This weekend in New York City, Left Forum will hold its annual political conference, which boasts “the largest gathering of the U.S. left.” Founded in the 1960s by socialist academics, Left Forum began as a small scholastic convention. Principal figures of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) re-founded the conference in the 1980s and, at the behest of the City University of New York chancellor, were given largely free reign of the publicly funded university’s resources to facilitate and host their events.
Panels range in subjects from “Anti Fascism in Theory and Practice” to “The Resistance Is Intersectional; Creating a Politics of Solidarity” in this series that has adopted “The Resistance” as its central motif. Yet judging by the organization’s efforts to silence its own initially sanctioned perspectives, my own included, such thematic irony must reference to the conference’s own resistance to intellectual engagement.
Following an article on trans activism’s effects on gay and lesbian rights in light of recent conflicts within the LGBT community, two fellow lesbians invited me to join their panel on the subject at Left Forum. While my role was focused on discussing the younger lesbians’ relationship with the transgender movement, the main purpose of the event was to underscore the enormous amount of money big pharma is funneling towards transgender activism.
Given that trans-identifying individuals become lifelong customers of such industries if they elect to undergo any form of medical transition, the subject certainly seems a legitimate, compelling, and warranted subject independent of one’s political affiliation. Yet, once word of the panel spread through the hivemind of aggressive reactionaries on Twitter, anger erupted and some claimed merely including our panel in Left Forum was both dangerous and “violent.” Never mind that this panel was to take place at an event one can choose freely whether to attend, the furious calls for its removal were sustained by citing the murder of trans individuals as direct consequences of such discussions.
Left Forum subsequently caved to the rabid complaints, while activists claimed victory at being able to effectively silence a panel of three concerned members of the LGBT community, contradicting Left Forum’s mission statement that its strength “has always been its ecumenical inclusion of many perspectives, many groups, fighting on many fronts.”
Left Forum publicly apologized for “an unapproved panel proposal being displayed on our website schedule” and stated that “transphobia has no place in LF.” They conveniently failed to mention that they had, indeed, sent notice of approval and already assigned us both a time and space. The Internet Archive shows our panel appearing on the Left Forum website (screenshot below). A “resistance” to definitions, perhaps?
It’s hard to see where the victory lies in this for either side. Progress does not conventionally hinge on obstruction, yet Left Forum has shamelessly facilitated and fueled the vitriol turned on myself and two other well-intentioned speakers after unfairly smearing us as “transphobes” and “bigots.” These silencing tactics only succeed in legitimizing the use of defamatory labels in larger social discourse.
The only achievement attained is shutting down “hateful” language, before anyone even had an opportunity to offend. Does “the resistance” really look like demonizing the opinions and integrity of people you refuse to listen to?
Many lesbians and gays have increasingly felt excluded, alienated, even erased by trans dogma, yet when attempting to express genuine concern, they are pathologized, threatened, and publicly slandered. Left Forum cites the safety of trans people as just cause to cancel a panel of critical lesbians, but are conspicuously absent when threats using far more violent language, including bodily threats, are sent to me by the thousands.
What drives this resistive impulse to discredit and eliminate divergent viewpoints? A refusal to so much as entertain difference of opinion betrays, in this writer’s opinion, far more fear than it does ideological commitment. To that end, I see it fit to ask: what are they so afraid of?
“These are radical times,” Left Forum’s mission statement asserts, “which means they are times with great possibilities for real radicalism.” I suppose we hold different definitions of radical.