Open Letter to the University of Illinois

February 28, 2019

In July of 2018, Arcadia, a cafe in Urbana, announced on Facebook an “Art Salon” at which my new film would be screened. The next day, Professor Mimi Thi Nguyen commented on Arcadia’s event page: “She’s a transphobe. I will never attend your events now.”

My crime was, months earlier, sharing on Facebook the following lyric: “If a person has a penis he’s a man.” At various times I have also shared such contentious views as, “women don’t have penises,” “sex is not gender,” “woman means adult human female,” and “everyone is free to identify however they wish, but not to force me to identify them the same way.” Nonetheless, “If a person has a penis he’s a man” is continually quoted as my greatest hit of so-called ‘hate speech.’ It is also a fact.

When asked by other commenters why my stating biological facts was ‘transphobic’ and grounds for no-platforming, Ms. Nguyen replied “I’m the chair of Gender and Women’s Studies. I know what I’m talking about.” Speaking not merely as an individual, but in her capacity as a UIUC faculty member, Ms. Nguyen threatened a local business and libeled a community member and encouraged others to join in.

Arcadia promptly cancelled the event.

That October, my film, Seder-Masochism, screened to enthusiastic audiences at the Vancouver International Film Festival. In attendance were film scholars Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell, frequent speakers at past Ebertfests, who loved the film and emailed Ebertfest director Nate Kohn to recommend it. Kohn replied they already knew about Seder-Masochism, and it was at the top of their list. Which makes sense, since it’s by an Urbana filmmaker (me) whose last film was a star at the festival (Sita Sings the Blues) and contains my late father’s voice, which is known to much of the festival’s audience (Hiram Paley used to be Mayor of Urbana, as well as a math professor at the U of I).

Later that Fall, I turned down an invitation to judge a major film festival in Buenos Aires, because its dates overlapped with Ebertfest. Since Seder-Masochism was “at the top of (their) list,” I didn’t want to miss it. In January, I emailed Nate Kohn and Chaz Ebert to ask if in fact Seder-Masochism would screen. For over a week, they didn’t respond. That same week, I was attacked by a Twitter mob accusing me of ‘hate speech,’ once again for having said “If a person has a penis he’s a man.” Then all trace of my film was removed from the website of a women’s film festival in Belgium, after they were bullied by a Belgian transactivist.

Still awaiting a response, at the end of January I emailed Ebertfest again. They replied: “Sorry, we don’t have room for it.” (Update 3-28-2019: Chaz Ebert confirms Ebertfest’s decisions had nothing to do with my no-platforming in Urbana and Beligium, and they were unaware of any controversy. )

I’m not entitled to be at any film festival, and the decisions of Ebertfest – a special event of the University of Illinois College of Media – are made behind closed doors, preventing any hope of accountability. But going from the top of Ebertfest’s list to “sorry there’s no room” in the midst of libel campaigns is consistent with the blacklisting and no-platforming of feminists at universities nationally and internationally. From the banishing of noted feminist speakers like Sheila Jeffreys and Julie Bindel; to the suppression of ‘politically incorrect’ research at Bath Spa University and Brown University; to secret blacklists of female academics uncovered at Goldsmiths University, the speech-suppressing behavior at the University of Illinois is consistent with unsavory developments around the world.

In 2017, the U of I adopted “Guiding Principles” on Freedom of Speech and Civic Engagement. I list some ways they are failing to uphold these principles:

    • “We have a duty to vigorously and even-handedly protect community members against conduct that falls outside the First Amendment – including true threats, pervasive harassment, incitement to imminent lawless action, and libel…” Ms. Nguyen’s accusation, “she is a transphobe,” is libel. I do not fear or hate trans people. Although it shouldn’t be anyone’s business, I have had trans friends and lovers, and stood for the human rights of trans people, since before Ms. Nguyen entered college.
    • ”We will create conditions for a safe and robust exchange of viewpoints.” This has not happened at the U of I. While one-sided policies of “preferred pronouns” dominate, no voice is given to those who use English sex-based pronouns over newly imposed “gender identity” rules.
    • “In all matters involving freedom of speech, the University of Illinois system will endeavor to maintain a high level of transparency.” I am confident anti-feminist blacklisting occurs here, as it does on many other campuses. Blacklisting is by its nature non-transparent and unaccountable, but its effects are devastating.
    • “We will not condone shouting down or physically obstructing or threatening a speaker or the speaker’s audience.” Does this include on Social Media? Because Facebook is where Ms. Nguyen did just that, and got my event shut down.
    • “We must always strive to be valued local partners, learning from and collaborating with the communities that are home to our universities and programs.” Bullying a local venue into shutting down a screening by a local artist achieves the opposite of that mission.
  • “We owe our students opportunities for substantive civic engagement so that they graduate not only prepared for personal success but also knowing what is expected of them as productive global citizens.” Certainly the University has already failed its students and faculty by refusing any open discussion of genderist ideology and policies. This failure to foster free speech has spilled beyond campus and into the surrounding cities of Urbana-Champaign, harming the community.

