Last Tuesday, Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk took on “the queer agenda” during a stop at the University of Colorado Boulder as part of his Educate Don’t Mandate Tour. Kirk recently appeared in Colorado Springs at Fervent Church to promote TPUSA Faith, which will work with local churches to promote TPUSA’s brand of youth-focused conservative politics.
As he did at the Colorado Springs event, at CU-Boulder Kirk spent much of the evening demonizing transgender people.
Kirk began the evening with his best Jerry Seinfield impression. “What is with this all gender bathroom stuff?” he asked at the start of his April 12 event. “What on Earth is that all about? I mean, I live in Arizona, we don’t have that, obviously. You go in there and it’s like boys and girls both in the same restroom. I got thinking to myself, ‘How did this happen?’ It happened for a couple reasons. One of the reasons is that we tried to reconfigure society to accommodate and pander to a hypervocal minority that itself will never actually be happy regardless of how many changes we make for the alphabet mafia, it’s never going to be enough, right? Bathrooms, pronouns, whatever, but then it’s like we have to teach your four year old about whether or not they need to transition or not.”
Kirk went on to spread the dangerous “bathroom predator” myth that transgender people pose an inherent threat to cisgender women.
“I remember when the whole bathroom thing was going on, people said ‘It’s not that big of a deal,’” he said. “It does make a big deal, quite honestly, for the safety of women, which always used to kind of be and argument of feminism, which is that feminism was always that ‘We don’t want to be exploited by men. We believe men and women are different.’ I look back and I say, ‘Boy, I kind of agree with the main tenets of 1960s and 1970s feminism.’ I think a lot of putting your career over family is a bunch of nonsense, but believing men and women have fundamental biological differences, I can sign up for that. Blending it all together in this gender-fluid nonsense isn’t just bad for society, it’s bad for women.”
If you’re surprised to learn about Kirk’s CU-Boulder appearance, you’re not alone. The Boulder event wasn’t listed on TPUSA’s website, and there was little to no advertising ahead of time, aside from passing mention of it during Kirk’s March 26 Colorado Springs event.
“What was really crazy to me was that I didn’t hear anything about this happening,” said London Lyle, a CU-Boulder senior. “I totally would have gone.”
“I think that it’s scary that our school allows someone with such openly hostile viewpoints against the queer community to come to our school and be a beacon of hate,” said Lyle, who describes herself as a member of CU-Boulder’s queer community. “Especially at a place where you’re supposed to feel loved and supported by the institution.”
Lyle says LGBTQ students at CU-Boulder regularly deal with harassment from conservative activists. “I took an LGBTQ class, and there were College Republicans tabling outside of the class, handing out ‘socialism sucks’ stickers and stickers that say ‘there’s only two genders,’” she said. “I know that some of these groups will specifically target different queer organizations that we have on campus.”
Kirk’s comments about transgender people weren’t just antagonistic, they also included blatant misinformation. During the Q and A portion of the event, Kirk was asked if it was society’s role to make transgender people feel bad about themselves. Kirk replied, “You should feel bad about all sorts of things,” before launching into a host of false equivalencies. “Should we accept people who think they’re younger than they really are?” he asked. “You believe we can dictate pronouns. Can I decide my adjectives? How about species? Can I change my species?”
Kirk also took aim at University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, suggesting she transitioned solely to be a successful swimmer and calling her a “narcissist.” During Kirk’s Colorado Springs event he repeatedly deadnamed Thomas, and said that the fathers of other swimmers should have stood up and forcibly prevented Thomas from participating.
“That’s been huge ammo for the right, which is ridiculous,” said Lyle of the controversy over Thomas.
Kirk went on to make false claims about transgender people who end up regretting their transitions.
When asked how Christians can show compassion to trans people, Kirk replied, “I do not believe transitioning your gender is right for people. I think it’s a lie and we should tell people that suicide rates are extremely high for people that transition. There’s 30,000 [people] in an open Facebook group who are regretting their transition and wish they could reverse. Transition regret is a huge thing. … You look at the transition regret and it will take your breath away at how many people wish they did not transition. What happens is they get a transition and they’re happy for like five years and it goes off a cliff completely. All the psychological data shows that.”
