BUFFALO, NY – Less than a year ago, a white man from out of town entered Buffalo before dispatching a white man who denounced, among other things, “transgenderism.” He is the one opened fire in a grocery store, killing 10 Black Buffalonians.
Thursday evening, a white man from out of town, who recently he said that “transgenderism” must be “eliminated in the lives of all people,” he climbed to the lectern at the University of Buffalo. He was laughing.
“Oh, what a welcome to Buffalo,” Michael Knowles told a crowd of several hundred people, mostly fans, inside Slee Hall. “Thank you for staying with me.”
He was immediately interrupted. “Trans lives matter!” shouted two protesters near the front of the audience. “Trans lives matter!” As the music continued, a middle-aged woman in the front stood up and told the school security to remove the protesters. The defense eventually obliged, even dragging one protester to their seat as he chanted, “No!
“That’s not the right word for a woman,” Knowles said with a laugh. “This is not how women should talk. And we’re going to be talking about how women should talk here tonight. ” The topic of her speech was “How Feminism Destroys Women and Everything.”
Afterward, after calling the two protesters “screaming banshee maniacs,” Knowles began speaking — repeating her call for “transgenderism” to be “ended.”
Knowles, a well-known right-wing columnist for The Daily Wire, was invited by the school’s head of the Young America’s Foundation, a right-wing student group. He arrived on campus less than a week after making headlines for his “abolitionist” speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which many have described as proto-genocidal or eliminationist.
“Transgenderism is not a coherent concept that is used by anyone other than trans people,” Alejandra Caraballo, a Harvard law professor and LGBTQ rights advocate, told HuffPost this week. “They can get away with saying the most disturbing things about trans people by sticking to ‘gender ideology’ or ‘transgenderism’ and saying, ‘Oh, we’re not talking about trans, we’re talking about. ideology,'”
Knowles’ viral comments were the latest and most alarming rise of America’s conservative army hellbent by removing the rights of trans people.
“The problem with transgenderism is that it’s not appropriate for children under the age of 9, the problem with transgenderism is that it’s not true,” Knowles said at CPAC. “There can be no middle ground in dealing with transgenderism – all or nothing… Transgenderism must be eradicated from public life completely, all negative attitudes at any level.”
However, on Thursday, before his arrival, trans students marched around the campus of the University at Buffalo, where he is present. Their existence as revolutionaries, they said, is not an -ism or an ideology. That’s who they are. Trans people have it has always been there, they said. And there’s no way in hell they’re going to let Knowles, the GOP, or their fellow students in YAF get rid of them.
Abigail Reinbold, a 21-year-old student, was one of 50 students who gathered inside Clemens Hall on Thursday to protest. “RESPECT OUR STATE, OR LET US REFUSE,” Reinbold’s banner proclaimed.
Reinbold watched Knowles’ CPAC speech with horror and saw Knowles say afterward that what he said was not genocidal at all.
“They tried to distinguish between the exclusion of transgender people and transgenderism as a concept,” Reinbold told HuffPost. “However, when they talk about the consequences of the type of policies they want to put in place, they need to be removed from society, which forces us out of society, forces us out of our community, from a place where we can find work, find housing, get help. There that is the destruction of people.”
Reinbold added: “It really bothers me as a transgender person to hear people talk about me that way and talk about people like me that way.”
Trans scholars and other political observers agree with Reinbold, arguing Knowles was making a dubious distinction – using manual skills.
“You often see with the Nazis in the 1920s, and in the early 30s, there was anti-Semitism, but they were often anti-Bolshevism or ‘anti-Marxism’ and simply ‘Judeo-Bolshevism’ .’ as a word, and saying that it’s a broad idea, not the people themselves. And then it just gets bigger,” Caraballo said.
Carrie Bramen, director of the Gender Institute at the University of Buffalo, said that Knowles wanted to get rid of the “-ism,” as in Judaism, people would understand that “it also means the elimination of Jews.”
Bramen, an English professor at the university, also told HuffPost that when you break down Knowles’ speech — look at the way he uses dependent clauses — it’s clear he’s talking about eliminating trans people.
“In his speech, he has used transgenderism in the word instead of the subject, representing the sentence,” he said. “But if you look at the dependent clauses…he will say transgender. When it’s a dependent clause in a sentence, he says people. But when it’s the subject of the sentence, he’s very careful to change it to ‘-ism.’ So that’s today’s grammar lesson.”
