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Should we debate hateful perspectives?

By Melanie Woods, November 1 2016 —

few weeks ago, the Christian Truth Activists (CTA) — a homophobic, transphobic and graphic anti-abortion group- — caused a stir at the University of Calgary when they booked a table in front of the Students’ Union Q Centre. A few weeks before that, over 40 graphic anti-Muslim posters were found around campus.

According to Canadian law, these instances were not hate speech. But that hasn’t stopped an ongoing debate at the U of C as to how students, the Students’ Union and university administration should respond to instances like this. People are angry — and rightfully so. These hateful messages came to our campus. The first instinct is probably to fight back.

But while arguing with groups like the CTA can be cathartic, the best thing we can do as students  in these situations is not even acknowledge their argument as doing so sends the message that they are worth engaging with.

When you try to approach these groups on a level-playing field — by loudly attempting to punch holes in their arguments as to why homosexuality is a sin or whatever other hate they’re inciting— you play right into their hands.

The CTA and their leader Bill Whatcott are not going to be swayed by savvy rhetoric or smart points. No matter how many times you quote the Bible or tell your own heartfelt coming out story, they’re about as likely to change their minds as you are when confronted with graphic images of aborted fetuses.

They want attention and they want to make you angry. People like Whatcott want to provoke you into saying something stupid so they can pull a soundbite from you to use for their own purposes. At their table, the CTA had cameras and video set up filming passersby who engaged with their table. They later posted photos — without people’s consent — on their website. Arguing with them won’t get you anywhere but on a blog further promoting their views.

In situations like this, our best argument is our existence. Our best defence is not giving them the time of day. And our best offence is working to make sure this never happens again.

Members of the SU club Queers on Campus protested the CTA’s display. They stood a few metres away, holding rainbow flags and offering messages of support to passing students. For the most part, they didn’t try to fight the CTA. Rather, their message was clear — we’re here and you’re not going to scare us away. Similarly, the Q Centre remained open, offering a safe space to students affected by the incident. The SU even put out a message offering an alternate route to the centre where students didn’t have to pass the CTA display.

It’s hard not to want to try to change people’s minds when you’re emotionally and personally connected to something. But getting outwardly riled up won’t do you or your cause any good.

Even if you’re hurting inside, even if you’re so angry you feel like you’re going to burst, directly arguing and engaging with these people won’t help. It will probably just make you more frustrated.

Of course, we shouldn’t ignore these people outright either. The campus-wide anger resulting from the CTA incident — or the anti-Muslim posters — can be channeled into productive causes like reevaluating table-booking procedures so the CTA can never book a table here again or the massive outpouring of support for our Muslim community. And in the moment we can engage in positive protest — like that of Queers on Campus — or maintain our safe spaces like the Q Centre did.

These people want to make you mad. So even if you’re filled with seething rage, don’t give them the satisfaction of seeing it. Treat their argument as if it doesn’t hold water and then it actually won’t.

This article is part of a head to head. Click here to read the other side of the argument.

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