Blog

Letter to Lord Grabiner

We’ve written a letter to Lord Grabiner, Master of Clare College, Cambridge, sticking up for Kevin Price, a porter at the college who has been targeted by student activists for not signing up to the trans agenda. Last week, Mr Price stood down as a Cambridge City Councillor and resigned his membership of the Labour Party because he felt he couldn’t vote for a motion that began with the words: “Trans women are women. Trans men are men. Non-binary individuals are non-binary.”

In his remarks to the Council, which have attracted the ire of student activists at Clare College, Mr Price affirmed his commitment to trans rights, but noted that trans rights sometimes conflict with women’s rights and criticised the unwillingness of trans activists and their allies to enter into a discussion about how to balance these competing rights in a calm and evidence-based way. Instead, they are prone to making blanket assertions – such as “trans women are women”, which effectively means trans rights should be given priority over women’s rights – and brand anyone who disagrees with those assertions a “transphobe” or a “bigot”. If we understand Mr Price’s argument correctly, he felt he couldn’t vote for the motion because it was siding with those who adopt this dogmatic position, refuse to acknowledge that supporting the rights of transwomen in some cases breaches the rights of women and expressing a view that effectively means that trans rights should always take priority.

All of these points strike us as perfectly respectable. In particular, Mr Price’s view that that trans rights can sometimes conflict with women’s rights – and treating transwomen as indistinguishable from women is tantamount to prioritising trans rights over women’s rights – is one that is widely held by a number of feminist academics, including Ms Selina Todd, Professor of Modern History at Oxford. Choosing to defend some women’s rights at the expense of some trans rights – objecting to transwomen competing in women’s professional rugby matches, for instance – does not make Mr Price a “transphobe” any more than defending some trans rights at the expense of women’s rights would make supporters of the Council’s motion “misogynists”. Both points of view are reasonable, neither comes anywhere near to being “hate speech” and no one expressing either point of view deserves to be called a “bigot”.

Nevertheless, this is not how trans activists and their allies at Clare College see the matter. According to a recent article in Varsity, the Union of Clare Students (UCS) has issued a statement condemning Mr Price for showing “a brazen contempt for the rights of trans and non-binary people”. The UCS’s LGBT+ Officer Frankie Kendal labelled Mr Price’s views “transphobic” and said “trans and non-binary students should not have to interact or rely on him for support in any way”. Furthermore, a Clare student called Victoria Longstaff, a former Students’ Union Women’s Campaigns Trans Rep, said that Mr Price is “unfit both to hold public office and to be in a position of responsibility over students” in light of his views. She also said that transgender students interacting with him in his capacity as a Clare porter is “a potential risk”, and that because of this she “must support either his resignation or his suspension from his duties at the college”. UCS added that Clare College’s Senior Tutor would be meeting with Mr Price, with the clear implication that he would receive a talking-to for expressing his gender critical beliefs.

We have asked Lord Grabiner to issue a statement of support for Mr Price, making it clear that his employment status is secure, that his views do not make him a “transphobe” or a “bigot”, that he is not a “potential risk” to any students, trans or otherwise, and that if students at Clare continue to make derogatory and potentially libellous comments about him they will be disciplined, up to and including dismissal from the College. We’ve also asked him to consider giving both Mr Kendall and Ms Longstaff a formal warning, making it clear that any further statements of the kind they’ve already made about Mr Price will lead to them being disciplined.

2020-10-29-Letter-to-Lord-Grabiner

Letter to Prof Paul Layzell on the No-platforming of Chris Williamson

The Free Speech Union has written to Professor Paul Layzell, the Principal of Royal Holloway, part of the University of London, objecting to the no-platforming of the ex-Labour MP Chris Williamson. Mr Williamson was originally invited to the Royal Holloway Debating Society, but the invitation was rescinded after some objections were raised by the local Labour Party and a number of student societies. We believe Royal Holloway is in breach of its own policy on upholding free speech and could well be in breach of s.43 of the Education (No.2) Act 1986. No-platforming a speaker at the behest of those who disagree with the speaker’s political views after an invitation has already gone out is also contrary to the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s official guidance. We have asked Professor Layzell to intervene and ensure that the invitation to Mr Williamson is reissued and the debate goes ahead as planned.

UPDATE: We have received a response from the Royal Holloway Students’ Union – see below for details.