Earlier this week, Bramen sent the school’s president a letter asking him to stop Knowles’ speech. “We believe this offensive language is a call to violence against transgender people and, more specifically, to promote violence against the community,” Bramen said.
But the president of the school, citing the First Amendment, allowed Knowles to continue speaking as planned. So on Thursday, members of several LGBTQ+ groups set up tables inside the student union, handing out leaflets and Pride flags, while their straight friends and acis stood up to support.
Jack Kavanaugh, director of the University at Buffalo graduate program GLYS, an organization that serves at-risk youth, sat at a table and chatted with the graduates. “Knowles wants to use words as a solution,” he told HuffPost. “As a Jew myself, I like to hear these words in history books, not about people—about my loved ones.”
Hundreds of students gathered outside Slee Hall to protest shortly after. They carried signs saying “End apartheid” and “Fascism is not a family affair.” He also brought out the speakers to play the song, dancing to Beyoncé’s rendition of “You’ll Never Break My Spirit.”
And they were calling the right-wing students of the Young America’s Foundation, who were waiting in line to get into Knowles’ speech. “We’re here, we’re stupid, we’re awesome, don’t mess with us!” shouted the little white men who were dressed alike.
“Michael Knowles, leave! Racism, sexism, homophobia,” the protesters chanted. “Michel Knowles, leave! Trans rights are here!
The police watched with interest as the two groups of students exchanged punches. HuffPost saw police arresting another protester, though the details of the arrest were not released.
JB Pena-Batista, a 19-year-old student from nearby Niagara University, slipped into line carrying a sign. “To say you want to end transgenderism is to say you want to end whole human bodies, whole bodies that breathe and bleed like the rest of us,” he said.
“We must not be thrown away,” he added.
Shortly after 7pm, the doors to Slee Hall opened. Bags are not allowed. There are no tools. Security guards waved a metal detector that moved on student after student. People sat on the couch and waited for Knowles to arrive. Several young conservatives discussed what speakers they might invite to upset liberals on campus. Jordan Peterson, maybe. Or Charlie Kirk. Maybe even a white nationalist Nick Fuentes.
Finally, Knowles took the stage to much fanfare. Although she was invited to the university to speak about the “absurdity of feminism,” she caused a stir with her speech about transgender people.
Knowles repeated his speech at CPAC word for word and then explained how he does not call for murder. “When someone wants to end cancer, they don’t want to kill a cancer patient,” he said.
At various points in her speech and during the Q&A, Knowles appeared to suggest that so-called conversion could be the answer to making people transition back to being trans – an argument she also appeared on Twitter.
“I think when you have a conflict between your sexuality and your gender identity, then it’s your responsibility to come to terms with reality,” she said. “I think we don’t have the freedom of fantasy, the illusion that a man can be a woman and a woman can be a man. I think that if you’re a man, to quote Don Corleone, ‘you have to act like a man,’ and if you’re a woman, you have to act like a woman.”
In 2019 NBC reported on a new study that found people who received so-called conversion therapy – a highly illegal practice – were more than twice as likely to attempt suicide.
Michelle Williams, 24, a second-year Ph.D. student at the University of Buffalo, said that this is one of the reasons why Knowles’ words to end “transgenderism” are so violent.
“The logical conclusion of what they’re saying is that we’re taking away access to gay-affirming treatment, we’re taking away people’s ability to change medicine or change culture,” Williams said. “When he says he’s talking about ideas, not people like maybe he’s not… he’s calling violence directly to trans people directly, like out loud… but the result of what he’s saying is, trans will get attention. And that will hurt them physically.”
Knowles received a standing ovation at the end of his speech. As his fans left Slee Hall, they were greeted with a “walk of shame,” with protesters on either side of police barricades shouting, jeers and flashing middle fingers. Some of Knowles’ young fans were delighted with the attention, smiling and posing for selfies.
Back in the student body, disco lights danced on the floor as skeptical students and their straight friends washed up at the party they held during Knowles’ speech — a way to give disaffected students a place to go. have fun.
Clayton Shanahan, a medical student, was among the volunteers who held the balloons up and wrapped the wires around the loudspeakers. The party was big, they said, a celebration of transgression and queerness.
Knowles’ comments about the settlement, Shanahan said, are absurd. Trans people have always been and always will be.
“You can’t completely eliminate transgender people,” he told HuffPost. “You can’t get rid of us. We are brave, and we are about to be.”