New participant found to debate Michael Knowles at Pitt, debate topic changed


Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons

Brad Polumbo speaking with attendees at Revolution 2022 hosted by Young Americans for Liberty at Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Kissimmee, Florida.

By Punya Bhasin, News Editor

Pitt’s College Republicans, sponsored by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), has found a new participant to debate conservative political commentator Michael Knowles. They’ve also changed the topic of the on-campus debate

Brad Polumbo, a “libertarian-conservative journalist” and columnist for conservative news outlet the Washington Examiner, will debate Knowles on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. in the O’Hara Ballroom, after transgender scholar Deirdre McCloskey dropped out. Polumbo is also a gay conservative political commentator and the co-founder of BASEDPolitics.

The topic of the debate has also changed. The two participants will now debate the question, “Should transgenderism be regulated by law?” instead of the previous topic of “transgenderism and womanhood.” 

ISI President John Burtka said ISI reached out to nine other transgender individuals, including Charlotte Clymer, but they “either ignored or rejected our invitation to debate” — which according to Burtka was a reason for the modified topic and Polumbo’s selection. 

“He is a prominent, young libertarian voice who is generally supportive of LGBT rights for adult Americans,” Burtka said. “Most importantly for the sake of the event, he was eager and willing to debate Knowles.”

Burtka added the modified topic “better aligns” with Polumbo’s expertise and the ISI “could not find a transgender-identifying woman to debate Michael Knowles on the original topic, and we only had one week to secure a new speaker.” 

“ISI changed the topic because neither Polumbo nor Knowles are women, and we thought that it would be more appropriate to have them address a distinct, but related topic instead of womanhood,” Burtka said.

According to Burtka, Polumbo will argue that “transgender-identifying adults should be free to do what they want with their own bodies and that the government should largely stay out of the issue,” and Knowles will make “a social conservative case to the contrary.”

The debate, among other events hosting “anti-trans” speakers on campus, inspired significant backlash at Pitt as transgender students said the events made them feel “unwelcome” and “in danger” on campus. 

It is unclear how much either of the participants is being paid for this event, as Burtka said he could not disclose the amount due to privacy reasons. 

However, an email circulated by Clymer — a transgender writer, activist and communications consultant — showed that ISI was offering $10,000 to argue the “pro-trans/pro-government-deciding-trans-rights side” of the debate. Burtka previously confirmed that ISI reached out to Clymer.

Dylan Mitchell, the president of College Republicans, did not immediately respond to request for comment.