After a week of heavy criticism and debates about free speech, conservative commentator Liz Wheeler hosted a lecture at JMU titled “The Ideology of Transgenderism” where she spoke about the transgender and LGBTQ+ community, queer theory and the political left. 

The event was held by the JMU chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF). Prior to the event, YAF faced criticism on social media, with some calling for the event to be shut down and others advocating for Wheeler to exercise free speech. The event was funded in part by the Student Government Association (SGA), with $3,000 in contingency funds. 

Student organization Young Americans for Freedom hosted conservative speaker Liz Wheeler at Festival on Wednesday. Over 3,000 tickets were registered, but the event was downscaled to about 100 guests. Political Correspondent Roujeen Ara Nowzari provides first hand coverage of the event.

On Tuesday, SGA passed a resolution condemning YAF, claiming its original presentation misinformed the SGA, and apologizing to the LGBTQ+ community for the role SGA played in funding Liz Wheeler’s lecture.

Despite the divisiveness surrounding Wheeler speaking at JMU, the event occurred with no disruptions although peaceful demonstrations were held in opposition.

Across campus, members of the JMU community gathered in support of the transgender community, called “Dukes for Pride.” Inside the Festival Conference Center, outside of the Highlands room, members of the JMU chapter of Young Democratic-Socialists of America (YDSA) tabled and held signs advocating for transgender rights. 

A demonstration called "Dukes for Pride" was held on campus in retaliation to political commentator Liz Wheeler. The event drew hundreds of JMU students and Harrisonburg community members. Executive Producer Sam Game spoke to coordinators, speakers and attendees about their motivation to protest.

Prior to the doors opening at 5:30 p.m. the line for Wheeler’s lecture stretched outside the doors of Festival.

Senior Jordan Bernard, who was waiting in line at the time of his interview, said he attended the event because his professor was offering extra credit for going to the lecture or the counter-protest. His roommate, he said, was attending the protest, so he decided to attend the event to see “both sides of the coin.” After googling Wheeler, Bernard said he found he disagreed with her, especially on her opinions on the Jan. 6 insurrection and the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Curiosity got the best of me and I kinda wanna see like ‘Okay let's see how wild she’s gonna get,’” Bernard said. 

Junior Callie Dickens, also in line, said she had friends who were coming to the event and wanted to see a diversity of ideas. 

“I think she has a right to be here like any other speaker,” Dickens said. “I do understand that it's a very heavy topic and something that could definitely stir up a lot of controversy with people on our campus, but I do think it's important to still have people who you might not agree with come out and just shed some light on the other side.” 

Junior Parker Boggs, the chairman of YAF, introduced Wheeler. During his opening remarks, Boggs said he faced personal attacks on social media, but that YAF “will not back down to the mob in any sort of way.” Boggs said he was proud to support conservatives at JMU. On Wheeler, Boggs said she was a “bold” conservative voice who’s “relentless in her pursuit to defend against the radical left’s takeover of our culture.” 

Wheeler began by sharing her gratitude to be speaking at JMU, saying she read and saw all the comments and posts on social media about her visit. At one point she asked if the JMU Debate Team was in attendance, taking issue with a statement the group posted on social media that condemned Wheeler and called her a “panderer” who was tempting people to undermine democratic institutions.

Wheeler said she wanted to speak directly to the LGBTQ+ community to share that she didn’t hate the community and that she “deeply cares” about LGBTQ+ people. Instead, she said transgender activists and queer theorists hate people who identify as LGBTQ+, and they lie. 

“The entire transgender ideology is a lie,” Wheeler said. “The reality is that men cannot be women, even if they want to identify as women, women cannot be men. Even if they feel that they are.” 

Wheeler said while she wanted equal rights for everyone, queer theory wasn’t about equal rights it was a “Marxist ideology.” Queer theory, Wheeler said, aims to pit different demographics of people against each other to create a revolution through fear and desperation.

“They want fear because they intend to exploit that fear and the vulnerability that so many of these young people suffer from perhaps … pre-existing mental health issues,” Wheeler said. “They tend to exploit that in order to use these young people because they want LGBTQIA-identifying people to revolt, they know that this is the only way to push their political agenda on a country that is inherently anti-Marxist.”

Wheeler also claimed queer theorists “brainwash” people and want the destruction of society through destroying gender and the family. Wheeler said changing genders wasn’t going to help make people feel better. 

“The left is going to do the same thing that other people have already done with them the left is going to use them essentially as political and cultural kamikazes,” Wheeler said. “And once they've been used for the political goals of queer theory, the queer theorists are going to abandon them.” 

Wheeler pointed to people who have detransitioned, which is stopping or reversing transitioning, as an example. 

Many studies show that access to gender-affirming care is associated with better mental health outcomes, and major medical organizations find gender-affirming care evidence-based and medically necessary, according to Scientific American. Numbers associated with detransitioning and transition regret can vary between 1% to around 13%, depending on how detransitioning is defined and the factors behind it. 

Wheeler said the beliefs of the LGBTQ+ community are “dogmatic,” and they’re sure they’re correct. 

“You're sure, you're positive that you can't be wrong. You know that you have been told the truth. But have you?” Wheeler asked. “Once upon a time, the brightest minds in science told us that the Earth was flat. They were positive they were correct … I understand that this is incredibly difficult to hear, it's incredibly difficult to process that in your mind. But it's the truth. It's reality. You aren't transgender, or nonbinary, you are either a man or a woman.” 

Wheeler said people must recognize there’s an “objective truth” of identifying as the gender people are born with, “just the way God” made them. 

Wheeler also answered questions from audience members, including a mix of those who supported her and those who didn’t. 

In response to a question from The Breeze about her claim of political fearmongering, Wheeler said there’s a difference when warning people, and the left is “pretending” that words can hurt someone. Wheeler claimed children across the country are experiencing genital mutilation referring to gender reassignment surgery, using the example of well-known transgender activist Jazz Jennings. Jazz Jennings was 17 when she underwent gender reassignment surgery. 

Cases like Jennings are uncommon, according to Politifact. According to guidelines developed by the Endocrine Society and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), gender reassignment surgery should be reserved for people 18 and older. While there are some reports of transition-related surgical care between 16 and 18, these cases are rare. 

One audience member asked how Wheeler thought society got to a point of accepting “transgender ideology.” Wheeler said it was due to society becoming “morally relativistic” and not remembering that the U.S. was based on natural law. 

Following the event, The Breeze requested an interview with Boggs, but he was unavailable due to YAF attending a dinner with Wheeler. 

Contact Ashlyn Campbell at For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.