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Penn State Student Group To Host Controversial Political Commentator November 3

Update, October 29: Both Penn State’s student government, the University Park Undergraduate Association, and the borough of State College have published statements condemning a planned lecture from social provocateur Milo Yiannapoulos at Penn State.

Additionally, more than 10,000 people have signed a Change.org petition encouraging Penn State to intervene and stop the event from happening on November 3.

Update, October 26: A Change.org petition urging Penn State to uninvite social provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos from campus has gained nearly 3,500 signatures in just 17 hours.

The petition, which also calls on the university to remove posters advertising the event through taglines like “Pray The Gay Away,” was started by student Jacob Ehrbaker, who says hate speech doesn’t belong on campus.

“Implying that one needs to ‘pray the gay away’ means that homosexuality is a choice and implies it is the wrong choice. This is not the message that we should be sending students or prospective students touring the campus for the first time,” Ehrbaker wrote in the petition’s description. “It implies that there is something wrong that needs to be changed to ‘fix’ being gay.”

Ehrbaker’s petition suggests Penn State is approving of Yiannopoulos’s views, but a statement released Monday night suggests otherwise. Either way, the university said it will not prevent the event from coming to campus on November 3.

Original Story: A Penn State student group will host controversial alt-right political commentator and well-documented provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos for a discussion about “free speech, faith, conversion therapy, hair style, and more” on Wednesday, November 3, in 101 Thomas Building.

Although it was announced just days ago, the event has already sparked some controversy among students due to Yiannopoulos’s past comments. The event’s tagline, “Pray The Gay Away,” has caught flak, too.

Yiannopoulos’s lecture is organized by Uncensored American, a student organization founded at Penn State in 2020 that is “dedicated to fighting for freedom of speech.” Its mission statement says it seeks to “empower young Americans to fight for free speech in order to make American culture free and fun again.”

Yiannopoulos is a former editor of Breitbart News, which The New York Times once called a “curiosity of the fringe right wing” that puts out “material that has been called misogynist, xenophobic, and racist”. After being accused of advocating for pedophilia in 2017, Yiannopoulos was forced out of his position at Breitbart and uninvited to speak at that year’s Conservative Political Action Conference.

On a livestream in 2016, Yiannopoulos said relationships between adults and teenage boys could be beneficial. He added that the age of consent wasn’t black and white and that relationships between boys and men “can be hugely positive experiences.” Yiannopoulos later said his comments were attempts to cope with his own victimhood.

Additionally, Yiannopoulos has previously advocated for violence against journalists. In 2018, he reportedly told a New York Observer reporter that he “can’t wait for vigilante squads to start gunning down journalists on sight” and doubled down on it, saying that’s a “standard response.” Yiannopoulos later said his comments were only intended to taunt reporters.

Today, Yiannopoulos is banned from mainstream social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Last March, Yiannopoulos told LifeSiteNews that he’s an “ex-gay man” and would begin advocating for gay conversion therapy, starting with himself. He allegedly “demoted” his husband to “housemate.” The Penn State event’s website says Yiannopoulos is planning on opening a therapy clinic “for men plagued by same-sex attraction.”

Yiannopoulos’s comments have also touched on child sex abuse. A video from 2015 that surfaced in 2017 showed him describing survivors of clerical abuse as “whinging, selfish brats.” He also said child sex abuse is “really not that big a deal” and encouraged survivors to not let it ruin their lives.

Over the years, Yiannopoulos has embarked on a number of tours to universities across the United States and Great Britain, including “The Dangerous Faggot Tour” in 2015. He was originally supposed to speak at Penn State in 2016, but his appearance was canceled due to ticketing issues.

At a conference in 2017, Penn State President Eric Barron said his university “dodged a bullet” when Yiannopoulos pulled out.

“He’s creating his own anti-free speech movement wherever he goes because his message really is, ‘Tear down the university. They’re just a bunch of liberals that don’t want to listen to anybody,’” Barron said at that year’s Quality Advocates Session.

Penn State issued a statement Monday night denouncing Yiannopoulos’s previous comments and messaging. The statement was co-signed by Vice President and General Counsel Steve Dunham, Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims, and Vice Provost for Education Equity Marcus Whitehurst.

“At his core, Yiannopoulos is a social provocateur — a personality whose central public purpose is to deliberately create controversy, hurt and disruption. That is something we all should recognize,” the statement reads. “The posters promoting his presentation are largely designed to provoke response. The message is odious and divisive, and we wish we could simply erase it, but we cannot, just as we cannot prevent Yiannopoulos’s appearance next week.”

