Weekly news round-up

Welcome to the FSU’s weekly newsletter, our round-up of the free speech news of the week. As with all our work, this newsletter depends on the support of our members and donors, so if you’re not already a paying member please sign up today or encourage a friend to join and help turn the tide against cancel culture. You can share our newsletters on social media with the buttons at the bottom of this email (although not if you’re reading this on a desktop). If someone has shared this newsletter with you and you’d like to join the FSU, you can find our website here.

Oxfam worker hounded out of charity for defending JK Rowling

An ex-Oxfam employee was forced out of the charity over her support for JK Rowling. (Mail, Telegraph, UnHerd). Initially, the woman was subject to an internal petition by 70 fellow employees that accused her of “transphobia”. Having been placed under investigation by management, she was then made to endure a gruelling disciplinary investigation that culminated in her being issued with a final warning – an outcome that led to her suffering a nervous breakdown. Her crime? Questioning colleagues who wanted to ban the Harry Potter books from all Oxfam bookshops!

Oxfam GB, the British wing of the charity, has now settled a claim in employment tribunal brought by the former staff member who coordinated its women’s rights team. In other words, Oxfam has capitulated.

Maria, which is not her real name, spoke to the women’s rights activist Julie Bindel about her case. She was a member of a company-wide LGBTQ+ group, when, in September 2020, a shop manager who was a trans woman asked in the group: “What is your opinion on selling JK Rowling books?”

The manager claimed she was deeply troubled. Rowling’s latest thriller, Troubled Blood, had cunningly been foisted on a naïve and unwitting public under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, she said. Might there not be “highly transphobic” content lurking behind that smokescreen, she fretted? And shouldn’t this sort of thing be covered by Oxfam’s “unsuitable for sale” policy, she wondered. Never mind Troubled Blood, what about the transphobic author’s other books, staff members protested? Could any of it really be regarded as suitable for sale in Oxfam’s bookshops?

At this point, Maria, a former pre-school teacher and sexual assault centre volunteer who moved from Spain to the UK in 2017, felt compelled to introduce a jarring note into this comradely and commendably high-spirited witch hunt. “Can you explain why she is transphobic or why the book is transphobic?” she asked.

Her message received no response, which prompted her to point out that Rowling was “one of the most important women writers in the UK”. When that message also received no response, Maria continued: “Stopping selling something we don’t like is called censorship and is the opposite of freedom of speech.”

Rather than taking the coward’s way out and responding directly, 70 of Maria’s colleagues decided to sign a petition on the company intranet instead, demanding bosses “take a stand” and “communicate a zero-tolerance approach to transphobia”.

Maria was subsequently told by a manager that her “incredible” views would be reported, and that she could well lose her job for her comments. Three days after that interaction, she was placed under investigation for “transphobic comments”. Six weeks later, and just two days before Christmas, she was issued with a final warning for having “breached the requirement of the code of conduct to treat all persons with respect and dignity”.

Feeling that she had no choice but to resign, Maria brought an employment tribunal claim for constructive dismissal and belief discrimination, which Oxfam settled during judicial mediation in July last year.

Speaking to Julie Bindel, Maria said: “I hope every single woman, especially those stronger and richer than me, fight every time this happens within the charity sector. Oxfam is supposed to be protecting women and girls in the most vulnerable situations all over the world, and this ideology will ruin it.”

Maria’s reference to the “charity sector” is particularly apt, Julie said: “What Maria experienced is part of a wider woke culture in the charitable sector, where female employees are silenced and treated like bigots for believing that sex-based rights matter.”

Edinburgh University delays screening of gender-critical film for third time

A group of Edinburgh University academics is calling on the University to ensure a screening of Adult Human Female – a gender-critical documentary – can finally go ahead, having twice seen it get cancelled because of opposition from trans activists (Mail, Telegraph).

