Republican legislators and right-wing media outlets are accusing trans activists at San Francisco State University (SFSU) of “terrorism” and silencing free speech for shutting down a speech by transphobic former college athlete Riley Gaines and then allegedly physically assaulting and trapping her in a room for several hours.
Gaines posted a one-minute video in which she exits a classroom while protestors yell, “Trans rights are human rights,” and “Why are you running?” One protestor records Gaines on their cell phone and says, “Yeah, you f**king transphobic b**ch, I f**king see you!” Police then walk Gaines into a hallway and block the protestor while the protestor screams, “You crying?”
The video didn’t contain any evidence of Gaines being physically assaulted or trapped in a room for three hours.
However, the independent news website Golden Gate XPress reported that Gaines, who was set to speak about banning trans women from sports, was trapped in a classroom for four hours while protestors filled the speaking venue’s hallways. Near the end of this time period, SFSU police told students to disperse, and officers led Gaines out of the building, the news website reported.
“Instead of a thoughtful discussion at SFSU, Riley was violently accosted, shouted at, physically assaulted, and barricaded in a room by protestors. It is stunning that in America in 2023, it is acceptable for biological male students to violently assault a woman for standing up for women’s rights,” Gaines’s agentsaid in a statement, according to KNTV.
SFSU’s Queer and Trans Resource Center said that the protest organizer wasn’t a student. The center also wrote that it “supports students’ freedom of speech and freedom of expression that does not include hate speech prohibited by Title IX and does not incite violence,” the aforementioned news outlet reported.
“The prisoners are running the asylum at SFSU,” Gaines wrote in her tweet containing the video. “I was ambushed and physically hit twice by a man. This is proof that women need sex-protected spaces. Still only further assures me I’m doing something right. When they want you silent, speak louder.”
Gaines’s speech was hosted by the far-right advocacy group college conservative group Turning Point USA, a group that calls LGBTQ+ people “groomers” and whose founder Charlie Kirk believes that trans people are trying to turn people into machines and that any opposition to religious exemptions is “fascism.”
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) shared Gaines’ video on Twitter and wrote, “This is an appalling attack on free speech on a college campus. House Republicans stand with Riley Gaines and her brave and tireless efforts to protect women’s sports.”
Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) also shared Gaines’s video on Twitter and wrote, “The ‘Trans Rights’ movement is becoming more and more militant by the day. The way Riley Gaines was treated is, unfortunately, how liberals demonstrate ‘tolerance.’ Violent terrorists demanded ransom for her to go freely. Her crime? Saying there are two genders.”
Boebert’s rhetoric continues a recent right-wing trend of labeling trans people as “terrorists” to whip up fear and violence against them.
The conspiracy theory outlet InfoWars called the protestors “deranged” while Gaines’ husband told the outlet that Gaines was hit “repeatedly” by “a man in a dress.” InfoWar’s founder, Alex Jones, has repeatedly used his platform to vilify LGBTQ+ identities. He has called the transgender rights movement a secret Deep State plot to give civil rights to cyborgs and humanoids and allow people to have sex with their cars.
Right-leaning media outlets like Fox News, The New York Post, and The Daily Mail have also repeated Riley Gaines’s claims, noting that she intends to sue the university and her alleged attackers.
Gaines became a transphobic advocate after she swam the 200-yard freestyle for the University of Kentucky and tied for fifth place with Lia Thomas, who is transgender and met NCAA guidelines to compete as a woman. Gaines has described her fifth-place tie as “heartbreaking and somber,” not because she lost to four cisgender women, but because she had to share fifth place with a trans woman.
After her “heartbreaking” tie, Gaines appeared in three transphobic political ads for Republican candidates, praising the candidates for fighting “for fairness for women and girls.” One of the ads she appeared in was for Herschel Walker, a former senatorial candidate who was accused of assaulting multiple women. Gaines has petitioned the NCAA to drop its trans-inclusive policies and has appeared on transphobic panels alongside Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA).
Gaines’s use of “the prisoners are running the asylum,” also echoes a comment made in March by Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan. Duncan, a 2018 appointee of former President Donald Trump, had his talk at Stanford University interrupted by pro-LGBTQ protesters who took issue with his prior rulings and his calling trans people “delusional.”
“In this school, the inmates have gotten control of the asylum,” Duncan said in response to the protestors, who he called “idiots” and “bullies.” Duncan demanded an apology from the school for the protestors’ behavior.