The debating society at Royal Holloway, University of London, have cancelled a talk by a peer after she retweeted a trans joke by Ricky Gervais.
Baroness Claire Fox of Buckley – who was previously a Brexit Party MEP – had been due to give a talk that included the discussion of cancel culture and free speech.
However, she had previously retweeted a joke by Gervais in a Netflix special, in which he referenced “the old-fashioned women, you know, the ones with wombs” and “the new ones we’ve been seeing lately with beards and cocks”.
She wrote in her original tweet: “Skewered … trans-identity ideology. I laughed. Kudos to @rickygervais for this,” which was flagged to the Royal Holloway Students’ Union president Maia Jarvis.
In an email (via Daily Telegraph), Jarvis was reported to have said: “Claire Fox re-tweets and praises this video of Ricky Gervais being overtly transphobic. I wonder if you have thought about the impact of bringing a person who is an advocate for hate towards trans people and publicly ridicules them.”
The event was scrapped by debating society president Adam Ryan-Self, who blamed the student union and accused its officials of “censoring those that do not align with their (often left) ideology”.
Fox said of the talk being cancelled (via The Times): “I had been cleared to talk by the university, because, funnily enough, I am not a hate-monger. Then six societies complained to the student union. The student union rescinded their clearance and started pestering the society and putting a lot of pressure on them. They tried to fight it off, but eventually caved in.”
She added: “I was furious, but not on my behalf. I was furious because the students that had invited me were all upset. They were distraught.”
She said of her original tweet: “That [the tweet] was the evidence! That made me laugh. It was an insubstantial point,” and also denied being transphobic and called the allegations “a malicious slur”.
In response to the talk being cancelled, the Royal Holloway Students’ Union said societies were “given as much autonomy and freedom to operate as possible” but “the health and wellbeing of our members is our first priority at all times”.
A spokesperson added: “We are supportive of the decision to cancel the event in order to safeguard our transgender community, and will always seek to protect the safety of marginalised people on campus.”
A spokesperson for Royal Holloway said: “We are committed to the principles of academic freedom and free speech and aim to create an inclusive and supportive environment for all students and staff.
“The Royal Holloway Students’ Union, and its societies, work as separate entities from the university and organise events in line with their own processes and procedures. As a university, we will continue to work closely with the Students’ Union in relation to the legal and regulatory responsibilities for organising events.”