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Last month, Harvard’s Network of Enlightened Women hosted Riley Gaines as a speaker for a campus event. Gaines, a former collegiate swimmer for the University of Kentucky, has been an outspoken critic of transgender female athletes in women’s sports after tying for fifth place with Lia K. Thomas — the first openly transgender woman to win an NCAA swimming event — in an NCAA freestyle championship.
By misgendering and mocking trans athletes for the entertainment of the crowd, as well as belittling the charge of transphobia as a “term of endearment,” Gaines displayed a deplorable disrespect for the transgender community that we, as an Editorial Board, must explicitly condemn.
To be clear: We recognize and affirm the importance of hosting a diversity of speakers on campus, despite polarized perceptions of Harvard as a blue-tinted echo chamber. As a Board, we are organized around and deeply value the principles of free speech; we simply wouldn’t function without them.
But the value of a free market of ideas does not amount to a get-out-of-jail-free card for hateful rhetoric, nor does it preclude the organizations platforming said rhetoric from criticism. Fruitful discourse, especially on sensitive issues, is contingent upon both parties recognizing the dignity and legitimacy of their counterpart.
Held against this standard, Riley Gaines’s bad-faith engagement in an otherwise valuable discussion about trans athletes in women’s sports serves as a poignant reminder that while all speakers have the right to be heard, not all are equally worth hearing — a point that reflects just as poorly on her as it does on the organization that brought her to campus.
Gaines’s comments are particularly pernicious because they embody how a myopic focus on trans athletes has been used in some conservative circles to attack the rights — indeed, the very existence — of trans individuals more broadly. The malicious conflation between trans women’s participation in sports and trans identity in general, which falsely frames the latter as an “issue” up for debate, only serves to advance a hateful agenda writ large.
Amid this noxious climate of rhetoric, we reaffirm our support for trans students and athletes on campus. As members of our community, they deserve to feel safe to express themselves to the fullest; their identities should not be shamefully ridiculed or exploited for votes.
To this end, we applaud the organizers of the “Big Trans Party” held in protest at the entrance of the event, who provided a resounding reminder that even — or perhaps especially — in the face of adversity, celebration is an act of resistance. The joyful noise of the vibrant trans community at Harvard and beyond will reverberate far longer than any speech that seeks to see it subdued.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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