Kirk’s claims about suicide stem from a 2011 Swedish study that found overall mortality for sex-reassigned persons, especially from suicide, was higher than the control group. That study is often misrepresented and used by anti-transgender activists. One of the study’s authors, Cecilia Dhejne, was asked about the misuse of her research in Martin J. Smith’s 2021 book about the history of gender confirmation surgery in Colorado, Going to Trinidad.
“People who misuse the study always omit the fact that the study clearly states that it is not an evaluation of gender dysphoria treatment,” said Dhejne. “If we look at the literature, we find that several recent studies conclude that [World Professional Association for Transgender Health] Standards of Care-compliant treatment decreases gender dysphoria and improves mental health.”
Furthermore, Kirk’s claims about transition regret are completely inaccurate. Dr. Marci Bowers, a transgender woman and one of the preeminent gender confirmation surgeons in the United States, also refuted similar claims in Smith’s book. “This surgery has the lowest regret of any surgery imaginable, including cataract surgery, gallbladder surgery, tubal ligation, hysterectomy,” she said of gender confirmation surgery. “There’s no surgery that has less regret than this one.”
At the beginning of his speech, Kirk made sure to thank CU-Boulder for allowing him to spread hateful misinformation about trans people. “I don’t make a habit of thanking universities but CU-Boulder deserves credit and thanks and gratitude for allowing this event to happen,” he said.
Andrew Sorenson, a spokesperson for CU-Boulder, noted that the event was hosted and paid for by a student organization, not the university, and reaffirmed CU-Boulder’s commitment to free speech. “When speakers come to campus, they are protected by the First Amendment to express their views,” he said in an email. “Their presence does not mean we agree with or endorse their views.”
CU Regent and gubernatorial candidate Heidi Ganahl recently received a glowing endorsement from Kirk.
“Now that she’s running for governor I want to make it clear that she has my full and complete endorsement,” said Kirk in a video Ganahl shared on Twitter.
Ganahl did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
The April 12 TPUSA event was only the latest example of CU-Boulder hosting provocative “conservative thought leaders.” New Era Colorado, a grassroots, nonpartisan organization that works to engage young people in politics, is launching a campaign to get rid of CU-Boulder’s Bruce D. Benson Center for the Study of Western Civilization.
“It’s an institution that serves as a symbol of white supremacy,” said Hayley Banyai-Becker, the organizing program manager for New Era Colorado. “It centers the ideologies and teachings of western civilization in its curriculum and practices, so from that it really creates a harmful environment for students who hold marginalized identities. … The Benson Center has long been associated with harmful and divisive speech and actions. The first appointed visiting scholar at the Center was Steven Hayward and he openly mocked the LGBTQ community in 2014.”
However, the primary impetus for New Era’s petition drive is a recent visiting scholar, lawyer John Eastman. “John Eastman was a tenured visiting scholar, and when he [authored] this ‘Eastman memo’ and all the attempts to overturn the presidential election, he was on CU’s payroll, and all that culminated in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol,” said Banyai-Becker. “We’re engaging in this campaign to shine a light on those connections, specifically.”
CU spokesman Sorenson claims the Benson Center is an important part of CU-Boulder’s ideological diversity. “The Benson Center plays a valuable role in fostering a wider consideration of various perspectives, and CU Boulder expects that it will continue to do so,” he said via email. “The center regularly hosts bipartisan events with academics, thought leaders, and policymakers on important topics.
“Regarding John Eastman and the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, Chancellor DiStefano made his views clear on Jan. 7, 2021. Please note that Eastman was relieved of duties and is no longer affiliated with the university. CU Boulder takes allegations of racism and discrimination seriously. Anyone who would like to share information or discuss addressing such conduct can contact our Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance at 303-492-2127 or [email protected]”