The Edinburgh branch of Academics for Academic Freedom’s (AFAF’s) appeal to the university’s senior administrators comes after the gender critical feminist philosopher Dr Kathleen Stock’s much publicised talk at the Oxford Union Debating Society went ahead as planned last week thanks to “good leadership”, and despite fierce opposition from hundreds of students.

It was “shameful”, Edinburgh AFAF said, that no events advocating for women’s rights on the basis of sex have been allowed to take place on campus to their knowledge during the past academic year. The group also said there is no balance of debate on campus, pointing out that several public events platforming gender-identity theory “uncritically” have gone ahead at the university during that same time period.

The statement continued: “In the immediate aftermath of the second sabotage of our screening and discussion, we said that senior leaders in the university have failed to uphold their legal and moral responsibility to promote and defend academic freedom. The prompt and decisive action we hoped for has not materialised.”

The screening of Adult Human Female has now been delayed, supposedly until the start of the next academic year, because the university’s management claims it is unable to make appropriate security arrangements.

In response to the academics’ intervention, a spokesperson for the University said: “We are in discussion with the organisers of the screening of the film Adult Human Female, and others in our community, with the aim of identifying a suitable approach for screening the film safely.”

If the “others in our community” that the spokesperson is alluding to are in fact the same “others” that twice successfully sabotaged the screening on the basis that any expression of belief in the immutable biological reality of sex is tantamount to ‘transphobia’, then it’s difficult to see how the ‘discussion’ could reach a satisfactory conclusion before the start of the next academic year in September.

Labour MSP forced out of Holyrood equalities event after one trans complaint

Following a formal complaint to Scottish Labour, the frontbench MSP Ms McNeill has now pulled out of co-hosting an event titled ‘The Meaning of Sex Under the Equality Act 2010’ at Holyrood next week (National, Scotsman, Spectator, Unherd).

The event was to have featured prominent gender critical activist and Executive Director of campaign group Sex Matters, Maya Forstater, as well as barrister Naomi Cunningham, legal academic Dr Michael Foran, and Dr Helen Joyce, the author of Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality.

Holyrood descended into vicious in-fighting over the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Act, which will make it easier for transgender people to legally change sex.

The Act was passed with cross-party backing in December last year, but the Westminster Government blocked it from becoming law, claiming it was unconstitutional because of its impact on the Equality Act 2010, which applies in the whole of the UK, not just Scotland. That decision is now subject to a legal challenge from the Scottish Government.

Ms McNeill, who is Scottish Labour’s justice spokesperson, is an outspoken critic of the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Act. She was due to co-host next week’s event with Ash Regan, the SNP MSP who resigned from the Scottish Government over her opposition to the Bill.

The formal complaint received by Scottish Labour claimed the timing of the event and the invitation to attend it, which was sent to all MSPs on the first day of Pride Month, “appears to be a deliberate attack on trans people and their allies”.

A Scottish Labour source said not only that it was the right decision for Ms McNeill to step away from the event, but that “[she] should never have organised it in the first place and I hope she apologises publicly for it”.

How or why Scottish Labour reached that conclusion is unclear: as per the recent Forstater, Bailey and Mackereth employment tribunal rulings, gender critical beliefs expressed within the context of a Parliamentary seminar on equalities law would appear prima facie to be “protected philosophical beliefs” under the Equality Act 2010, and not an attack on trans people or their allies.

This is a familiar line of argument and has been used many times before to shut down debate about the conflict between trans rights and women’s sex-based rights. This isn’t just any old debate, however. As Stephen Daisley pointed out in the Spectator, when a major political party prevents one of its MSPs from meeting with lawyers and women’s rights campaigners at the Scottish parliament to discuss legislation passed by the Scottish parliament it sets a worrying new precedent. “Don’t like an MSP attending an event or meeting with a particular group?” No problem. “Just whack in a complaint. That’s exactly what will happen next time a Labour MSP plans to host or attend a meeting with gender self-identification activists, and if the outcome is not the same as here it will only heighten tensions.”

Latest episode of the FSU’s podcast is out now!

