Have you ever had the dream that you're walking down the hallways of your school and everyone's pointing and laughing at you? Adelaide Kramer was forced to live out this nightmare scenario when Milo Yiannopoulos appeared at her university in December and harassed her in front of her entire school.
"It's a lot more real when you're in front of a hundred people, and you don't know if someone's going to recognize you and point you out," Kramer told OUT. "It was a pretty rough night."
Prior to the horrific incident, Kramer, a 25-year-old transgender student, had filed a complaint against the University of Milwaukee-Wisconsin after being pulled out of a locker room in the school's fitness center. Campus security wanted to "verify" that she was allowed to be in the women's facilities.
The administrators wouldn't allow her to re-enter the locker room after viewing her driver's license, which still listed Kramer's gender marker as "male." The university changed its locker room policy in response to her complaint, but with one notable catch: Kramer would be allowed to enter the female facilities but couldn't change there, due to unwarranted fear of sexual harassment.
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Just as the dust began to settle, Kramer heard that Yiannopoulos was going to be speaking on campus and knew his talk wouldn't be to her liking, However, Kramer wasn't aware that her battle to be treated with dignity would become the focus of his speech.
Yiannopoulos, who earns as much as $35,000 for his campus lectures, projected a photo of Kramer onto a screen. Referring to Kramer as a "tranny," he mocked the student's appearance as her classmates watched and laughed. "I've known some passing 'trannies' in my life, which is to say transgender people who pass as the gender they would like to be considered," Yiannopoulos said, adding: "The way that you know he's failing is I'd almost still bang him."
Following that event, Kramer told OUT that she received numerous threats from his supporters, who reached out to her on Facebook to tell her they were going to "bash [her] face in." Milo's followers further claimed that they would rape and sodomize her, arguing that a "pervert" and "pedophile" like her deserved to be sexually assaulted. One man, who goes by the name of "Emperor Trump," sticks out in her memory. The anonymous stranger said that if he ever caught Kramer using the same public bathroom as his children, he would kill her.
Kramer received more of these messages after Yiannopoulos again attacked her during a talk at the University of Minnesota, but she says nothing was worse than experiencing it in person.
"What made it so much worse is that I was there in the audience," Kramer said over the phone. "That was on a different level. The only two things I felt during that time were absolutely nothing and fear. It wasn't until later that night that I began to process it and broke out sobbing."
National coverage of that incident in outlets like Mic and Vice magazine didn't lead to other colleges cancelling his pricey speaking engagements, and he has not stopped harassing transgender people--particularly trans women--in the months since. During a Saturday appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher, he brought up Kramer again, although this time he didn't mention her by name. Yiannopoulos used her as an example to claim that "women and girls should be protected" from trans people, who are merely "confused about their sexual identities."
He further alleged that trans people are responsible for a disproportionate number of sex crimes. That's a bold-faced lie, as well as the opposite of the horrifying reality: UCLA's The Williams Institute found that 60 percent of trans people report being beaten or threatened while using public facilities.
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But falsely claiming that transgender folks are a danger to women and children in public restrooms--a myth that hasbeendebunkednumeroustimes--wasn't why Milo is now facing what could be the end of his career. Although this segment aired just days before a firestorm of controversy would lead to losing a lucrative Simon & Schuster book deal and his position at the white supremacist website Breitbart, Maher endorsed his views during the segment.
In fact, the HBO host even called them "reasonable"--and then immediately claimed credit for his fall only days later.
What pulled the rug out from under the world's most infamous troll wasn't the vitriol directed at women, transgender people and numerous other minority groups. It was his reprehensible views on pedophilia that forced many involved in the rise and fall of the world's biggest troll to acknowledge how we helped him get to this point. The line in the sand is--and never was--drawn to protect women, or people of color, but instead the men who rushed to support him under the guise of "free speech."
This incident has forced us to acknowledge that Yiannopoulos isn't a clown or a harmless jester, as a photo in this very publication once depicted him. He's a dangerous troll that the media enabled--even as trans folks, queer women, and people of color drew attention to his well-documented history of abuse. The comeuppance is years overdue.
This has been a bad week for Milo. The self-described "Internet supervillain" was dropped from a six-figure deal with Simon & Schuster after a years-old video in which the 33-year-old defends predatory relationships between older men and younger boys went viral. Claiming that pederasty can be a "hugely positive" experience, Yiannopoulos said, "Pedophilia is not a sexual attraction to somebody 13 years old who is sexually mature. Pedophilia is attraction to children who have not reached puberty."
The video, which was recorded as part of a podcast called The Drunken Peasants, also shows Yiannopoulos joking that he's "grateful" for the priest that molested him. "I wouldn't give nearly such good head if it wasn't from them," Yiannopoulos said.
After widespread outrage in response to his remarks, the alt-right figurehead was disinvited from the Conservative Political Action Conference, a yearly gathering where Yiannopoulos was scheduled to give the keynote address. Milo subsequently resigned from his position as an editor at Breitbart News yesterday during a conference where he claimed his comments were blown out of proportion. They weren't. Vox's German Lopez argued that his ideas perpetuate the harmful myth that gay men target young boys for their sexual desires.
The backlash may feel like victory for his critics, but it's worth asking: What took so long for Simon & Schuster to drop him? Why did CPAC wait until now to pull the plug on his speech, rather than taking a stand against Yiannopoulos much sooner? The controversy says just as much about what our society will tolerate as it does about what we will not.
