Colloquium cancelled over transgender controversy

In a society that values freedom of speech and intellectual diversity, it’s essential to foster open dialogue and debate.

Uncomfortably for some, that means the proponents of even the most controversial topics – such as gender ideology – must be willing to engage in a robust exchange of ideas.

All too often, that’s not how it works.

The Christopher Dawson Centre for Cultural Studies, a Catholic intellectual society based in Hobart, has been banned from holding its annual forum at the University of Tasmania’s Jane Franklin Hall.

Why? According to college administrators, the group’s views on transgender issues are cause for serious concern.

For the past seven years, the Christopher Dawson Centre has held its annual colloquium at the university hall, providing a platform for intellectual debate and exploration of a wide range of ideas.

This year’s event, titled “Wokery and How to Deal With It,” was planned for July. However, after an advertisement for the event claimed that “elites” were undermining “objective truth” by teaching that “girls can be boys, that boys can be girls, and that grown-ups should be punished for denying it,” Jane Franklin Hall withdrew the booking.

The residential college’s principal said the ideas expressed in the advertisement did not “align with our values” and were inconsistent with its goal of “supporting the wellbeing of our students”.

Christopher Dawson Centre director David Daintree – a former principal of the Hall for 18 years – said he was “shocked” and “disappointed”, labelling the move to cancel the booking an act of “repression”.

While acknowledging some transgender individuals might have taken offence, Dr Daintree correctly pointed out that silencing an opposing view hardly contributes to the debate.

“If you state something you believe that other people do not believe, you are in danger of offending them. I believe in objective truth and one side is wrong when you talk about transitioning to another sex,” he said.

With transgender issues not intended to be the core focus of the colloquium, the cancellation begs the question: Why has discussing transgender issues become such a controversial and seemingly taboo topic?

Can it really be in our interests – even in the interests of the transgender individuals the ban was meant to protect – to stifle debate about such a hotly contested area of public importance? Open and constructive dialogue is crucial for fostering understanding and empathy, even between intellectual traditions that are at odds.

Ideas must be discussed and scrutinised.

But the decision of Jane Franklin Hall marks a concerning trend in Australian academic life, in which protecting certain minorities from offence is prized above open and honest intellectual inquiry.

One must ask why discussing transgender issues should become taboo.

The short answer is that it shouldn’t be. Suppressing debate on topics as controversial as gender ideology is a disservice to us all, because truth will be the ultimate loser.

And that’s in no-one’s best interests.