Police Investigation of Darren Grimes Over David Starkey Interview

We were recently contacted by one of our members, Darren Grimes, regarding a YouTube interview he conducted with Dr David Starkey in June. He told us that he had been asked by police to appear at a police station to be interviewed under caution, or be arrested if he refused to attend “voluntarily”. This was over remarks that his interviewee Dr Starkey had made during the interview, and the crime being investigated was that of “sitrring up racial hatred” under the Public Order Act 1986 s.22. This is unprecedented both because of the fact that a law intended to maintain public order is being used to regulate speech and debate, but also because the target is not the person who made the allegedly inflammatory remarks but the interviewer – something that could have far-reaching implications for journalists and broadcasters. We managed to find a solicitor willing to represent Mr Grimes pro bono, and issued the following statement:

2020-10-09-Public-Statement-re-Darren-Grimes-and-David-Starkey

Letter regarding the no-platforming of Richard Dawkins at Trinity College, Dublin

The College Historical Society of Trinity College, Dublin – known as the Hist – recently disinvited Prof Richard Dawkins from speaking at the Society. Their Auditor Brid O’Donnell issued a statement citing his “opinions on Islam and sexual assault” and apologising for having invited him. This is part of a trend: their recent pro-BLM “Apology Statement” singles out Nigel Farage as someone whose views should never have been heard at the Hist.

On learning of Prof Dawkins’ disinvitation, we wrote a letter to Brid O’Donnell pointing out their legal obligations and urging them to consider the value of open debate in a free society – a lesson today’s students seem increasingly unwilling to learn. You can read that letter below.

2020-09-30-Letter-to-Brid-ODonnell

Schools Should Not “Isolate” Pupils Who Joke About Covid

Sharing memes like this should not be against school rules

The Free Speech Union has learned from concerned parents and media reports that certain schools have instituted blanket bans on “joking about coronavirus” and we believe this to be an unreasonable restriction with potentially disproportionate punishments, such as being placed in isolation.

No-Platforming Incident at Exeter University

We found out this morning that Caroline Farrow, a Catholic journalist and member of the Free Speech Union, has been no-platformed by the University of Exeter Debating Society. She was due to speak on 18th September in a debate on whether prostitution should be legalised, but she was notified at 11am today that she’d been disinvited because of her religious beliefs on a range of LGBT issues. This is a clear case of no-platforming and a breach of the University of Exeter’s professed commitment to free speech.

If the newly-installed Vice-Chancellor, Professor Lisa Roberts, doesn’t intervene to make sure the invitation is reinstated, it could also be a breach of the University’s legal duty to protect free speech, as set out in the Education (Nº 2) Act 1986, which was passed, in part, to prevent the no-platforming of visiting speakers at British universities. In particular, it would be a breach of s.43(a) of the 1986 Act, which requires universities to “take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students and employees of the establishment and for visiting speakers”. This Act and these words are referred to in Exeter’s “Freedom of Speech” policy.

The Free Speech Union has written to the Vice-Chancellor to complain about the censorious behaviour of the Debating Society and urged her to intervene. We await her response.

UPDATE: We sent our letter to the Vice-Chancellor at 4.30pm today, and received a response from the Vice-Chancellor’s Office at 9.22pm informing us that Caroline Farrow had been re-invited to speak at the debate tomorrow. We checked this with Caroline Farrow and, sure enough, she had received an email at 9pm from James Lindsay, the Interim Director of Membership Engagement at the University of Exeter Students’ Guild. It read:

I’m writing to you on behalf of the Debating Society at the University of Exeter Students’ Guild. I have been in touch with the society this evening and discussed the retraction of invite that was sent to you earlier today. I can confirm that this was sent in error and I apologise for any inconvenience caused.

Therefore, your invitation stands and we welcome your attendance at the debate tomorrow evening.

Well done to Professor Lisa Roberts for acting so quickly to ensure freedom of speech is upheld at Exeter and to the Chairman of the Debating Society for being willing to change his mind. We hope that no more speakers are no-platformed by British universities, but if they are this is exactly how university vice-chancellors and the officers in charge of student societies should respond when they’re made aware of how wrong it is to no-platform people, both morally and legally.

At the risk of repeating ourselves, if a group of students passionately disagree with the views of an invited speaker, they should welcome the opportunity to robustly challenge those views in the public square. If they can persuade others that they’re right they will advance their cause, whereas silencing their opponents will persuade no one who isn’t already convinced. It just makes it look as though they’re scared of being defeated in an open debate.