The "Dangerous Faggot" is coming.
Now, lest you think we blithely publish slurs here at the Independent, let's clarify that the right-wing pundit Milo Yiannopoulos chose that moniker for himself, apparently attempting to justify his bigotry with his identity as a gay man. He's senior editor of Breitbart News — the fringe website that propelled its former CEO, Steve Bannon, to the White House where he'll serve as President-elect Donald Trump's chief strategist.
Online, Yiannopoulos has built his brand as poster boy of the so-called "alt-right" — a conservative populist movement known for espousing white nationalism, misogyny and authoritarianism.
Yiannopoulos plans to come to the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs on Jan. 26. It's a stop on his tour of college campuses nationwide in which he delivers lectures that flout socially progressive sensibilities with self-styled rock star flair.
But the Eventbrite page offering tickets to the event caught college officials off guard. UCCS spokesperson Tom Hutton says the event is not approved yet and that the announcement is "a bit premature."
Nonetheless, the event listing started making rounds online, inspiring opposition. The Colorado Springs Anti-Fascists are organizing to "shut it down," according to a member of the leaderless group, Sam (who would not give his last name). He says they plan to protest by picketing on the day of the event. Other members have been monitoring expressions of white supremacy on campus— so far, they've noted neo-Nazi fliers posted in men's bathrooms.
For the most part, UCCS students have rallied around their undocumented immigrant, Muslim and LGBTQ peers since this racially-charged election, but there have also been reported instances of bullying and harassment on campus. Hutton says there's been no physical violence or police involvement, but wouldn't speak to the details.
Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak emailed a letter Thursday to students saying she's "saddened" by the reports. "Every student at UCCS — man, woman, gay, straight, transgendered, Muslim, Jew, Christian, immigrant or native-born, Democrat or Republican, young or old — has earned a place on this campus," she wrote. "Each person deserves support and respect. That's not being 'politically correct.' Instead, it is recognition that all members of this academic community have a responsibility to protect the university as a forum for the free expression of ideas."
Free speech was top of the mind for third-year student Stephen Bates when he reached out to Yiannopoulos' booking agent over the summer. "I don't agree with everything he says, and his approach isn't always the best," Bates prefaced, "but what I like most about [Yiannopoulos'] message is that anyone should say what they want, do what they want, be exactly who they are without letting anyone stop them."
As vice president of the College Republicans at UCCS, Bates teamed up with a new student group, Turning Point USA, to organize the visit. He says "there's confusion about the term 'alt-right,'" though he acknowledges some members of the movement are indeed white supremacists. Still, Bates insists that, ideologically, the label means "that the majority of their views are right-of-center, but the GOP doesn't best serve their needs as a political party." Stylistically, he points to Yiannopoulos' own description of the movement as "a faction of meme-loving Internet trolls and pranksters who like to have fun with politics."
That's what Bates feels may appeal to his peers. And if bad branding is indeed why millennials aren't into the establishment Republican platform, campus conservatives trying to woo ex-Sanders supporters while wearing "Socialism Sucks" T-shirts should prove a telling experiment.
UCCS alumna Heidi Beedle's problem with Yiannopoulos is all substance. She points to his article on why the washing machine and the pill left a generation of women feeling unfulfilled (because what women really want is to do domestic chores and have babies, not a career or autonomy, of course) as one example of the misogyny that prevents women from empathizing with the "alt-right." But it goes further than just a difference of opinion for Beedle, who's trans.
At prior stops on the "Dangerous Faggot" tour, Yiannopoulos' staff have posted "trannies are gay" fliers all around campus. In a speech at University of Delaware, Yiannopoulos called transgenderism a "mental illness" that the progressive left and their media allies have mistakenly construed as a "lifestyle choice." He told gender-nonconforming students that "made-up genders don't make you special, they make you a retard." At the end of his speech, Yiannopoulos encouraged his audience to "expose their absurdity" through mockery, ridicule and public shaming.
With 2016 already the deadliest year on record for trans people, Beedle says, "We hardly need him giving Breitbart fans any more reason to cause problems for us." But, angry as she is that Yiannopoulos is apparently getting a platform at her alma mater, Beedle is torn about protesting. It's not that she's wary of vitriol — "I mean, as a trans person you learn to handle that," she says — it's that she's unsure it'd accomplish much.
"That kind of confrontation is cathartic, but predictable," she says.
Stephany Rose, a UCCS professor of Women's and Ethnic Studies who has been blacklisted for her views by Turning Point USA, has suggested a less predictable strategy: diversion. She floated the idea of inviting Jon Stewart's Daily Show successor, Trevor Noah, to come speak on campus on the same day at the same time. Others latched onto the idea, flooding the comedian's booking agent with requests that have yet to be accepted or rejected.
"I know that the university legally can't deny [Yiannopoulos] from coming, but I don't want to give [the event] more attention or energy than it deserves," Rose says. "So I thought, 'What can we do to articulate who we are and what we are for as opposed to always saying what we're against?"
Noah, a cheeky biracial immigrant, would make the perfect foil, she tells the Indy, because he combines social commentary with humor at a time when so many people feel weighed down by the upcoming political transition.
"I want to provide a space for conversation that's inviting, not dividing," Rose says. "Even people who share [Yiannopoulos'] perspective, they're invited as we sit in this critical moment trying to figure out how to move forward."