Student union officer, Fran Cowling, has refused to attend an event at Canterbury Christ Church University tonight, featuring gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, due to his views on free speech.
Cowling, a PhD student at Nottingham University, said she would only take part if Mr Tatchell withdrew from the event, accusing him of having used racist language and supporting the incitement of violence against transgender people.
Organisers of the debate said they were “disappointed” at the decision of the National Union of Students LGBT representative to pull out of the event. They said they had received no other objections to Tatchell’s attendance.
In an email to the event’s organisers, Cowling cited Tatchell’s signing of an open letter in the Observer against a growing trend for universities to “no platform” people for holding views they disagree with, saying he had effectively supported people who were transphobic.
The veteran campaigner has been forced to defend himself against the allegations. He told the Daily Mail: “I have never used racist language or harassed anyone. I have challenged Fran Cowling and NUS LGBT to produce evidence for these claims.”
The controversial claims have provoked a huge response from supporters of the campaigner, who has spent decades fighting homophobia and discrimination.
“I have supported every anti-racist and pro-trans campaign for the last 49 years,” he added.
“I’m prepared to share a platform with people I profoundly disagree with – in order to challenge and expose them.
“Free speech is one of the most precious of all human rights.”
Other speakers at the event include Sue Sanders, who organised LGBT history month, of which it is part, said they were happy to share a platform with Tatchell and were looking forward to the debate.
Sanders, co-chair of Schools-Out, has called on Cowling to provide evidence to support her allegations. “I would always share a platform with Peter Tatchell. He has done the most sterling work for LGBT community and the black community. Fran Cowling’s remarks are problematic and I would like to see the evidence for them,” she said.
Peter has said that he plans to raise the accusations with the president of the NUS, but will not take legal action.
Outnews Global has approached the NUS and Fran Cowling for a comment but is yet to receive a reply.