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