'We would do it again in a heartbeat': The right continues to discuss transgenderism despite violent pushback
Libertarian commentator Brad Polumbo and ISI President John Burtka shared with Campus Reform their experiences at the riot during the transgenderism debate at the University of Pittsburgh on April 18.
Burtka said that the outbreak of violence demonstrates that having these conversations is the “right thing to do.”
More details of the security threats at the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) last Tuesday have come to light, signaling that conservatives and libertarians will continue to discuss transgender issues regardless of intimidation or violence.
Campus Reform has covered extensively the pre-event drama and violence that occurred at the Pennsylvania public school in the wake of a debate on transgenderism in law between conservative Michael Knowles and libertarian Brad Polumbo which was hosted by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI). This sparked a riot of approximately 250 protestors armed with incendiary devices aimed to cancel the event.
ISI President John Burtka told Campus Reform that the event itself ended 20 minutes earlier than scheduled because officers had been assaulted by the crowed and the police presence “felt as though the situation outside was deteriorating.”
“[I]t was one of the few times…in my adult life where I was genuinely…without being hyperbolic… concerned for my safety and more importantly for the safety of our students,” Burtka said.
ISI hired a private security detail for both Knowles and Polumbo because of the vague violent threats which started a month prior to the event itself and included statements from the University regarding the “harmful” nature of this and two other on-campus events questioning the role of transgenderism in American politics.
Polumbo shared with Campus Reform that his experience at the debate “was kind of surreal.”
“The hotel was only a tenth of a mile away from where the event was happening, but I had to be escorted by armed security through the mob that was being held back,” Polumbo noted. “I’m all about peaceful protests and disagreement, and there were some people there for that, I’m sure, but that’s not what a lot of this was. These people wanted to stop this event.”
Polumbo explained that he was escorted out of the venue so quickly that he did not have time to remove his lapel microphone.
“I walked out still wearing my mic because we were hurried out, snuck out the back and put in cars and then drove ou …through the back alley,” Polumbo described. “I didn’t even have time after I was ushered off stage to…think to unclip it, which kind of shows you how chaotic and frenzied [the protestors] managed to make the event.”
As both Polumbo and Burtka articulated, the whole event was exceedingly tense because of the security concerns.
“We all felt a little bit unsafe the whole time,” Polumbo said. “Just a little bit worried somebody might do something.”
Although no attendees were injured by the protestors, “They were able to make us feel unsafe to simply discuss an important topic of national interest, and that to me is really disappointing,” Polumbo expressed.
When asked about what the public response to this event illustrates about free speech on campuses, Burtka explained that the long-term consequences of the leftist academic echo chamber extend far beyond universities.
“When these people graduate,” Burtka contended, woke students end up “filling leadership roles at all of America’s major institutions, and they’re basically exporting this campus culture with them. And then all of a sudden free speech…becomes an impossibility.”
But Burtka assured Campus Reform that ISI will continue to host events discussing transgenderism philosophically and politically.
“In retrospect the events that transpired,” Burka explained, “really show[ed] me that having this conversation on transgenderism and law was actually really important, that it was the right thing to do.”
“ISI really exists to provide students an alternate perspective on these fundamental questions that they’re clearly not getting at the university and so I’m really glad that we did the event….[W]e would do it again in a heartbeat,” Burka said.
Pitt has continued to be unresponsive to Campus Reform’s request for comment. This story will be updated accordingly.