Union Sabbs Block Appearance of Controversial Catholic Campaigner
UCLU Sabbs cancel appearance of Catholic speaker at “bigoted homophobic” event
The intervention took place after it emerged that the Catholic Society failed to follow UCLU’s procedure for approving guest speakers.
The event, which was due to discuss “homosexuality, the Church and our political freedom to hold our own views and how to communicate them best,” was also feared to be promoting homophobia by the Union’s Sabbatical Officers, who raised concerns for student safety.
It was cancelled shortly after UCLU Women’s Officer Beth Sutton publicly encouraged students to disrupt the event on her personal Twitter account:
People please go and disrupt this bigoted homophobic event; http://t.co/9xJNrKkKSK
— Beth Sutton (@Beth_Sutton) October 21, 2013
Hannah Webb, UCLU’s External Affairs and Campaigns Officer, said sabbatical officers were “alarmed” when they were made aware of the planned event. The ban led to a fierce war of words online, with UCLU Sabbs being accused of “censorship by bureaucracy” by Mr. Williams.
UCLU’s Democracy and Communications Officer, Dan Warham, denied that Sabbs had deliberately targeted the Catholic Society.
@bernardmccabe Not the case. Speaker approval process was not followed thus event cancelled.
— Daniel Warham (@DanWarham) October 22, 2013
Mr Williams, Executive Officer at Right To Life, which describes itself as “The UK’s Premier Pro-Life Political Lobbying Organisation,” refused to agree with the claims, posting screenshots of further tweets by Officers on his Facebook page, including one stating “we managed to stop it because union protocol wasn’t followed. Fuck bigotry.”
He then went on to accuse the Union of “conspiring to shut down my talk ,” calling the situation an “utterly repugnant chilling of speech by an organisation that is meant to represent students and thus facilitate (and support them in) their intellectual discussions and enquiry.”
Miss Webb defended the officers’ position, stating that “Students have a right to feel safe on campus,” and that the appearance of the speaker would “make an oppressed group feel more unsafe.”
Mr. Williams further challenged the assumptions in an interview today:
“I don’t agree with the procedure, not every University acts like this. It’s offensive to people who are same-sex attracted, who might have felt threatened by the talk. Simply suggesting that a lifestyle is ethically problematical is not going to cause someone distress, and if it does cause them distress there is something wrong with that person, they need help.”
“To treat people as if they are so over-sensitive that they will get into physical distress because someone is suggesting their chosen lifestyle and their chosen beliefs are wrong, is fundamentally anti-intellectual and fundamentally insulting.” He continued. ” A University Union is there to support students in their intellectual endeavours, not to stop them engaging in their intellectual endeavours because people might be terribly, terribly offended.”
When contacted today, Doris Chen, Activities and Events officer spoke on behalf of the Sabbatical students:
“We decided to stop the talk because CathSoc did not follow the correct procedures.”
Hannah Webb summed up the matter towards the end of the social media exchange:
“I really can’t wait for the day when people understand the difference between a state and a student’s union (clue: if something does not appear in one of them, it’s not censorship).”