Conservative political commentator Matt Walsh held a presentation on campus Thursday, drawing a crowd of peaceful protesters outside his venue at the Martin Luther King Jr. Building.
Hosted by student organizations Young Americans for Freedom at Berkeley and Berkeley College Republicans, Walsh screened and spoke about his documentary film “What is a Woman?” in which he questions the “gender ideology” movement. His social media presence, along with that of his hosts, suggests that they anticipated a negative response from the Berkeley community.
“The Left has been very upset about my ‘What Is A Woman’ college tour, so I’ve decided to make them even more upset,” Walsh tweeted earlier this year. “On 11/17 I’ll be screening my film and speaking at Berkeley. Buckle up.”
A woman present at the event who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation agreed that Walsh’s presentation was sure to bring backlash, comparing the beliefs of those who oppose Walsh to those of a religion. She noted the history of death threats, canceling and physical violence that have resulted from similar rhetoric.
Campus freshman Holden Carrillo, who said he was present simply to observe the proceedings, also noted the possibility of conflict. Carrillo added that recent discussion in the community encouraged non-attendance and said he hoped for that result.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Building was closed to the public at noon. Security measures included a barricade and police presence, along with lists of prohibited items displayed around the building.
“Whenever there are controversial or divisive speakers on campus, people feel very strongly,” said campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof. “There’s always the potential for conflict, but the campus has taken the appropriate measures.”
Throughout the day, Walsh’s event drew a small crowd at the police barricade around the venue. Several members with megaphones spoke against Walsh; one criticized campus for the decision to host the speaker and close the student union buildings.
Campus graduate student Vanessa Komada said they were initially surprised that campus had allowed Walsh to come given his history of “transphobic rhetoric.” They noted that campus is generally a safe place for trans and queer people whom Walsh speaks against.
“Our goal is to not escalate the situation; I think we’re genuinely here to just support LGBTQ people,” Komada said. “So far, it’s been pretty calm. We have some people announcing trans rights ideas, so I’m optimistic that things won’t escalate as long as we watch our attitude.”
Ryan Kenneally, another graduate student, expressed concern regarding a current “cultural backslide” leading to the oppression of queer and transgender people. He said the spread of these ideas to campus should be pushed back against.
According to Natalie Short, an intersex campus student, the purpose of the presentation was twofold: to serve as a gathering for those who shared Walsh’s beliefs and to spark outrage in their opposition. She said a lack of publicity by the hosts resulted in many passersby being unaware of the event.
“I’m glad there are people here,” Short said. “(The event) has a message to it, which is that you’re trying to make people feel unsafe in their own country. That’s why I came.”
Natasha Kaye and Maya Jimenez contributed to this report.