The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Matt Walsh Perpetuates Hate at the University of Iowa

On Wednesday April 19 at the University of Iowa, the student organization Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) hosted conservative commentator, proud transphobe, and self-proclaimed theocratic fascist Matt Walsh to speak inside the Iowa Memorial Union. This was met with pushback on the day of, and the weeks leading up to the event, because much of Walsh’s rhetoric on his podcast inspires hostility against the transgender community. Many have called out the university for allowing an open space for hateful rhetoric against the people who live in its community. 

Walsh’s presence at the University of Iowa comes at a time when the transgender community in Iowa City has seen repeated attacks on their own existence. Most notable concerns come from Iowa Senate Files 482 and 538. File 482 bans transgender students from entering bathrooms that correspond to their gender identities, while File 538 bans transgender youth from receiving gender affirming care. Along with this, anti-transgender sentiment in the nation has been brought to the forefront. Examples include outrage over transgender social media personalities and blaming the transgender community for a Tennessee school shooting.  

YAF vice chairman John Piaszynski in an interview stated the YAF wanted to create a discussion on the transgender community, stating they wanted to provide an alternate viewpoint on campus, marking it as an opportunity for debate. Some of the issues they wanted to discuss were related to athletics and allowing gender affirming care to children under eighteen. He also mentioned how the organization has been attacked with things like their posters being ripped down, and chalk writings being ruined. In a leaked YAF group chat discussing the chalk writings, a group member used a slur to refer to transgender people.  

A protest formed at Hubbard Park just outside the Iowa Memorial Union, where protesters voiced their anger and distress over a figure like Matt Walsh coming to the University of Iowa. Expressing their frustration, they yelled out chants to those waiting in line to see Walsh speak. Upon speaking with some of the protesters, many expressed how the hniversity holding this event felt like an attack on them or their friend’s existence.  

Image via Wilhelmina Pudol

A transgender protester I interviewed said they were “Disappointed to see so many Iowans come out to see a figure who preaches the destruction of our people.” They went on to say this event bolsters a lot of misinformation around transgender people and inspires hate, which makes many people feel unsafe. They also debunked Walsh’s claim of “child mutilation” in the transgender community, making the point that no doctor would give gender reassigning surgery to someone under eighteen. They said that denying transgender children of hormonal and other treatments to better identify with their body is itself a form of mutilation.  

Many of the people waiting in line denied an opportunity to speak. Dalton, one of those who did speak, said that he was fully in support of the event. He stated while he didn’t hate transgender people, he did oppose what he called the ideology of “transgenderism,” a derogatory term, stating that he thought it was dangerous, and hoped that they could be helped to live more normal lives. 

Another person waiting in line had said that while they do like to watch Matt Walsh’s content, they came hoping for some level of debate. They had wanted to hear the thoughts of both sides, and hoped to have their feelings defined more so they could empathize better.  

Walsh’s speech began shortly after 7:00 pm with a few opening remarks from YAF Chairwoman Jasmyn Jordan. She touted scary proclamations that the event was a “Stand against the dark reaches of the transgender movement,” and a call to “End child mutilation.” Soon after, Walsh took the stage behind a large, round red podium.  

Image via Yahoo News

Walsh spent the first half of his speech talking about how his Twitter account had recently been hacked. He also talked about YouTube demonetizing his channel after he covered the recent Nashville school shooting, and for what he claimed to be “accurately gendering” transgender social media personality and actress Dylan Mulvaney by using wrong pronouns when referring to her. He also said that going against “transgenderism” is the last stand for western civilization. 

From there he went through different, easily debunkable anti-transgender arguments. This included the claim that biological sex is only binary. With this he also said that transgender people’s gender is instead a personality. This is a very similar sentiment to that of Wyatt Phillips, a leading member among the Iowa YAF organization. In my interview with him, he said that his identity as a male is based in biological fact, while the identities of transgender people are based in their mind. He said that this also makes up the basis of their personalities.  

The claim that gender is binary has been proved to be incorrect. Research beginning in the 1950’s examined the incongruences with the binary gender notion. While much less common, people are born with chromosomal differences compared to the typical “XX” and “XY” pairs. On top of this, different people have different hormonal balances. This creates a much more fluid structure of gender in society compared to the binary system that has influenced it throughout history.  

