Boris Johnson leaps to defence of official who called lesbians ‘hard-core dykes’
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has leaped to the defence of a government regulator appointee who has a history of controversial comments.
The UK government this week appointed right-wing Spectator columnist and enthusiastic conservative supporter Toby Young to the board of the new Office for Students, which will be handed vast powers to regulate and punish universities.
The partisan appointment has riled student activists, who also questioned the lack of representation for student advocates on the new body.
Mr Young’s appointment has been scrutinised over his history of controversial comments.
He previously referred to George Clooney as “queer as a coot”, called a man “penis breath” and wrote a column about dressing up as a woman to infiltrate lesbian bars – and meeting “hard-core dykes”.
The string of comments led to calls for Mr Young to be sacked.
But Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has sprung to his defence.
Taking to Twitter, Mr Johnson said: “Ridiculous outcry over Toby Young. He will bring independence, rigour and caustic wit. Ideal man for job.”
The pair have several ties.
Mr Johnson is the former editor of the Spectator magazine, which Mr Young used to write for.
And Mr Young was actually appointed to the role by Mr Johnson’s younger brother, universities minister Jo Johnson.
Labour’s Dawn Butler today called for Mr Young to go.
She said: “By any measure, this is a shocking appointment by the Prime Minister. These comments show that Toby Young is completely unsuitable for this role.
“If she fails to rethink this appointment, the message Theresa May is sending to students is that under the Tories, misogyny and homophobia will not just be tolerated but rewarded.”
But Mr Young hit back by branding critics “political extremists”.
He said: “The OfS will have some responsibility for ensuring universities uphold free speech. That means defending the right of students, academic staff and visitors with unorthodox views to speak freely without being howled down by political extremists.
“Given that defending free speech will be one of the OfS’s priorities, there’s a certain irony in people saying I’m ‘unfit’ to serve on its board because of politically incorrect things I’ve said in the past.
“Some of those things have been sophomoric and silly – and I regret those – but some have been deliberately misinterpreted to try and paint me as a caricature of a heartless Tory toff.
“For the record, I’m a supporter of women’s rights and LGBT rights. Indeed, I was a supporter of gay marriage and debated Nigel Farage on the topic in public.”
Mr Young has long been outspoken in the political Twittersphere using the handle @Toadmeister – and since the appointment he has been under scrutiny over some of his past tweets.
In a 2010 message Mr Young branded George Clooney “queer as a coot”, while he responded to a male user on another occasion with the retort, “F**k you, penis breath”
On another occasion, referring to a picture of himself with a woman, he quipped: “Actually, mate, I had my dick up her arse”.
Mr Young appears to have since deleted the messages along with other profane comments.
But an article that Mr Young published to his blog in 2004 remains online.
The piece, which Mr Young told PinkNews was “a humour piece written for a New York men’s magazine”, recalls an occasion on which Mr Young dressed up as a woman in a bid to get into bed with lesbians.
He wrote: “As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a lesbian.
“I admit it’s a strange ambition. If I like women, what’s wrong with being a straight man? Two words: Pillow fight. Most men fantasize about spying on lesbians; I want to be one. So I became one.
“With the help of a crack special effects team I disguised myself as a woman and embarked on a whistlestop tour of New York’s hottest lesbian clubs.
“The plan was to approach gorgeous young lesbians, draw them into my confidence, then make out with them on the dance floor.”
He added: “The first stop was Ruby Fruit on Hudson Street. The women in Ruby Fruit are not what you’d call lipstick lesbians. They’re hard-core dykes.
“I’d been warned by several veterans of the New York gay scene that if the denizens of Ruby Fruit discovered I was a man there was a good chance they’d beat the crap out of me.
“I joked that I wasn’t scared of a bunch of lesbians but, in reality, I was terrified. Several of them looked like German shot-puters. We decided to make a sharp exit.”
Mr Young worried: “I introduced myself [to a woman] as ‘Jennifer’, asked her if she wanted a drink and retreated to the bar to collect my thoughts.
“What if she wanted to go home with me? After fooling around with her for ten minutes, it would be pretty obvious I was a man.
“How would she respond when I whipped off my ‘tuck-in panties?’ I bolted down a double-Scotch and headed back to the dance floor.”
Responding to a request for comment from PinkNews, Mr Young defended the piece.
He said: “That was a humour piece written for a New York men’s magazine 14 years ago in which I dressed up as a woman for the evening and tried to pick up a ‘lipstick lesbian’.
“If you read the whole thing, you’ll see that I present the women I encountered in New York’s gay bars as strong and level-headed and far too sensible to be show any interest in me. I was the butt of the joke throughout.”
Mr Young told PinkNews that he is “a strong supporter of gay rights and have often defended them publicly”.
Mr Young’s Twitter history does show that he praised Prime Minister David Cameron for introducing same-sex marriage.
He wrote of trans people earlier this year: “I support transgender rights, but also think gender differences, inc psychological ones, are genetically based and not socially constructed.
“I reject post-modernism, but support equal rights for transgendered people. Moral case isn’t contingent on gender being a social construct.”
The body that Mr Young will play a key role in, the Office for Students, will be responsible for enforcing ‘free speech’ at universities amid battles over hate speech policies.
Universities minister Jo Johnson has handed the body powers to fine and sanction universities if they prevent events from going ahead due to controversial speakers.
He said: “The Office for Students will have a range of remedies at its disposal which do include fines at the more extreme end of the spectrum. I think it is important that we look at the cases mentioned.
“These are speakers who have been potentially banned or harried under no-platforming or safe spaces decisions. On all reasonable definitions, they are advocates of openness and liberal values and should be welcomed on our campuses.”
Johnson also claimed that some universities had lists of “trigger words” which were used to determine whether speakers could appear and whether books should appear in libraries.
The feminist author has faced protests at events for her avowedly anti-trans beliefs, having called for women’s colleges to eject transgender students.
Greer claimed last year: “Just because you lop off your d**k and then wear a dress doesn’t make you a f***ing woman”.
Speaking to The Times back in October, Johnson said new rules were needed and branded it “preposterous” to ban Greer from speaking – though PinkNews is not aware of any occasions on which she has actually been actively banned from doing so by a University.
He said: “She has every right, if invited, to give views on difficult and awkward subjects… no-platforming and safe spaces shouldn’t be used to shut down legitimate free speech.”
He also alluded to similar controversies in the US.
American universities have recently faced pressure to cancel speeches by hero of the far-right Milo Yiannopoulos after he made remarks deemed racist and transphobic.
After one university ignored warnings and pushed ahead with the event, Yiannopoulos used his speech to single out and bully a transgender student on-stage.