Guild “work to widen debate” amidst second transphobia controversy
The Debating Society’s inviting of controversial speakers Dr Joanna Williams and Baroness Claire Fox to a motion on the “Snowflake Generation” has attracted condemnation from students, whilst the Guild says they “work to widen debate and challenge, never to narrow it.”
It comes just four months after their last controversy, when Caroline Farrow was un-invited and then re-invited to a debate on sex work after the society was made aware of her “anti-LQBTQ+ views.” The Free Speech Union had sent a letter to the Vice Chancellor after hearing of her deplatforming, before Guild management intervened to tell her the invitation would not be rescinded.
Internal investigations were then opened by both the Guild and University, with a Guild spokesperson saying: “we are committed to ensuring that we are transparent in what we find in the review so that answers are given to questions.”
Exeposé understands that the University had reminded the Guild of their responsibilities to uphold freedom of speech laws.
Students on the Overheard at University of Exeter Facebook page expressed their embarrassment at Friday’s speakers, with one asking: “How the fuck did you get her approved by the Guild?”
Dr Williams questions why transgender pupils are free to use the toilets and changing rooms that match their gender identity
Joanna Williams was condemned as transphobic by signatories of an open letter when she spoke at King’s College London in 2018. Last year, she penned a report titled “The Corrosive Impact of Transgender Ideology” which proposes that transgender children should be misgendered at school if they do not have parental approval.
In the report, written for right-wing think tank Civitas, Dr Williams questions why transgender pupils are free to use the toilets and changing rooms that match their gender identity, claiming that it makes schools “riskier” for girls.
She has also written articles decrying “trans tyranny”, claiming that the word “woman” is now an expletive and “declaring your pronouns is pure narcissism.”
Baroness Claire Fox also spoke at the event, whose appointment as a peer has been condemned as she has not apologised for defending IRA bombings. She was a leading member of the Revolutionary Communist Party when they defended such actions in 1993.
The Guild has previously faced criticism for sanctioning the appearance of Katie Hopkins to argue against refugees in 2018, and an ECU speaker who was accused of homophobia.
A Guild spokesperson said: “University of Exeter Students’ Guild is committed to supporting freedom of expression. Everyone has the right to free speech within the law. We work to widen debate and challenge, never to narrow it. Decisions about speakers and events are made on the basis of promoting and protecting the right to freedom of expression.
“Friday’s debate, like others held by the Debating Society and student groups across the country, aimed to encourage balanced and respectful debates by ensuring strong mitigations are in place so that unlawful hate speech will be condemned and not tolerated. These mitigations include a balance of views and experience of speakers, an experienced Chairperson, and digital debate risk mitigations. An Event Approval Panel was convened in the risk assessment and approval process for this debate involving both Exeter Students’ Guild and University of Exeter to ensure that freedom of expression cannot be abused for the purpose of unchallenged hatred or bigotry.
“Peaceful protest is also a protected form of expression; however, protest should not be allowed to shut down debate or infringe the rights of others if the event is well managed in accordance with the law.”
We have not had opportunities to welcome and promote prominent trans speakers and thinkersDimitri Georgiev, LGBTQ+ Soc Transgender Representative
LGBTQ+ Society’s Transgender Representative, Dimitri Georgiev, said: “Although the debates may not be centred around transphobic topics, the act of inviting openly transphobic speakers into our University spaces signifies that the Debating Society are complacent in normalising transphobia.
“Those responsible for these invitations must realise their duty to think critically about who they invite, what kind of message this sends to the public, and ensure that they do not contribute to the hostile environment trans people are subjected to in our current day and age. They must understand their responsibility to every student, ensuring that robust risk assessments exist to prevent additional harm to marginalised groups.
“Furthermore, it is regrettable that multiple times each year we have a problem with noted transphobic speakers being given invitations to speak on campus, but have not had opportunities to welcome and promote prominent trans speakers and thinkers. If these debates are an attempt to show both sides of the argument, then they are clearly failing in this.”
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