Exeter University debating society is forced into humiliating U-turn after ‘disinviting’ Catholic author opposed to gay marriage – only to then re-invite her and call it ‘a mistake’
- Caroline Farrow was invited to oppose debate motion of ‘sex work is real work’
- One of her opponents was Charlotte Rose, a ‘multi award-winning sex worker’
- Ms Farrow was then sent a ‘rude’ last minute email ‘disinviting’ her from the event
- Within hours she was asked back again in a situation she branded ‘farcical’
By Nick Craven for The Mail on Sunday
Published: | Updated:
A leading university debating society which tried to ‘cancel’ a conservative Catholic author was forced into a humiliating climbdown by its own student union.
Journalist and activist Caroline Farrow had been invited to a freshers’ week Zoom debate by the University of Exeter to oppose the motion of ‘sex work is real work’.
One of her opponents was Charlotte Rose, billed as a ‘multi award-winning sex worker’ who once organised a ‘mass face-sitting’ outside Parliament.
The day before Friday night’s debate, Ms Farrow, 46, a vociferous opponent of gay marriage, was shocked to receive an email from the society abruptly ‘disinviting’ her from the event.
Caroline Farrow had been invited to a freshers’ week Zoom debate by the University of Exeter to oppose the motion of ‘sex work is real work’ but was ‘disinvited’ ahead of the event before then being asked back after the students’ union said it was a ‘mistake’
One of her opponents was Charlotte Rose, billed as a ‘multi award-winning sex worker’ who once organised a ‘mass face-sitting’ outside Parliament
A spokesman for Exeter University, pictured, said the matter had been one for the Guild, but they had been ‘reminded’ of their obligation to protect freedom of speech within the law
Its chair, Robert Jones, wrote: ‘A number of articles have been brought to our attention concerning your widely cited anti-LGBT activism. This is in direct contradiction to the inclusive culture we wish to promote.’
Mother-of-six Ms Farrow, who has attended several previous events at Exeter, said she was taken aback by the ‘rudeness and narrow-mindedness’ of the email.
She and the Free Speech Union, of which she is a member, complained to the university authorities, pointing out that the its event management policy was ‘committed to the protection of freedom of speech’ and the society’s own aims claimed to promote ‘exposure to a diversity of thought’ for members.
Within hours she received a second email from Exeter’s Students’ Guild (union), describing the original disinvitation as ‘a mistake’, and reinviting her.
Ms Farrow told The Mail on Sunday: ‘It was all rather farcical, really, if there hadn’t been serious issues of free speech at stake.
‘I think what bugs me most is when they claim I’m an anti-LGBT person, but in fact I have a very strong streak of libertarianism running through my veins. I do not support the criminalisation of homosexuality and would stand with anyone facing persecution because of their sex or sexuality.’
A former president of the society, Benjamin Jones, said many alumni were angered by the society’s action. ‘The University of Exeter Debating Society should be a bastion of free speech in these censorious times and I am saddened that it has failed to meet this challenge. The Society should have shown a bit of backbone.’
The debate went ahead, but just before it was streamed, the society posted on its Facebook page: ‘We have taken the decision as a committee to run this event, hosting Farrow… we apologise to any students and the LGBTQ+ community if this causes offence.’
A university spokesman said the matter had been one for the Guild, but they had been ‘reminded’ of their obligation to protect freedom of speech within the law.
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