HARMS

Many local residents were looking forward to the event at Arcadia. Due to the bullying by Ms. Nguyen, representing the University of Illinois, and her associates, the event was cancelled. Many more locals hoped Seder-Masochism would screen at Ebertfest this year. Now, they will not see it.

Many in this college town are afraid to voice support for me, or express any gender-critical thought, for fear of being branded “transphobic.” Academics who even question ‘gender identity’ have been disciplined or denounced in open letters; those who express fully gender critical views have lost their jobs. Between that and the imposition of ‘preferred pronouns,’ requiring the speaker to suppress their correct recognition of biological sex in favor of compelled speech – that is, lying – University employees, their spouses, and friends, feel compelled to keep quiet.

So, instead of the “opportunities for substantive civic engagement” promised in the University’s Principles, the University instead fosters a climate of fear and silence in the wider community.

Beyond this harm to our community, I have been harmed personally as well. I can’t calculate the cost this has had on my professional reputation, career, and livelihood. I have certainly suffered psychological harm: being falsely accused and shut down in my hometown, with no accountability for the accusers, evokes a despair I had previously only read about in books like “The Crucible” and histories of witch trials.

REMEDIES

The University needs to protect speech.

I acknowledge the University is in a bind. Recent State interpretations of Title IX have – perhaps unwittingly – redefined ‘sex’ to include ‘gender identity.’ As long as Title IX fails to uphold its original purpose – protections based on sex – and instead protects incoherent, ill-defined, and fundamentally sexist concepts of ‘gender identity,’ it is at odds with the First Amendment – and with itself.

The University’s Student Affairs web page states:

We will continue to protect and treat all students according to their gender identities and gender expressions, honoring chosen names, pronouns, and restroom access, as is current campus policy.”

‘Preferred pronouns’ are compelled speech, forcing the speaker to contradict their own recognition of another’s sex. This compulsion violates the First Amendment. But ‘preferred pronouns’ also violate Title IX itself, insofar as it still protects sex. Although trans activists vehemently deny this, there is ample evidence that some trans-identified males are autogynephiles – that is, fetishists who are sexually aroused by imagining themselves as women. Being forced to call such men “she” is forced participation in sexual activity without consent. That is just one way privileging ‘gender identity’ over sex is institutionalized sexual coercion.

‘Sex’ and ‘gender identity’ are fundamentally mutually exclusive; you cannot protect one without delegitimizing the other. The University considers failure to use ‘preferred pronouns’ harassment against the individual who imposes them. But ‘preferred pronouns’ themselves are harassment, including sexual harassment, against individuals compelled to use them.

My plea to the University is to reaffirm its commitment to Free Speech and acknowledge the untenable and inconsistent demands added to Title IX by the redefinition of sex. It is tragic that the former integrity of Title IX, which has been instrumental in providing sex-based protections and opportunities for women and girls, is now in opposition to the First Amendment. Free Speech is important. Sex-based protections are important. Redefining ‘sex’ to include ‘gender identity’ is an assault on both.

On an immediate and practical level, the University should:

Assure the right of all employees and students to use whatever pronouns they see fit;

Assure the right of all students and employees to question and discuss current “gender identity” politics without fear of libel or punishment, and;

Host meaningful discussion on this subject. Feminist Journalist Meghan Murphy is available to debate anyone on the topic, “Does Trans Activism Negatively Impact Women’s Rights?” The University would do well to host such a debate here.

Finally, having lost two screening opportunities in my hometown because of the University’s negligence, I would like the University to sponsor a screening of my film Seder-Masochism for the community.

Sincerely,

—Nina Paley

Director, Seder-Masochism and Sita Sings the Blues

Urbana, IL

ninapaley.com

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The Alma Otter

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The University of Illinois hasn’t had an official mascot since 2007, when they retired “Chief Illiniwek.” Like many people I despised that mascot and consider it racist. However, I despise attacks on Free Speech even more. The University is in a bind right now, because when they eliminated the “Chief,” they failed to replace it with a new mascot. Consequently many U of I sportsball fans and alumni continue to “support the Chief” while the U of I misuses trademark law in weak attempts to stop them, mostly for virtue-signal points. This article in the local rag today got me thinking (text below, until I receive a copyright threat):

Pro-Chief group plans event for Saturday’s game

CHAMPAIGN — As the University of Illinois weighs how best to move beyond Chief Illiniwek, a pro-Chief group has organized another “Paint the Hall Chief!” event for Saturday’s Illini game at State Farm Center.

