HATE HAS NO HOME AT UVA. The words have been plastered all over UVA Grounds for the past week, stretching from the first-year dorms to lampposts on the Corner and covering every pillar of Minor Hall. A series of brightly colored posters, beginning boldly with “HEY ABIGAIL,” protest The Jefferson Council’s invitation of Abigail Shrier, an award-winning journalist, to speak at UVA about her book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters on Wednesday, October 11 at 7 P.M. The talk was co-sponsored by other conservative groups affiliated with the university, the UVA chapter of Young Americans for Freedom and the Common Sense Society, which only added fuel to the flames.
Dozens of students have posted the link to register for the event on their social media accounts, encouraging students to reserve tickets without attending the event in hopes of leaving Shrier with an empty room. The Editorial Board of the Cavalier Daily has similarly released an opinion article asserting that “certain types of speech simply should not be tolerated here on Grounds,” encouraging students to exercise their own right to free speech by protesting Shrier’s presence on Grounds. Per the picture above, the communal blackboard in Bryan Hall has also been branded with a scaldingly sarcastic advertisement for the talk (image blurred due to profane language), complete with air quotations and little hearts. (It may be interesting to note that JUSTICE FOR PALESTINE is scrawled right next to this announcement in massive, angry letters.)
In the hour leading up to the talk, over one hundred UVA student protestors armed with trans flags and various rainbow LGBTQ+ paraphernalia stood outside Minor Hall chanting “Abigail Shrier is a liar” and “Transphobes are not welcome here” at everyone entering the building. The environment was so hostile that Shrier herself had to be escorted in and out of the building by University police officers for her own safety. Despite such efforts, or perhaps thanks to them, the room was filled with supporters and protestors alike, giving rise to a buzz of energy, excitement, and anger in the minutes leading up to the talk.
Jim Bacon, executive director of The Jefferson Council, introduced the event with the reassertion of the Council’s dedication to free speech and civil discourse. “Far from not tolerating their views, we believe that universities are exactly the right place for controversial opinions to be debated,” he declares. “Our vision is not to make UVA safe from threatening ideas, but to be a place where students can revel in exploring them.”
Shrier herself is a smiling and courteous independent journalist who won the Barbara Olson Award for Excellence and Independence in Journalism in 2021. Following her introduction, she appeared instantly at ease, eager to be interviewed by Liz Stiff of the Common Sense Society.
Shrier attributes the origin of Irreversible Damage to a story she heard from a concerned mother whose daughter, after years of struggling with mental health issues, chose to transition to male alongside her whole friend group in college without ever previously exhibiting symptoms of gender dysphoria. “This was not anything I ever intended to write [a book] about,” Shrier admits, “because it wasn’t personal to me.” But in 2019, after she published an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “When Your Daughter Defies Biology” discussing the new concept of rapid-onset gender dysphoria, she witnessed a deluge of comments from parents from across the country whose daughters had become victims of this new phenomenon as well.
Irreversible Damage, published in 2020 by Regnery Publishing, is a journalistic exploration of the drastic spike in adolescent gender dysphoria in the 2010s, concerning itself specifically with young women who suddenly identify as transgender with no prior history of gender dysphoria. From her interviews and experiences with female-to-male transitioners and detransitioners alike, Shrier criticizes gender-affirming care for youth, psychiatric, hormonal, and surgical, on the grounds that it causes them irrevocable, lifelong harm. Upon its publication in 2020, the book was vehemently lambasted for transphobia and misgendering and was subsequently suspended from advertisements on Amazon and removed from sales at Target, sparking further controversy about free speech. In spite of the outrage, Irreversible Damage was named a “best book” by The Economist and remains a bestseller.
“What I remain concerned with is not adults who decide they want to be transgender. I certainly would never stand in their way, nor do I believe we should. […] We allow adults to make all kinds of decisions for themselves, and I think we should. But this is different,” Shrier says when discussing her book’s focus on transgenderism for children specifically. Her primary concern is that parents allow their daughters to medically transition before they are old enough to recognize or consent to the lifelong repercussions of hormone therapy or surgical alterations.
Furthermore, Shrier states that the numerous side effects of these treatments are rarely discussed at medical conventions or in clinical practices because doctors who oppose them are too afraid of being canceled to speak out. But to her, journalism is about telling “the untold story.” “We can solve almost any problem we can talk about,” Shrier says with a smile.
However, she does not place the primary blame for childhood transitioning on the parents, affirming that many of those she interviewed while writing her book were “wonderful” and attentive parents. Rather, Shrier is suspicious of any medical professional who prescribes gender-affirming treatments partially because of how lucrative such surgeries are, as they “create lifelong patients,” which only benefits the medical field monetarily. She instead places her trust in the parents’ values and their obligation to tell their children the truth. If a child were to suggest that they are transgender, Shrier asserts that the doubtful parents ought not to play along, “not because you’re being cruel, but because you’re setting up someone else who has a lot of conviction in their beliefs to take advantage of your child.”
Perhaps inevitably, the conversation eventually turned toward freedom of expression when Stiff asked Shrier what the solution for the transgender crisis was. Shrier alleges that the key is that adults with responsibility for these children overcome their fear of sharing what they believe, but she goes a step further to say that the adults won’t do it on their own – the young need to demand the truth and be permitted to encounter it, especially that which is so often silenced by the media. Shrier referenced the dozens of tickets reserved under phony names in an effort to stop interested students from attending her talk, saying, “It’s not fair. This is your university. You’re entitled to go hear any speaker you want,” which was met with resounding applause.
However, “An Evening with Abigail Shrier” was, unsurprisingly, not without combativeness. During the question-and-answer period, one student demanded that Shrier answer the question, “Do you think it’s better for people to be alive or dead?”, raising the issue of increased suicide rates for transgender children whose parents do not affirm their identities. Shrier responded by pointing out that suicide rates are no higher for transgender children than those who identify with any other category of the LGBTQ+ movement, indicating that the problem is much larger than a lack of support for a proposed transition.
However, Shrier’s primary issue was with the callousness of the student’s question. She put it into perspective with the statement that, following the massacre of the Israeli Jews last Saturday, “It’s unseemly to come here tonight and pretend that anyone is in danger from hearing an idea with which they disagree.” The audience responded with the loudest applause of the evening. The student stormed out, but the suicide question was raised twice more than evening, with varying degrees of animosity.
Overall, the sponsoring organizations view the talk as a success. Vidar Hageman, Vice Chair of UVA’s YAF chapter, said “I’m thrilled with how everything turned out and, despite deranged and sad protests outside, we had a good turnout and Ms. Shrier was wonderful. It was a pleasure to have her come speak the truth on an agenda and ideology that is helping to ruin our country.”
Events like “An Evening With Abigail Shrier” are sponsored in hopes of fostering cordial and meaningful discourse within the UVA community. Despite the contentiousness resulting from Shrier’s presence on Grounds, it is heartening to see UVA students attend discussions of ideologies with which they disagree. We hope that this will remain a trend as we at UVA uphold our dedication to free speech and respect for all viewpoints present on Grounds. Open discussion of such complex and controversial issues can only benefit our university in our ongoing search for truth.