Tulsa Community College’s Southeast Campus likely will be the site for an event featuring commentator Milo Yiannopoulos, the college confirmed in a letter to students Tuesday.
The letter from TCC President Leigh Goodson, obtained by the Tulsa World, says the college received a facility rental request for an event featuring Yiannopoulos.
“Yiannopoulos has a history of hate speech which has resulted in conflict, protests and violence when he has spoken at other colleges and universities across the country,” Goodson said in the letter. “While the views and ideas of Yiannopoulos do not reflect those of TCC, the First Amendment gives the sponsoring organization, Transparency for Oklahomans, the right to rent our facility to share those views.”
Yiannopoulos had posted on social media Friday that he would speak at the University of Tulsa, but a TU spokeswoman said that afternoon that there were no plans for him to appear at the university. Yiannopoulos later posted that he was attempting to secure a venue at another area campus for “non-UT students.”
TCC has not confirmed the event, but Goodson said in the letter that the college is working with organizers to coordinate a time if they meet the criteria outlined in the rental agreement form for the Performing Arts Center for Education at TCC’s Southeast Campus.
Goodson said no one at TCC invited the group or Yiannopoulos and that the college is not sponsoring the event.
“Nothing we are planning to do for this event should be mistaken as an endorsement of the speaker’s views,” Goodson wrote to students. “We do support the First Amendment, and the right to freedom of expression, as an important cornerstone of our democracy.”
Chris Barnett, a 2018 Republican candidate for governor who manages Transparency for Oklahomans, told the Tulsa World that his involvement in orchestrating Yiannopoulos’ appearance at TCC was strictly as a means to promote free speech.
“As a very proud supporter of the First Amendment, who else to better reaffirm that than Milo?” Barnett asked. “Tulsa is definitely ready to see Milo. TCC is a perfect place. It is a public venue. Why not?”
Barnett filed an open records lawsuit against TCC in 2017 in response to the school’s refusal to provide copies of emails between a TCC employee and a TU professor, which he sought in connection with a 2016 lawsuit against TU involving his husband, George “Trey” Barnett III. He objected to suggestions that Yiannopoulos would engage in the type of perceived offensive speech that got him permanently banned from Twitter.
“Anyone who is able to speak their mind like Milo is, and able to do it in an articulate way, makes them amazing,” Barnett said. “The fact that Milo is a supporter of free speech and the First Amendment, that says it all right there, in my opinion. Free speech is everything.”
A former writer for the conservative website Breitbart, Yiannopoulos was recently banned from Australia after posting on Facebook that the deadly New Zealand mosque attacks that left 49 people dead happened because the establishment “mollycoddles extremist leftism and barbaric, alien religious cultures,” the Huffington Post reported.
Yiannopoulos’ scheduled appearance at the University of California-Berkeley in 2017 led to riots and widespread protests on the campus.
So what should Tulsans expect from a Yiannopoulos appearance?
“People will take away that we have free speech and not hate speech,” said Barnett. “What people take from it will be up to them, but we hope more people will open their eyes to the First Amendment and how we can protect it now.”