Students for Chief Illiniwek, a registered student organization at the UI, posted a notice online calling on fans to “Honor the spirit of Chief Illiniwek” by wearing Chief gear to the 11 a.m. basketball game against Penn State.

The group calls itself a “progressive Registered Student Organization that supports the education of students and the surrounding community on the subject of Chief Illiniwek and related symbolism, and the right to their free expression of support.”

Last year, the student group hosted a similar event on Senior Night, the final home game of the season.

It caused tensions beforehand, with Chief opponents demanding that the UI or government officials stop the event and the university forcing the student group to stop using officially trademarked Chief images or similar logos to advertise it.

Opponents had argued that the event violated university rules, state and federal anti-discrimination laws and the UI’s agreement with the NCAA to stop using American Indian symbols in its athletic program.

UI officials called it a free speech issue and said they can’t control whether fans wear the Chief logo on their shirts.

In the end, the event prompted a few extra Chief shirts in the crowd and 40 protesters outside, but no appearance by a Chief portrayer.

“They certainly have the right of free expression and free speech,” campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler said Friday. “They also have to exercise those rights in a way that complies with our policy and the rules of the facility.”

Chief opponents have argued that events such as “Paint the Hall Chief” or appearances inside the arena by unofficial Chief portrayers constitute a protest of the UI’s decision to retire the Chief and therefore should also be banned.

State Farm Center rules ban any protests inside the center and limit them to designated outdoor areas that don’t block any exits or entrances to the arena. Flyers can be distributed outdoors as long as the message is not commercial or political, according to the policy.

Last year, the student group Turning Point USA also distributed “Honor the Chief” flyers inside the area, and about 200 were confiscated by State Farm Center staff.

UI student Blair Nelson, a member of Turning Point and Students for Chief Illiniwek, did not respond to questions about whether a Chief portrayer might appear or whether organizers planned to hand out fliers again this year.

“Planned for the day will be a showing of true Illini spirit from the most dedicated supporters of the university. We encourage fans to pick up their Chief gear this week from any number of local retailers and wear that gear proudly to the game to show their support! Our focus is in the whole community’s participation, not individual attendance,” he wrote in an email.

Kaler noted that the event comes as the Commission on Native Imagery appointed by Chancellor Robert Jones is trying to “find a path that recognizes our shared history but also helps develop new traditions that bring our community together.”

“We definitely think that tradition does not bring people together,” she said, noting that Native American students and faculty have made clear that the Chief is hurtful.

Illinois Student Government President Walter Lindwall said Monday he wasn’t sure whether any student groups planned to protest the event.

The UI retired the Chief in 2007 under pressure from the NCAA after more than a decade of protest from groups who considered it a racist mascot, and it stopped mass-producing Chief merchandise soon afterward. But it retained ownership of the Chief trademark to maintain control of its use and has challenged pro-Chief groups’ use of it in the past.

Students for Chief Illiniwek had used a circular logo to advertise the 2018 event that was based on the official Chief logo, with State Farm Center’s seating chart replacing the feathers in the Chief’s headdress. The UI complained that it was too similar to the trademarked Chief logo still owned by the university. The revised announcement used a photo of State Farm Center instead.

Organizers also altered the title of the event slightly, replacing the “e” in “Chief” with a logo developed in 2012 by the Council of Chiefs (past Chief portrayers) — three orange and blue horizontal stripes forming a profile.

And the UI told the student group to stop using a photo of the last official Chief Illiniwek portrayer, Dan Maloney, at a UI basketball game, saying the university owns the copyright to that image.

This year’s event notice features a photo of an unofficial Chief portrayer standing in the crowd during an Illini basketball game.

Free Speech includes speech one finds abhorrent, so I don’t want to see “Chief” supporters suppressed. A better solution would be the adoption of a new mascot, which the University has failed to do for over a decade. But recently a viable alternative was posted to Reddit: The Alma Otter (a play on the Alma Mater). There are now a few fecebook pages promoting the Otter, but so far only illustrated with photographs.

This is where a cartoonist is needed.

I banged these out this morning. Surely Alma Otter can be refined and altered, but does s/he have promise? If the “Chief” fans are making their own t-shirts and sweatshirts and buttons and stickers with no endorsement from the University, why should Alma Otter fans wait for official adoption? Start merching now. Alma Otter is cuter, friendlier, and less disgusting than the “Chief,” with lots of imprint possibilities. Since I’m a Free Culture advocate, and since the University has no trademark on Alma Otter, I invite one and all to MERCH THE HELL OUT OF IT. No permission needed- these are all Free Culture, go for it. If you have a merch plan and the money to produce it, I will gladly draw more Alma Otterage for it.