Penn State will not prevent Yiannopoulos from speaking, though, since it’s Uncensored America’s “undeniable Constitutional right” to host him. More importantly, the university lacks any power to stop it.

“As a public university, we are fundamentally and unalterably obligated under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment to protect various expressive rights, even for those whose viewpoints offend our basic institutional values. To do otherwise not only violates the Constitution but would undermine the basic freedom each of us shares to generally think and express ourselves as we wish,” Penn State said. “A public university cannot impose the risks of censorship on those whose viewpoints it does not like without equally risking censorship for all, including those viewpoints it strongly endorses.”

Penn State said it hopes students and community members will “avoid being baited into reacting” and ignore him to oppose anyone “determined to make their living by dividing us.”

Tickets for Yiannopoulos’s lecture are free but required for entry. Students can pay up to $55 for “royalty” tickets that come with front-row seating and a meet-and-greet opportunity.

Doors open at 7:45 p.m. on November 3, and the event will begin at 8 p.m. Although students have priority access, tickets don’t guarantee entry.

Penn State’s full statement on Yiannopoulos is available below:

University leaders released the following statement regarding Uncensored America, a recognized student organization at  Penn State, inviting  Milo Yiannopoulos to speak on the topics of  censorship and  free speech  at University Park on Nov. 3 in Thomas Building.   

Milo Yiannopoulos, a media figure affiliated with the alt-right, has been invited by a student organization at Penn State, Uncensored America, to appear at University Park, Nov. 3. Yiannopoulos has a history of remarks that disparage various groups, including the LGBTQ community. His past presentations on the nation’s college campuses have been antithetical to Penn State’s values, and we share the profound dismay others have already expressed in response to his forthcoming appearance here. Even the posters produced by Uncensored America to promote next week’s event, which now are displayed in the HUB-Robeson Center and elsewhere on campus, are troubling and worrisome — though consistent with University policy and Constitutional protections.

Yet as offensive and hurtful as Yiannopoulos’s comments have been and are likely to be again, and despite our own abhorrence for such statements and the promotional tactics used, Uncensored America has the undeniable Constitutional right to sponsor this presentation on our campus. The University lacks the right to do anything to stop it. Student organizations may select the speakers they invite to campus without the University’s endorsement, or even with the University’s displeasure, as is the case here. As a public university, we are fundamentally and unalterably obligated under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment to protect various expressive rights, even for those whose viewpoints offend our basic institutional values. To do otherwise not only violates the Constitution, but would undermine the basic freedom each of us shares to generally think and express ourselves as we wish. A public university cannot impose the risks of censorship on those whose viewpoints it does not like without equally risking censorship for all, including those viewpoints it strongly endorses.

But let us be clear. At his core, Yiannopoulos is a social provocateur — a personality whose central public purpose is to deliberately create controversy, hurt and disruption. That is something we all should recognize. The posters promoting his presentation are largely designed to provoke response. The message is odious and divisive, and we wish we could simply erase it, but we cannot, just as we cannot prevent Yiannopoulos’s appearance next week.  

We hope instead that students and other members of our community will avoid being baited into reacting — as Yiannopoulos wishes. Doing otherwise will only ensure the national attention a provocateur craves and upon which his brand of hate is fueled and spread. Instead, if you oppose bigotry, misogyny, transphobia, and anyone who is determined to make their living by dividing us, make that opposition known by uniting against Yiannopoulos in the most effective way possible — by ignoring him. Commit yourself instead to expressing care and support for those who are the object of his hate. Unify as an empathetic, compassionate and thoughtful university community that stands as one, purposeful in its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, and in its determination to silence hatemongers by turning our backs on them and denying the attention they seek.

— Steve Dunham, vice president and general counsel

— Damon Sims, vice president for Student Affairs

— Marcus Whitehurst, vice provost for Educational Equity

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About the Author

Matt DiSanto

By day, Matt is a senior majoring in journalism. By night, he's Onward State's managing editor. He's a huge Philadelphia sports fan, fantasy football lover, and washed-up drummer hailing from Collegeville, Pa. The quickest way to his heart is Margherita pizza and "Arrested Development" quotes. Follow him on Twitter @mattdisanto_ if you hate yourself or email Matt at [email protected] if you hate him.

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