Edinburgh University's new rector Simon Fanshawe denies being an anti-trans campaigner

Author and broadcaster Simon Fanshawe has been named as new rector at the University of Edinburgh after an uncontested election

The new rector of Edinburgh University has immediately taken to social media to deny he is a campaigner against the legitimacy of trans people.

Simon Fanshawe, a free speech activist who was a co-founder of Stonewall in 1989, was responding to criticism of his appointment in an uncontested election.

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The announcement that Mr Fanshawe would become rector next month was warmly welcomed by many, including by Edinburgh Academics for Academic Freedom, a group that hit the headlines when its attempts to screen the controversial documentary Adult Human Female drew protests from pro-trans activists.

Simon FanshaweSimon Fanshawe
Simon Fanshawe

On X, the group posted: “We're over the moon at this news, and we look forward to welcoming you to (Edinburgh University). You're the perfect person for the role.”

However, an official from the Staff Pride Network at the university posted: “What on earth? How can he be permitted? He campaigns against the legitimacy of trans people.”

Mr Fanshawe replied: "Let me be absolutely clear. I do not and never have campaigned against the legitimacy of trans people.

"Please read what I have written. We need rigorous discussion on how we reach the best solutions for all. Just as we did for all those years in Stonewall, which was pretty successful.”

Mr Fanshawe has been a critic of Stonewall’s handling of transgender rights, telling Holyrood Magazine in 2019: “Stonewall has confused legal and biological questions with social identity and when you do that, you start to make bad law.”

He was speaking after being one of 22 signatories to a letter published in the Sunday Times, which raised concerns about Stonewall.

Mr Fanshawe was formerly the chair of the governing council of the University of Sussex from 2007 to 2013, and was made an OBE for services to higher education.

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In 1989 he won a Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and spent much of his early childhood living in Edinburgh and Stirling, with his father serving in The Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders.

The new rector went to Davidson’s Mains Primary School and still has family connections to Edinburgh. He will succeed Debora Kayembe in the post next month.

"Being named rector of the University of Edinburgh is a great honour,” he said. “It is a university with a great legacy and current practice of stellar research and wonderful teaching.

"The role of rector offers a great opportunity to convene discussions on the most effective ways of advancing the university, its staff and students and to promote mutual understanding in the exchange of ideas."

Mr Fanshawe will now become a member of the university’s governing body, the court. The university said the rector also serves “as a point of contact for the university community, seeking to assist with difficulties or issues where they arise”.

The rector is nominated and elected by students and staff. Only one valid nomination was received, meaning Mr Fanshawe was elected uncontested.

Leigh Chalmers, vice-principal and secretary of the University of Edinburgh, said: "We look forward to working with Simon and we thank Debora for her service."

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