For the belief that being transgender makes up an entire person’s personality that both Walsh and Phillips seem to have, they have no good basis to draw that conclusion on. Walsh has built a name for himself based on being anti-LGBTQ, which brings hostility from members in that community towards his way. Phillips stated the primary experience he has with transgender people are in debate style discussions. These are not good situations to form an impression about someone, and learn about them as a person. It only perpetuates the hostilities between them.  

Image via Wilhelmina Pudol

In his speech, Walsh had also made the claim that transgender people haven’t always existed and it’s a recent phenomenon. This is untrue as accounts of transgender people existing can be found all over the world from antiquity to present times. There has been more visibility of transgender people in the current day due to societal progress and a greater openness to it. Transgender people have always been here, it’s just now more comfortable for them to come out. 

Despite all of these incorrect talking points, Walsh always emphasized them as the truth. He stated that everything he said was based on facts and science, because they went along with the traditional notion of gender. A common rallying cry among the protesters was to drive fascism off campus. Other than Walsh’s own claim to be a fascist, these actions strengthens that position. 

In the 1995 essay “Ur-Fascism” by Italian novelist Umberto Eco, using his experience growing up in Italy under Mussolini’s rule, he listed several characteristics that define fascism. He described them as a common enemy for a populous to rally against, a devout worship of traditionalism, and the twisting of truth to fit ideological needs.  

Matt Walsh did all of these in his speech. He rallied a crowd in a constant beratement of transgender people, where in his rhetoric attacked their very existence and slandered them as people. One of his bases for these attacks is the protection of traditional gender ideals and values. To do this he defined facts and truth as what he wanted it to be in order to fit his agenda, giving no evidence other than calling it fact. This is fascism, and we should fear its onset in our society. We should pushback against it, and it should not allowed here on our campus.

 Image via John Glab

At 7:30 pm the Q&A portion of the lecture began. However, unlike what YAF claimed the event was for, and what many were hoping to see, there was no debate. Those who made points that were anti-transgender, were cheered and reaffirmed by Walsh. Those who presented arguments and questioned the rhetoric of the night were vehemently booed by the audience before they could finish speaking, where then Walsh would respond with hollow bloviated counterpoints.  

There was no discussion, or exchange of ideas. Anti-transgender attitudes were only strengthened and given a platform. This made it clear that the point of the event was to foster a cesspool to spew out vile transphobic hate speech. The YAF and University of Iowa emboldened this.  

At 8:00 pm we filed out of the ballroom of the IMU and onto the street. Protesters had amassed on the street, blocking traffic from leaving the event. Quips among those leaving included, “look at this trans shit,” and “run them over.” During and after the event, protesters had been making noise with the help of a pep band and had been chanting out their frustrations.  

While the situation was somber and scary, the atmosphere of the protest had a festive air to it. Paras, a protester, said, “I’m proud of the community for coming out and supporting trans people. I’m also disappointed the university couldn’t speak up for us, but we came out and did it ourselves.”  They also said the protest better resembled the feelings of the student body, referring to the large amount of middle aged people who attended Walsh’s lecture.

Image via Wilhelmina Pudol

Harry, a protester and transgender woman gave a statement saying “It is the importance of the Iowa City government and school district to reject the recent senate files that were passed through. Every single individual should use their power to protect transgender youth. Make the right decision.”  

Upon hearing some of the things said during the lecture, she had said that being transgender is not a mental illness and isn’t something to be persecuted over. You can’t deny a person their existence, and you can’t tell them how to feel. It’s a matter of protecting human rights. She said being transgender has always been a part of who she is, and was something that she has seen in herself, giving a vivid account from when she was four.  

Just after 9:00 pm, the protest had begun to disperse, where everyone was encouraged to get back home safely. In an interview, a protester gave a few final remarks saying “I am proud of the community for coming out and being willing to stand up for trans rights. I am worried for the future, but we are standing in opposition to them trying to deny our rights, our healthcare, and who we are. If you’re not out here, get out here.”