Throughout his career, Yiannopoulos has repeatedly used his platform to use the same argument he espoused on Maher's program--falsely claiming that transgender people are a threat to others' safety.
While speaking at the University of Delaware, he said that trans women are "deeply mentally damaged" and "simply gay men dressing up for attention," while comparing gender dysphoria to anorexia. He told audience members that they should "never feel bad for mocking a transgender person." On a podcast with Joe Rogan last year, he further called trans people "scary" and "f***king terrifying."
Monica Roberts, founder of the influential LGBT blog TransGriot, told OUT that the issue with Yiannopoulos' comments isn't just that he's allowed to propagate hurtful myths but that trans people are rarely given a platform to debunk them.
"Far too often, we see these situations set up in which folks like Milo get to spew their rhetoric unchecked, and they don't have somebody from the trans community who is in the room to correct them," said Roberts, who credited former Nightly Show host Larry Wilmore for challenging Yiannopoulos on Maher's show. "We're not the ones who are being interviewed to confront these folks. If you don't have someone in the room pushing back, these lies are assumed to be true. These myths become fact. That's a problem."
Yiannopoulos frequently defends his remarks as freedom of speech, but writer and advocate Dawn Ennis told OUT these comments normalize the abuse and violence trans women already face in their daily lives. "It emboldens those people who might have been afraid to say something out loud but because they see Milo do it on television or at a public speaking event, they feel it's perfectly fine to catcall, to threaten, and to beat trans women," she said.
Last year, a record number of trans people were murdered in the U.S., with at least 27 trans women killed. Given the uptick in hate crimes across the country since Donald Trump was elected, there are likely to be even more in 2017. Yiannopoulos' comments will do nothing to stop that from becoming a reality.
Roberts said that the fact that so many people have been willing to give Yiannopoulos a platform sends the message that trans women, especially women of color, are viewed as "expendable."
"That's a sad fact of life for our communities--that black women and women of color are not seen as valuable in society," Roberts told OUT. "It can be a pain in the butt to be part of a community where you're demonized every day just for trying to live your life. Your humanity is being questioned. Your rights are being used as a political football not only by your enemies but also by your so-called friends. We have a history and legacy of struggle. And yet we still have to live our lives. We still survive. We still thrive. We still persevere."
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Yiannopoulos, of course, hasn't just harassed trans women. He's targeted all women--including queer women and women of color. He has repeatedly claimed that lesbians, who he doesn't believe are real, fake hate crimes and are responsible for higher rates of domestic violence.
Last year, the outspoken Trump supporter made headlines after lashing out at Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones on Twitter, referring to her as a man and calling her "barely literate." Twitter would suspend Yiannopoulos after his supporters subsequently attacked and doxxed Jones. Trolls hacked her website, where they posted her personal information and stolen nudes of the 49-year-old actress, as well as racist photos of gorillas. Jones claimed that Milo's followers even tweeted at her photos of herself covered in semen.
After Yiannopoulos' Simon & Schuster deal was announced last year, Booksmith--an independent retailer in San Francisco--was one of the first to take a stand against his history of inciting hate. The store announced that it would be cutting its orders from the publisher in half. The proceeds Booksmith make from Simon & Schuster products are subsequently donated to the American Civil Liberties Union.
A handful of players in the literary and publishing industries followed suit, including the Chicago Review of Books. Adam Morgan, an editor at the magazine, published an editorial in The Guardian where he claimed that Yiannopoulos' views "[encourage] people such as Omar Mateen and Dylann Roof."
But Amy Stephenson, a manager at Booksmith, said that if others--including Simon & Schuster--continued to give him a platform until the other shoe dropped, there was a simple reason: money.
"For Simon & Schuster, it was a business decision to acquire him, and it was a business decision to drop him," Stephenson said, adding: "When the book deal was announced, the dominoes started to fall. The Chicago Review said they weren't going to cover Simon & Schuster books. Nobody on the left was going to buy this thing, but they still had Milo's core audience of 18 to 45-year-old white dudes who were going to come off. The last thing he did was piss off his white conservative base. That was the last demo. There's no audience left for this thing."
It must be noted that Simon & Schuster did more than just refuse to cut Yiannopoulos.
After author Roxane Gay canceled her own deal with the publisher last year, the company gave Milo her slot, as Gay reported yesterday on her Tumblr page. "After I pulled my book, they changed the release date of Dangerous from March to June 13, the day my next book, Hunger, comes out," she wrote.
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Marcie Bianco, a lesbian writer who claims that she and her wife were harassed by Yiannopoulos last summer, said that the fallout should serve as a lesson to everyone who previously gave him a platform or continued to excuse and endorse his behavior.
"The issue is not just with Milo saying what he says and writing what he writes," said Bianco.
"The issue is with the gatekeepers validating what he says and giving what he says credibility by putting him on the cover," Bianco continued. "That responsibility falls on publications but also society. The failure is on us. The people at Simon & Schuster enabled him. The media enabled him. He just capitalized."
It remains to be seen if Yiannopoulos will continue to profit off hate.
At Tuesday's press conference, Yiannopoulos announced the next leg of his career. He told press that he would be launching his own media platform, one focused more on "education and entertainment" than traditional journalism. Milo also announced that he would be adding more dates to his university tour, appropriately called "Troll Academy." In response, few of the colleges who have hosted Milo have come out to say that they would no longer invite him to their campus.
It's time for all of us to reconsider where we draw the line--and whose concerns get left on the other side. And maybe most importantly, we must ensure that the world's biggest troll doesn't rise from the ashes as he prepares for his next act.