Former NCAA swimmer Riley Gaines was reportedly assaulted during an attempt to speak at San Francisco State University. The attack followed another successful effort to shout down a speaker with opposing views on a campus. Gaines was rushed from the event and kept in a secure room for nearly three hours, according to her account on Twitter.
The former University of Kentucky (and All-American) swimmer was at the university to discuss her views on why women sports should be reserved to those who are biologically women. She believes that the effort to allow transgender athletes to compete is destroying the progress made in female sports since the start of Title IX. Like the author J.K. Rowling, Gaines has found herself under constant threat and attacked as a Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist (TERF).
On Twitter, Gaines objected that “[t]he prisoners are running the asylum at SFSU…I was ambushed and physically hit twice by a man. This is proof that women need sex-protected spaces. Still only further assures me I’m doing something right. When they want you silent, speak louder.”
She videotaped herself being rushed by police officers to a safe location. Her husband, Louis Barker, is quoted as saying:
“She told me she was hit multiple times by a guy in a dress. I was shaking. It made me that mad. It makes me sick to feel so helpless about it. She was under police protection and was still hit by a man wearing a dress.”
The incident is all too familiar today. These activists have every right to protest. These are issues that go to the core identity of people on both sides. However, protesters do not have a right to disrupt a class or speech.
What is notable about this incident is that it appears that the shout down occurred just outside of the room. We have seen this tactic before. Indeed, at George Washington, I once debated law professor John Yoo, who is one of the authors of the controversial “torture memos” during the Bush Administration. We had disrupters opposed to Yoo in the debate who were removed. However, we had a large number of protesters who shouted down Yoo from just outside of the room and made it difficult for many to hear him. To its credit, the law school went outside and asked the protesters to move away from the windows and give some distance from the event. It was done without incident and the event continued.
That was clearly not done here. The university has to guarantee the safety of speakers as well as their ability to be heard. The protesters should not have been allowed to shout down the speaker from the hallway outside of the room in my view.
The Golden Gate Xpress, the school’s student-run newspaper, showed videotapes of how the protest grew in size and eventually became so large that the police removed Gaines for her own protection. A speaker should never have to fear for her physical safety in discussing contemporary issues on a campus.
There is no indication of an arrest in the case, which is also curious. If Gaines was struck, it occurred while she was being escorted by officers.
As for the successful canceling of the event, there remains the question of how the university will respond and whether it will hold any groups or individuals responsible for the disruption of this event. Equally important is the university addressing questions over its own actions before the cancelling of this event.