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Difficult topics need debate, not dismissal

Those who successfully shouted down Standing for Women founder Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull [otherwise known as Posie Parker] when she tried to speak in Auckland the weekend before last – in the process convincing her to cancel her Wellington event and hurriedly leave the country – appear to believe it was a good job, well done.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the event will be looked back on as one in which “joy trumped fear and a symphony of fearlessness drowned her out”, as one journalist described it, or it will come to be seen as a significant watershed on our way down the slippery slope to becoming an increasingly uncivil, censorious, and effectively censored country.

Media coverage has, for the most part, been approving of the crowd of hundreds that surrounded the self-described “pro-woman” [or “anti-trans” to her opponents] activist, preventing her and a comparatively small group of women from speaking.

Although Parker was physically mobbed and intimidated, not to mention assaulted – and verified footage of a woman in her 70s being punched repeatedly in the face by a young bearded man was soon circulating on social media – local news outlets have largely chosen to accent the positive in their coverage.

Given the way in which our media almost uniformly mischaracterised Parker prior to her arrival – most notably seizing on a group of neo-Nazi gate-crashing one of her events in Australia in order to portray her as a fascist – there was no apparent incentive to provide fair and balanced [let alone nuanced] coverage of the Auckland event or its aftermath.

In fact, having picked a side in this particular argument, media appear to have been actively motivated to ensure that only one side was ever heard from, in what is surely an abject failure in the primary duty to report “without fear or favour”.

Yes, those who identify as transgender should be afforded the same care and respect as everyone else in society. But there are a number of complexities involved in the trans issue – including that of competing rights claims – that deserve serious public discourse, not dismissal.

While the way in which Parker discusses these issues can be provocative and possibly unhelpful, none of her critics have bothered to support their repeated claims that voicing her views would cause the trans community “harm” – or what that “harm” may have entailed.

Instead, it’s apparently sufficient for the likes of Minister Michael Wood to simply assert she has “inflammatory, vile and incorrect worldviews” and to encourage others to “use their own right to free speech against those who wish to take society backwards” [which in this case meant screaming so she couldn’t be heard].

It seems like a short-sighted position for a politician to take, especially during an election year in which various ministers have already expressed concerns about unruly public protests and potential security threats on the campaign trail. One can only imagine Wood would have a very different view of the tactics deployed against Parker if former prime minister Jacinda Ardern had been the target.

Difficult subjects demand discussion, not simplistic slogans that demonise those with different points of view. That shouldn’t be up for debate.

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