Irish comedy writer and anti-transgender activist Graham Linehan has been ‘invited’ to New Zealand by the libertarian “Free Speech Union” and Craig Young has thoughts.
For those of us with long memories, Linehan was the creator of sitcom Father Ted.  It was humorous enough at the time, although it wildly exaggerated the extent of Catholic influence in Ireland in pursuit of satirical commentary. If you can’t remember it, that’s because the series is twenty-seven years old. Linehan has had other scripting ventures on both sides of the Irish Sea.
Unfortunately Linehan has descended into the anti-transgender quagmire. It all started with an episode of the IT Crowd (2008) he penned that engaged in puerile stereotyping and hyperbole directed at trans women. He went on to publicly criticise gender self-identification and by 2018, his descent down the anti-trans rabbit hole had gone so far that British Police warned him not to further harass trans woman Stephanie Hayden after he conducted a vitriolic personalised campaign against her. He has also attacked UK-base trans children and adolescents NGO Mermaids, as well as the National Society for Protection of Children, who had employed trans woman Munroe Bergdorf as a spokesperson.
In 2020, Linehan’s Twitter/X account was suspended for misconduct, which he evaded through masquerading as a trans man. In another attack on a trans-inclusive mainstream institution, he criticised Colm O’Gorman of Amnesty International Ireland for its inclusion of transgender rights within its remit. Doctor Who‘s David Tennant and Ian H Watkins of pop group Steps have also felt the lash of Linehan’s hyperbolic tongue for their trans-inclusiveness.
Linehan isn’t only angry when it comes to transgender rights, he’s also an anti-vaccinationist and climate change denialist. In each case, he lacks the professional expertise that would lead anyone to give credence to his diatribes.
Despite his dreary track record of anti-transgender agitation, however, Linehan claims he is the ‘victim’ in this context. His attacks on transgender rights have cost him work and ended his marriage, he argues, and a Father Ted musical was cancelled because he was sidelined as a humourless anti-trans apparatchik and not because the property is now nearly thirty years old. Tastes and social attitudes change and Mr Linehan has presented himself as a loose cannon. His populist hyperbole and transphobia make him a liability to his self-selected cause and the FSU’s invitation of Linehan to our country is only asking for the repetition of the above track record to be aired in public.
Thankfully, he has only three speaking sessions in Aotearoa New Zealand. Apparently, the one in Auckland is already ‘sold out’. However, according to the Free Speech Union, he has speaking sessions planned at Hutt Events Centre, 32 Laings Rd (6.30 pm, March 12) and  the Hagley Oval Pavilion in Christchurch, 63 Riccarton Avenue  (6.30 pm, March 19).  Each venue has a 500-560 seat capacity, which does raise some questions. They’ve been promoting this for over a month and a half, but they haven’t been able to fill the seats in either city? And why haven’t they advertised the Auckland meeting place? According to one recent X/Twitter post, the Auckland meeting was cancelled or transferred after the venue reneged on their booking. Apparently, pressure is growing on the two other venues to deny the demagogue any platform. Christchurch also subsequently cancelled the Hagley Oval venue, leading to recriminations and grumbling from the FSU over the foregone booking.
Sadly,  Linehan got the chance to unleash his bigotry on the fringe “media” propaganda outlets, Platform and Reality Check Radio, given their lack of critical inquiry and investigative analysis when it comes to alt-right/Christian-right propaganda. While his visit was also covered on Newstalk ZB, commendably that radio station incorporated critical inquiry and perspectives into its report.
Meanwhile, anti-fascist organisations and transgender rights protesters were visibly organising to picket Wellington’s Hutt Events Centre, the only remaining venue that hadn’t cancelled on Linehan at the time of writing. With two venues cancelled, Linehan’s visit here started to look as if it were doomed to near oblivion and interest only to the Christian Right, anti-transgender pseudofeminists and those who oppose them.
Free Speech Works Both Ways
The “Free Speech Union” needs to practice what it preaches in the context of Graham Linehan’s recent visit.
Let’s put it this way. Linehan was invited to New Zealand to communicate his transphobic demagoguery to a captive audience seemingly bereft of the ability to engage in reasoned critical inquiry and objective assessment of the veracity and authenticity of his claims.  That is, he was able to provide a forum for the dissemination of propaganda. I don’t think that this is too harsh an assessment. For proof, one need only take a look at his recent book, Rough Crowd.
Trading on his long past glories as the creator of the now rather dated offshore Irish Catholic priest comedy Father Ted,  Linehan spends a full hundred pages denouncing the thought crimes and public visibility of trans people. As I usually do, I turned to the end pages trying to find verification for his claims from recognisable peer reviewed journals of mainstream sources of medical and other scientific expertise. I couldn’t find any.
Indeed, this tends to be par for the course when it comes to transphobes. Whenever I ask for replicable, cumulative and verifiable medical and other scientific reports that would corroborate what they argue from them, I am invariably met with echo chamber websites or British tabloid media outlets. It would therefore seem that transphobes are not willing to entertain the possibility that they are wrong and that they’re trapped in a hall of mirrors.
The issue is not whether demagogues like Linehan should have the right to free speech. However, if they do exercise that right, they can and should face critical inquiry, investigation and assessment of their claims.  It’s no use whingeing when mainstream media outlets like Newstalk ZB do their duty as professional journalists and find that Linehan, Kellie-Jean Keen-Minshull and others have no professional expertise or skills to ground their claims.
Why don’t these demagogues engage in properly adjudicated neutral debates with qualified scientific or medical authorities over transgender rights? That would be free speech at its best, a civil and rational exchange of views and an opportunity for critical evaluation and assessment.
But no, these shrill propagandists do not do so, and I doubt they ever will.