Helen Dale

What a drag it is defending free speech

What a drag it is defending free speech
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Sunday’s March for Freedom on Whitehall was peculiar, as far right protests go. It didn’t just feature the usual suspects as speakers – Milo Yiannopoulos and Tommy Robinson – but Muslims, comedians and queer people.

While Milo is flamboyantly gay and For Britain party leader Anne Marie Waters defiantly lesbian, drag artist Vanity Von Glow was queerer than the pair of them together. Yes, Tommy Robinson’s rally for free speech included a proper, honest-to-goodness drag queen.

I learnt about her performance not at the time but afterwards, as I watched a Twitter-swarm form and descend on venues where she performs and do its best to put her out of business.

One venue – Her Upstairs – caved immediately, tweeting a statement cancelling Vanity’s Sunday evening show and stating, 'she will no longer be booked.' Not content with a single scalp, the hoard descended on the Phoenix Artist Club in Camden. On Monday, it too rolled over.

'This is not a matter of differing opinions,' Her Upstairs intoned. 'Primary endorsers and organisers stand for fundamental values that directly contract what we believe in.' The Phoenix concurred: 'We are furious about any suggested association…made between our club and the right-wing speakers at this rally and we think Vanity in time will regret her decision.'

At one point, the horseshoe theory of politics made its unpleasant presence felt. Richard Spencer, the neo-Nazi of punching-in-the-face-fame and his nasty fascist friends (some were in the Whitehall crowd) went off like a frog in a sock at a 'degenerate' drag queen performing at the March for Freedom. Simultaneously, the leftie queer woke set went off like a frog in a sock at a 'racist, harmful' drag queen performing at the March for Freedom.


'The Millennials bring out gays and trannies, their favoured spirit animals' was one of the more repeatable alt-right comments. 'We cannot let these people pinkwash themselves into legitimacy' was one of the more repeatable woke leftie comments.

Vanity released a thoughtful statement pointing out she was a lifelong Labour voter. However, like leftie comedian Jonathan Pie, she also hews to an older progressive tradition where support for freedom of speech is a political cornerstone. 'For me the ability to disagree civilly, to ‘differ well’ if you will, is one of the building blocks of every meaningful relationship in my life,' she stated. 'Talking is important as it is the way we sort out our differences without resorting to physical violence.'

Not all queers are leftie and woke, however. I'm not.  I’ve seen Twitter used so many times to set mobs on people and consign them to unemployment and poverty over trivialities, I thought it worth trying to support Vanity.

I know the directors of London stand-up club Comedy Unleashed. I tweeted at them, asking if they would book Vanity for future gigs. Andrew Doyle and Andy Shaw agreed, and arrangements are now being made. Yes, a Jonathan Pie re-tweet (he has a gazillion followers) turned my Twitter mentions into a bin fire, but it meant those who support free speech got to put their money where their mouths are.

All well and good, I hear you say. This small win doesn’t obviate the reality that a standard response to political disagreement – something easy to leverage thanks to social media – is to get people fired for their views, rather than attempting to refute those views.

What was done to Vanity Von Glow also represented the worst sort of guilt by association. Someone who is politically different from the organisers of an event was hired to perform, but her views were conflated with the organisers’ views as if she were a tool without a mind of her own.

Gallons of ink have been spilt decrying the extent to which political commentary in Britain is restricted to a Westminster Village unrepresentative of the wider population. If we make it impossible for people to engage in politics while earning a living, this problem is only going to get worse.

Helen Dale was Senior Adviser to Australian classical liberal Senator David Leyonhjelm, where she was heavily involved in Australia’s campaign to legalise same-sex marriage. She writes regularly for Spectator Australia. Her latest novel, Kingdom of the Wicked, has just been released.