This is a repost of an article written in collaboration with the LGB Express and the original can be found here on their website.
By: Polina Melnikhova, Priya Roy (LGB, Y12) and Ruhamah Weil, Joseph Cook, Joseph Watson (La Chat, Y12)
Last week, Peter Tatchell, a human rights and LGBT+ campaigner, was invited to La Chataigneraie to share his views on the LGBT+ movement, particularly in the developing world.
However, Tatchell is also known for his somewhat controversial view on the age of consent. Most people in the UK have their first sexual experience before it is ‘legal’; in his interview with The Update, which you can watch below, Tatchell states that, because of this, he believes the age of consent should be lowered. Tatchell assured The Update that he personally does not condone pedophilia. He also said, when referring to his controversial letter published in 1997 in The Guardian on the age of consent, that he was solely defending the right of people to express their views: he did not support making it legal for children and adults to have sex. To support his argument, Tatchell provides the example of Derek Jarman, who at the age of 9 had a sexual encounter with an older man yet claims to have been fully aware of what was going on and does not regret his past experience. You can watch Peter Tatchell explain this in his own words in the interview below.
IMPORTANT: Although Peter Tatchell says that he was ‘banned’ from speaking at one of the Ecolint campuses it was only decided to disinvite him.
Peter Tatchell was meant to also give a speech at La Grande Boissière but certain parents and teachers, who believed his views were too controversial to be shared with the students, protested causing the school to disinvite him. Now picture this in your head: a thin, short, end-of-her-middle-aged-years woman standing on the tips of her toes just barely being able to reach and cover the ears of her son – handsome, “grown-so-tall-since-I-last-saw-you” and most definitely well acquainted with the in’s and out’s of sex. Absurd? Absurd. But in a figurative sense, this is exactly what has happened at the heart of Ecolint.
How I Met Your Mother, the beloved and acclaimed sitcom stars a group of thirty-year-olds including a sex-driven, woman-manipulator. The jokes made about their sex lives are endless and unabashed. Common Sense Media (named by every school principal ever) suggests an age rating of fourteen. However, when Peter Tatchell wanted to come to school, sit down, and have a dignified, intellectual conversation with a group of sixteen and seventeen-year-olds about those topics which the writers of the comedy permissibly flaunt on screen, it seemed that our parents, guardians and educators ran screaming.
As Conrad Hughes, LGB’s campus and secondary principal, put it in his new book, Understanding Prejudice and Education: The Challenge for Future Generations, “A serious threat to the mission to educate for less prejudice is the notion of political correctness, a fuzzy concept that essentially entails ideological pressure not to offend others in the realms of prejudice and discrimination.” He writes on, “Educational institutions should not allow political correctness as a concept to hijack the struggle to reduce prejudice by over-institutionalising anti-prejudice stances…” His book is available in Ecolint campus libraries.
Freedom of speech is therefore supposedly one of the core values at our foundation, yet the no-platforming of speakers has the opposite effect. At the age of 16-17 years, students are becoming adults and are able to think for themselves – or so we have been told. They are able to formulate their own opinions and therefore may choose to agree or to question a certain view. However, in order to be able to challenge someone’s argument, you must first hear it, which is why Peter Tatchell should have been allowed to speak. Although his views are fairly controversial, he has done a lot to benefit the society we live in, notably the LGBT+ community and it is a shame that our school fails to see the positive aspects of his work and stick to one of their core value.
“I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of view… anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with ’em. But you shouldn’t silence them by saying, “You can’t come because I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say.” That’s not the way we learn either.” – Barack Obama
Our school, being one of the founding members of the IB, should be expected to compose itself in a manner that is in keeping with the IB learner profile – multiple aspects of which have been thrown aside with the blocking of Tatchell speaking at LGB. One of these is Open Mindedness, to “seek and evaluate a range of points of view.” Instead, Tatchell was blocked from speaking in order to maintain, it seems, our own sense of moral integrity. In addition to this, the school’s Guiding Principles include the need for Critical Thinking. This is clarified within a document co-written by Ecolint, the IB, and UNESCO, a document which emphasizes the need for “listening critically to what a speaker is actually saying” and “clarifying issues, conclusions or beliefs.” By no-platforming a speaker, this deprives students of the ability to debate and critically look at what the speaker is actually saying as opposed to the mistruths spread by popular media.
It is an immense shame that LGB was not able to hear Peter Tatchell’s views on a variety of subjects due to the pressure of a minority of parents and teachers at the school. As a school which should be committed to critical thinking and debate, students should be given the chance to judge a person’s views for and by themselves and to not be smothered by a false protective wall from the views outside our comfort zone. Lest the entire foundation will become a safe space where all are protected from reality, the world which we are supposedly being prepared for, and assured of their own sensitivities.