His beliefs are rooted in ignorance and prejudice, there is nothing to debate.

  4. When I was in grad school we had the general secretary of the American Communist party speak. This was the early 1960’s a nd all Communists were held in disrepute. Did we walk out? Never , we let him speak and then made him defend each statement he made.
    I don’t understand the current attitude of not listening and not requiring a lengthy defense of statements.

    • “Leftist Political Operator”

      We did listen. We have been listening to this hateful rhetoric our whole lives. Especially in this case, the arguments were neither sound nor backed by empirical evidence.

      Also, debating what political style you prefer isn’t the same as telling millions, if not billions, of people they shouldn’t exist. So your little 60–year-old anecdote isn’t particularly relevant here.

    • He went up there to essentially slander and spread hate about trans people and LGBT people, which he had already gotten into for quite a few minutes before we left out. I don’t think fascists deserve to be heard out on their opinions. Hate speech comes with flimsy “justifications”–it did in Nazi Germany with ideas that Jews were usurers, stealing away women, infiltrating institutions, etc. His speech was the exact same thing, hate hiding behind the flimsy and patently false justification that trans people and educators are highly prone to predating on children in schools, and it should be treated the same as a fascist asking to speak at our school: refused by the administration and, if they allow it (as they did here), with a demonstration of our disgust and disappointment.

    • Hate to tell you this man but that CPUSA guy was probably a fed

    • “Communist Political Operator”

      It’s true, I was a communist there at that time. Not only did Michael not walk out, but we actually shared a passionate embrace, our inter-political hearts colliding as one. It was a moment of true comradery (no pun intended).

  5. Anand’s rhetoric about a dialogue between disagreeing students is patently ridiculous. There is no space for discourse about the rights of peoples to exist and be treated with respect.