Signatories to a letter calling for greater free speech in universities have been subjected to a barrage of abuse from transsexual rights activists.
The letter to the Observer, signed by gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and 129 others, criticised universities for banning speakers whose views were deemed to be “transphobic”.
The letter, which included some transsexuals as co-signatories, said: “You do not have to agree with the views that are being silenced to find these tactics illiberal and undemocratic.
“We call on universities and other organisations to stand up to attempts at intimidation and affirm their support for the basic principles of democratic political exchange.”
But since the letter was published at the weekend, Tatchell has received more than 5,000 messages attacking his stance, including some which were threatening.
He described the “volume and vitriol” of the attack as “almost unprecedented” in his time as a campaigner.
“The letter was about freedom of speech, and includes no attack on trans rights”, Tatchell said.
Professor Mary Beard, who also signed the letter, said she went to bed “wanting to weep”, after being “bombarded” with hundreds of hateful tweets.
“Cumulative harassment is what it felt like”, she said.
Writing on her blog, Beard explained that she would forever stand by “the centrality of free debate in universities and elsewhere”.
She added: “We should be in the business of subjecting all views, both those with which we agree and those with which we disagree, to public scrutiny.
“Free speech only means anything if it refers to views with which you disagree as well as agree”.
Last year, atheist commentator Brendan O’Neill warned that the redefinition of marriage is a “Trojan horse for the enforcement of a new morality”, and restricts freedoms.
He described the agenda of the same-sex marriage lobby as demanding “psychological acceptance of gay marriage from all”.