Another week, another ‘no platform’ furore involving Cambridge’s LGBT+ community. This time, the newly-reformed Caius Politics Society decided it would be a great idea to debate whether ‘This College does not condone gay marriage.’ We were assured that there would be LGBT+ debaters on both sides and the organisers reminded us that equal marriage remains a controversial issue in the USA and Germany. The stage was set for yet another clash of those renowned cyber-titans: free speech ‘supporters’ and LGBT+ ‘activists’. True to form, it was only a matter of time before the Facebook event came under sustained attack from self-righteous keyboard militants trying to shut down the debate before it had even begun, whilst the CPS committee launched a vigorous defence of the motion.
Personally, my largest objection to the debate was it being scheduled late on a Monday evening, meaning I would have had to choose between attending it and pre-drinking for another debauched night at Kaleidoscope. But aside from presenting me with this agonising decision, I see no reason why the debate should have been cancelled.
Let’s be honest, this was a poor choice of motion. With a General Election coming up, I’m perplexed as to why a politics society wouldn’t choose to debate an actual issue of contention at the ballot box, rather than one that was settled by Parliament nearly two years ago and is agreed on by 89% of students. That said, a debate being irrelevant does not mean it should be prevented from taking place. There is nothing homophobic about having a debate on gay marriage: this is the same discussion we’ve all had countless times over the past few years. We may be bored of arguing about our rights, but that doesn’t mean it’s suddenly become offensive to do so. It’s not like Caius had invited a queerphobic speaker; they merely created a forum to debate LGBT+ rights. There’s nothing offensive about that.
It must be said that the choice of ‘condone’ in the motion’s wording (rather than, for example, ‘support’) was an unfortunate one. It suggests an acceptance despite something’s moral wrongness, meaning that the best pro-equal marriage debaters could have achieved from the debate was Caius’s reluctant acceptance of their equal rights. Nevertheless, the correct place to point this out would have been on the debating floor, arguing against the motion. Sloppy and potentially offensive wording is not a sufficient reason to shut down a debate, but all the more reason to attend the debate and point this out.
The problem of over-using the ‘no platform’ argument is that it gives substance to the claim that the LGBT+ community are scared of arguing about these issues because we know we can’t win in an open debate. More worryingly, it supports the pernicious conspiracy that the LGBT+ community seeks to shut down anyone who disagrees with it and establish hegemony over what is an acceptable opinion to publicly air. We would be better off engaging in debate in order to quash these myths.
The Caius Politics Society is not Germaine Greer. A debate on same-sex marriage is not a platform for queerphobia. Cyber-pressuring away this debate was not to the benefit of the Cambridge LGBT+ community. We have already won the argument over same-sex marriage and would have undoubtedly won it again, if only we had let it take place. Next time, those who seek to shut down debate ought instead to make their opinions heard by taking part.