Staunchly anti-LGBT+ Brexiteer Ann Widdecombe, who thinks gay people can be cured, to speak at Tory event
Cardiff University Conservatives have drawn criticism for inviting Ann Widdecombe, a brash former British lawmaker who once suggested gay people can be “cured”, to speak at an online seminar.
Throughout her decades-long career as a Conservative Party turned Brexit Party politician, Widdecombe has emerged as one of Britain’s most high-decibel anti-LGBT+ hard-liners.
She has often wielded her megaphone platform to compare the coronavirus to AIDS, brand the acceptance of transgender people “lunacy” and back businesses who refuse to serve gay customers.
The 73-year-old was invited to take part in the society’s “In Conversation!” webinar series on Thursday (15 October), which will see Widdecombe speak on her career in politics and her time on Strictly Come Dancing.
As a result, the event drew criticism from concerned LGBT+ people, as well as local lawmakers, who billed Widdecombe’s barbed views as “plain wrong”.
Cardiff University Student Union officials defended Widdecombe’s involvement as “freedom of speech“, a phrase as sticky as it is vague. Academics say that balance is key to both representing views and protecting marginalised groups from hate speech.
Ann Widdecombe speaking at university event is ‘ill-judged’ and ‘plain wrong’.
News of Widdecombe’s involvement in the webinar left many Twitter users rankled, including Labour and Co-operative Party MP Stephen Doughty.
Disgusted to see @CardiffUniCons proudly hosting someone who believes we can “cure” people of being gay. What century are they living in?
— Stephen Doughty MP (@SDoughtyMP) October 1, 2020
Wow. This is seriously ill judged.
Leaving aside she’s no longer a member of the Conservative Party, which part of her views on LGBT+ rights do you think will appeal to Cardiff uni students? https://t.co/qxklMjDoUv
— Aled Richards-Jones (@aled_rj) October 2, 2020
Yes because let's bring in a massive homophobe. That's really gonna not tell on the Cardiff Conservatives that they're homophobic too.
Why are Conservatives even at university if they don't actually learn anything. You might as well say "Gimme 100k debt" just for the kicks. https://t.co/0T74zMAysD
— Mattie ~ xox ~ BLM ~ (@mattiexoxxx) October 2, 2020
The Cardiff South and Penarth parliamentarian told PinkNews: “It’s classic student politics to invite offensive and sensational speakers with no regard for the offence and concern they will cause – especially to new students from the LGBT+ community.
“Cardiff Uni Conservatives should urgently rethink their choice of the homophobic and ‘gay cure’ Widdecombe – who is not even a Tory.
“Debating the existence of LGBT+ people is not about defending free speech – it’s just plain wrong, and it’s a shame that some would like to ignore her awful views on equality because they like her politics in other areas.
“Their party says it wants to ban conversion therapy – so why are they inviting one of its supporters with open arms?
“They say they don’t like ‘cancel culture’. Well, I don’t like the promotion of those who want to cancel out our existence.”
Elena Rose Bunbury, chair of LGBT+ Conservatives, however, told PinkNews this was a matter for the Brexit Party and fell short of condemning the Cardiff University Conservatives for inviting the staunchly anti-LGBT+ politician.
“Last time we checked Ann Widdecombe was a member of the Brexit Party not the Conservative Party,” she said.
“We hope that the Brexit Party hold her accountable.”
Cardiff University Student Union is ‘satisfied’ with former MP speaking at online event.
While confusion continued to mingle with anger, such frustrations were not shared by either Cardiff University Conservatives leaders or the university’s student union, according to WalesOnline.
Cardiff University Conservatives president James Wallice told the outlet: “Ann Widdecombe has been at the forefront of British politics since 1987.
“Whether you agree with her or not, it’s important people hear her story. I’ll happily defend Ann’s right to speak.”
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Union officials said the criteria for student body-led events had been “satisfied”.
“The union takes a role in ensuring that such speakers are aware of their rights and responsibilities, balancing freedom of speech and expression with regard to other legal requirements and protections such as public safety, prevention of crime and the protection of the legal rights of others,” it said in a statement.
“Having been satisfied that an event meets the above criteria as set out in the events booking process, the Students’ Union has no grounds to stop an event from taking place.”