This past Friday, three members of Bruin Republicans attended an event at UC Santa Barbara and were photographed holding signs that some have regarded to be offensive and transphobic. During the last several days, members of the Bruin community as well as advocates from a wide variety of backgrounds have taken to social media to engage in discussion regarding the controversy. Among this discussion, there has been an echoing condemnation of Bruin Republicans amid calls for the organization to censure and punish the members involved in the incident.
The response from Bruin Republicans has been brief and resoundingly clear: The views freely expressed by specific members of the organization do not in any manner represent the views of the organization as a whole. Like any other student organization from a university as diverse as UCLA, Bruin Republicans includes members from all positions on the political spectrum. This open design is intended to allow for a free discussion on issues our diverse student body may consider important. Bruin Republicans has always been dedicated to the principles of free speech and open political discourse. And as such, the organization as a whole has neither endorsed nor condemned the views expressed by a few of its members.
As the current and outgoing external vice president of Bruin Republicans, I have as many personal political views as the next individual. And among these personal views – unaffiliated with the position of Bruin Republicans – is the belief that deliberate and purposeless offense should always be avoided. Statements that offer no solution and achieve no purpose but to offend others are useless in real debate. In my own opinion, the views expressed by the three members of Bruin Republicans involved in last Friday’s incident achieve nothing. They misidentify the existence of a problem and fail to offer any solution or path for change. Rather, these blanket views only alienate and harm a group of individuals who seek to bring about a less prejudicial society.
The subject of gender and transgender equality in the United States is one of critical and popular concern. I admittedly have little experience in studying these issues at an academic level, but I nevertheless acknowledge and recognize they may be a source of personal pain and trauma to people throughout the UCLA community, the country and the world.
With this in mind, I believe the movement against transgender equality has failed to raise a legitimate argument for its position. Particularly in regards to public gender designation and bathroom use, opponents of equal access and freedom of association have not presented a single claim that stands up against scrutiny. As a proponent of limited government and the protection of individual rights and privacy, I consider state-mandated adherence to traditional gender norms to be an absurd suggestion. However, as with any other social or political issue, I am sure that members of the Bruin community hold a diverse set of views on this subject. And I acknowledge and support every individual’s right to believe in and express what she or he chooses.
My opinion here is exactly that: mine. As an autonomous individual acting outside of my capacity as a leader of a political organization, I can express and share my beliefs without reflecting the views of any other individual or organization with which I associate. My disagreement with the positions taken by my fellow Bruin Republicans does not detract from our ability to organize and work together in our official capacities. In fact, respectful and civil disagreement is a necessary condition for debate, education, change and productive discourse. Only by engaging with those who hold views in opposition to our own can we hope to truly convince anyone to change their minds. Rather than silencing those who disagree, we should open ourselves to hearing their arguments and sharing our own.
Amid the rampage on social media, some have demanded Bruin Republicans take punitive action against our members who chose to express their individual and personal beliefs. This will not happen. An organization that punishes those who peacefully express their individual views outside of their official capacities cannot be one that fosters healthy and free debate. Regardless of my own or any other individual’s view, to censor non-threatening speech is to reject the process necessary for debate and ultimately required for real progress.
Bruin Republicans is dedicated to the principle of supporting free debate. To promote this crucial and vital element of the political process, we do not endorse or condemn the views expressed by any of our particular members – myself included. As an organization, Bruin Republicans will continue to make clear that the personal views individually expressed by any of our members do not reflect the stance of our group as a whole. We ask that the Bruin community keep this in mind in the discussions to come, and we openly welcome any individuals interested in engaging in discussion with our leaders and general members.
Rhim is a third-year political science student and the external vice president of Bruin Republicans.