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University Beat

Conservative Firebrand Milo Yiannopoulos To Speak At USF Tonight

Drew Angerer
Getty Images
Milo Yiannopoulos, a conservative writer and Internet personality, holds a news conference down the street from the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, in June 2016.

Milo Yiannopoulos is scheduled to speak at the University of South Florida in Tampa Monday night, and while student organizers are defending inviting the openly gay conservative firebrand, other students are preparing to protest his appearance.

Junior Ryan Hoskins is president of USF's chapter of Young Americans for Liberty. He said his group, which emphasizes libertarian values, isn't looking for controversy by inviting the editor for the conservative-leaning news website Breitbart.

Instead, he said, they're trying to start a conversation.

"Not necessarily the 'Oh, I'm right and you're wrong' sort of deal, more to say, 'Why do I think this way, why do you think this way?' Have a civil discussion about it," Hoskins said.

Some of Yiannopoulos' previous speeches on college campuses have been interrupted or even stopped by groups that denounce him as anti-feminist and racist. But junior Sam Beutler with Students for a Democratic Society doesn't expect that kind of direct response at USF.

"The main focus, it's not to like disrupt, but the main focus should be to like show administration and show Milo that his voice is not welcome on campus," Beutler said.

He added that the protest isn't about about shutting down free speech - it's about protesting what he calls Yiannopoulos' hate speech.

"He calls feminism a cancer, he spreads homophobic sort of language, he's openly racist and Islamaphobic, and so we don't think that sort of thing should be promoted on campus," Beutler said. "It's not only hate, it's the fact that these words also correlate with rising violence against Muslims, against LGBT students and throughout society. We're looking to make the connection between this hate speech and the rising violence against marginalized people in the United States."

Hoskins admitted that there probably would be safer speakers to invite to USF, but they wouldn't draw the kind of attention that Yiannopoulos does.

"If you don't have that kind of notoriety, people aren't going to care, and to really start conversations, people, one, have to care, two they have to show up, and three, they have to get themselves to start questioning why is this person coming here, why is this event happening, why this man, why here?," Hoskins said.

Hoskins said about 400 tickets have been reserved for the free event, while Beutler expects at least 35 people will be protesting outside the Marshall Student Center.

Extra security will be on duty during the speech, which will take place at 7 p.m. in the Center's Oval Theater.

"The USF Police Department will be providing security for this event in addition to an outside security company," spokeswoman Renna Reddick said in a statement to WUSF. "We have recently been made aware of the protest and will be staffing accordingly."

Yiannopoulos was recently permanently banned from Twitter for abusive behavior, including a series of messages targeting actress Leslie Jones.

The University of Miami canceled his speech scheduled for next week citing security concerns, while an event last week at Florida State University took place without any major incidents, other than students peacefully protesting outside the venue.

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