Please, please, show how it’s possible to both eschew racism and support Free Speech.

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Update March 1 2019: In today’s local letters to the editor!

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Panel: Does Sex Matter? Gender Identity vs. Material Reality

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Saturday, March 23rd, 3-5pm
Urbana Free Library, Lewis Auditorium (downstairs)
210 W. Green Street, Urbana IL 61801

A transwoman, a detransitioner, and a radical feminist walk into a Library…. Speaking from different perspectives on modern gender identity politics, these three panelists agree that all people broadly deserve civil rights protections. But should gender identity replace sex as a legal category? Women – particularly marginalized, imprisoned, lesbian, and abused women – pay the highest price for this trend, as sex-based protections and resources are rolled back in the name of “inclusivity.”

Despite their unwavering support for individual expression, each speaker has faced repercussions for critically analyzing gender identity, including threats of violence, professional blacklisting, and loss of friendships. They join for this event in the hope it will encourage wider civil and respectful discussion.

No lives will be harmed or erased while exploring these topics.

Panelists:

Corinna Cohn is an adult transsexual from Indianapolis. Having undertaken hormone therapies and sex reassignment surgery as a teenager, Corinna addresses the responsibilities accrued by a male inhabiting the social role of women, and what young people should know before making an irreversible commitment to transition.

Carey Callahan is a detransitioned woman and family therapist from Ohio. She  explores the role of sexism in the rise of youth referrals for gender dysphoria and the portrayal of detransitioners in the media.

Nina Paley is an animator from Urbana, best known for feature films Sita Sings the Blues and Seder-Masochism. An outspoken critic of both censorship and sexism, she has been no-platformed and blacklisted locally and abroad for saying penises are male.

Moderator:

Traci Nally is Executive Vice President & General Counsel for News-Gazette Media. For over 30 years, she has worked in the areas of defamation, access to public records and meetings, protection of reporters’ newsgathering privileges, and other first amendment and free speech related matters.

This program is not sponsored by The Urbana Free Library.

fecebook link: https://www.facebook.com/events/1089114847927752/

website link: https://blog.ninapaley.com/does-sex-matter/

Poster: print ‘n’ share:Does Sex Matter? flyer

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Blacklisted

Update: Chaz Ebert confirms Ebertfest’s decisions had nothing to do with my no-platforming in Urbana and Beligium, and they were unaware of any controversy.

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Ebertfest (Roger Ebert’s Film Festival) is the big film festival in my town (Champaign-Urbana, Illinois). In October, its director told 2 film critics/scholars I know that my new feature film Seder-Masochism was “at the top of our list.” Which makes sense, since it’s by an Urbana filmmaker (me) whose last film was a star at the festival (Sita Sings the Blues) and contains my late father’s voice, which is known to much of the fest’s audience (he used to be Mayor of Urbana, as well as a math professor at the U of I). I emailed Ebertfest in January to ask if they were going to screen it, because I have to make plans in April. They didn’t reply. I emailed them again over a week later (Friday). “Sorry, we don’t have room for it.”

A week earlier Seder-Masochism was the target of a de-platforming campaign in Belgium. The women’s film festival that programmed its Belgian premiere removed all traces of it from their web site after transactivists threatened them. A few days before that, I was the target of a Twitter mob for sharing opinions with Graham Linehan.

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Ebertfest’s decisions are made behind closed doors, and I’m certainly not entitled to be at any film festival. But it is my opinion that their decision is very much related to my defamation and condemnation as a “TERF”. Much of the witch-hunt against gender-critical feminists comes from Academia, and Ebertfest is an extension of the University of Illinois College of Media. Last Fall the self-described “Chair of Gender Studies” Mimi Nguyen led a campaign against me to have my film de-platformed at a local cafe.

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I am blacklisted, but I will not shut up.

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Bicycling from Urbana Il to Indianapolis IN

I have done it, and it is paved. Some parts are terrifying, but at least there’s no gravel. Let’s begin:

1. This is the way cyclists from Urbana get to Kickapoo State Park. County Rd 1700 N is quiet and pleasant and even scenic in places.

01 Urbana to Ogden

2. Continuing to Kickapoo. There’s a bridge here that’s closed to cars, but you can walk your bike over it. You can also walk your velomobile over it, though it’s a bit trickier.

02 Ogden to Kickapoo

IMG_6891 Continue reading “Bicycling from Urbana Il to Indianapolis IN”

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