No, criticising trans ideas is not hateful

Bristol SU is wrong to No Platform ‘transphobes’.

Izzy Posen

Topics Free Speech

It has been a bad week for truly liberal students at the University of Bristol, as the students’ union has voted in its first No Platform policy in years, at last Tuesday’s annual members’ meeting.

The motion was proposed by members of the University of Bristol Intersectional Feminist Society (Ifemsoc). The title reads, ‘Prevent future trans-exclusionary radical feminist (TERF) groups from holding events at the university’. It is an explicit attempt at silencing those who are critical of the current intersectional orthodoxies regarding transgender issues.

The motion refers to an event about the upcoming Gender Recognition Act that was held in Bristol (off campus) in February, in which so-called TERFs expressed scepticism and worry regarding the direction in which public discourse and the law is going regarding transgender diagnosis and child transition. Ifemsoc wants such views banned from campus because they ‘amount to hate speech and the promotion of them endangers trans women’.

I looked up the event the motion referred to, which was organised by a group called Woman’s Place. Rather than finding hate and vitriol, I discovered discussion and debate. The speakers’ concerns centred on whether the transgender phenomenon is blurring the line between the genders, and the profound questions this raises for female-only spaces, as well as the effect that the de-medicalisation of gender transition might have on minors.

By spreading misinformation about certain feminist groups and portraying them as hateful, the proposers of the Bristol SU motion persuaded the meeting to pass the motion. One member who tried to get up and clarify the distinction between questioning transgender orthodoxies and being transphobic had their mic switched off and was ordered off the podium. It was claimed that their words were hateful and inappropriate. So even before the vote had taken place, the ban on supposedly transphobic speech was more or less already in place.

Speaking to students on the Bristol campus, I get the impression that those who are pushing for such censorship are a tiny minority, and most students disagree with their actions. However, this is a very loud and noisy minority, and students’ unions have become their strongholds. Students’ unions are meant to be democratic forums for students, but SU meetings are hostile places for people who question orthodoxies.

In a welcome move, the university responded to the calls to ban the original Bristol meeting, and the smearing of the people involved in it, by affirming its own stance on free speech. But, given the university is, rightly, separate to the students’ union, this has no bearing on the new policy.

From now on, students will not be allowed to hold events in collaboration with groups that critique any aspect of trans activism, or try to have open discussions about the legal and social implications of transgenderism. Apparently a committee will be established with representatives from the ‘liberation groups’, which will have the power to vet proposed speakers and groups if their beliefs are found to be ‘offensive’.

What intersectional feminists fail to understand is that free speech is precisely designed to protect the ideas we find most uncomfortable, rather than the ideas we like. They also seem to be unable to understand that not every idea they disagree with is automatically hateful.

Society is now going through a cultural revolution regarding sex and gender. Whether you think that’s a good or bad thing, we need to discuss it. We cannot expect people simply to go along with what certain activists say. It is only in recent years that gender identity has begun to be separated from biological sex. Personally, I think that separation is a good thing. But we cannot expect this radical paradigm shift to happen without rigorous debate.

Liberals and free-thinkers at the University of Bristol are saddened by these authoritarian attempts at restricting freedom and discussion, but we are not intimidated. We intend to fight all forms of extra-legal censorship on campus to make sure that our university is a place where a diversity of intellectual positions can flourish and co-exist. We must say No to No Platforming!

Izzy Posen is a physics and philosophy student at the University of Bristol.

Picture by: Robert Cutts, published under a creative-commons license.

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Topics Free Speech


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