On the latest episode of the FSU’s podcast, That’s Debatable!, hosts Tom and Ben celebrate ex-civil servant Anna Thomas’s victory over the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

We recently helped Anna win a £100,000 settlement from the DWP after she was fired for raising the alarm about politically controversial workplace messaging involving critical race theory and gender ideology.

As Tom and Ben point out, the DWP’s six-figure pay out to Anna should be a source of great succour to employees in both the private and public sectors currently grappling with some of the more radical diversity, equity and inclusion agendas that have crept into the workplace.

In this clip from the episode, Tom and Ben talk about how the FSU is now building on Anna’s win with our new campaign to halt the politicisation of the Civil Service – it’s a great discussion, and well worth a quick listen.

During the rest of the podcast, Tom and Ben discuss the origins of the authoritarianism creeping into contemporary youth culture, as well as the news that broke over the weekend regarding government-backed censorship of lockdown sceptics during the Covid pandemic.

You can download the episode in full – and for free – by clicking here. And don’t forget to search for That’s Debatable! on your favourite podcasting app and hit “subscribe” so you don’t miss next week’s episode.

Sharron Davies MBE book launch – book now!

Of all the issues thrown up by the rise of gender ideology and the push for trans-inclusivity, safety and fairness in women’s sport is probably the one that has grabbed most mainstream attention. And yet, too often, the debate has been shut down, with those raising questions being accused of ‘transphobia’. One of the most stalwart defenders of the integrity of women’s sports is the British Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies MBE.

We are therefore delighted to host the official launch of Sharron’s new book, Unfair Play: The Battle for Women’s Sport, on Wednesday 5th July. Join us online or in-person in central London to hear from Sharron about why she wrote the book and the struggles she’s faced to get her arguments heard.

We have brought together a superb panel to discuss the issues with Sharron, including Dr Emma Hilton, the award-winning development biologist who has advised various sporting bodies on transgender policy, including World Rugby, as well as Cathy Devine, an independent researcher who has published widely in the areas of sport policy, equality and human rights for girls and women over the last 15 years.

In the chair will be the FSU’s Education and Events Director, Dr Jan Macvarish.

There will be an audience Q&A and plenty of time to socialise afterwards over a complimentary glass of wine, courtesy of Swift Press. The book will also be on sale on the night and Sharron will be signing copies.

In-person tickets with a discount price for FSU members can be purchased here. Members who prefer to watch the event online can register here. And non-FSU members who want to watch online can pay £5 to register here.

FSU Summer Speakeasies – tickets now available!

If you live in the Cambridge area, the first of our regional Summer Speakeasies is taking place on Thursday 15th June. Journalist and writer Jane Robins will interview FSU founder Toby Young about his perspective on the battle for free speech, and much more. There will, of course, be plenty of time for socialising with fellow free speech supporters. FSU members can book tickets free of charge for themselves and their friends. Non-members pay £10. Book your places here.

If you can get to Edinburgh on Wednesday 19th July, do please join us for our Summer Speakeasy on a particularly timely subject, ‘Can the Arts Survive and Thrive in Scotland?’ Taking place just weeks before the Edinburgh Festival, where comedian Jerry Sadowitz will return with his show in defiance of last year’s cancellation, and with our Scottish Advisory Council member Joanna Cherry MP due to speak after an unsuccessful attempt to no-platform her, our guest speakers – poet Jenny Lindsay, actress and producer Kirstin McLean and author Ewan Morrison – will take us through the free speech issues faced by artists, writers and performers, and discuss how we can stand up for the right of audiences to judge for themselves. Get your tickets here.

On Thursday 20th July, we’ll be in Manchester with what looks set to be a fascinating event, ‘Free Speech: A Radical History’, which will focus on the city’s historic political struggles. We’ve invited two local historians – Michael Herbert of Red Flag Walks and Jonathan Schofield, tour guide and editor of Manchester Confidential – to share their knowledge and they’ll be joined by historian of US political history, Dr Cheryl Hudson. Tickets are available here.