Scottish schools transgender event cancelled amid fears for speakers' safety

An Edinburgh University event discussing how gender issues are taught in Scotland's schools has been cancelled amid claims that the safety of women speakers and attendees was at risk.

The research seminar on schools and gender diversity, organised by the university's Institute for Education, Teaching and Leadership, was due to be held next week, but despite plans for increased security staff, the event has been postponed.

Academics, teachers and student teachers, education policy makers, politicians and parents had been invited to attend the seminar which would discuss "complex, sensitive and often controversial issues" around "gender diversity and supporting gender-nonconforming and transgender-identifying pupils in schools".

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Organisers had arranged the event in light of the Scottish Government's plan to produce new schools guidance on supporting transgender pupils, after it announced that previous advice, written by charity LGBT Youth, was to be replaced as it risked "potentially excluding other girls from female-only spaces".

An event to discuss new schools guidance on trans issues at Edinburgh University has been delayed because of safety fears.An event to discuss new schools guidance on trans issues at Edinburgh University has been delayed because of safety fears.
An event to discuss new schools guidance on trans issues at Edinburgh University has been delayed because of safety fears.

The event was set to discuss what the new guidance should look like and how "curricula, pedagogies, pastoral care and safeguarding practices" should be developed to ensure all children and young people can "interrogate gender norms whilst ensuring that gender-nonconforming and transgender-identifying pupils are safe, supported and included in schools".

Speakers included Professor Michele Moore, head of the Centre for Social Justice and Global Responsibility at London South Bank University, Stephanie Davies-Arai: Founder of Transgender Trend and Dr Shereen Benjamin a senior Lecturer in Primary Education at Edinburgh University, with the chair being Rosa Murray, the Institute's depute head.

However, the event was branded "transphobic" by the university's Staff Pride Network which wrote to management in an attempt to have it stopped. In a blog members of the Network said the seminar would have a "harmful impact" on the "trans and non-binary community at the University."

One of the Network's members, Dr Katie Nicoll Baines, also urged EventBrite, the online ticketing site, to take the seminar from its website, claiming on Twitter that it was "actively platforming speakers with a history of transphobic hate speech" and encouraged people to register for the event, to prevent genuine attendees from being able to get tickets.

Yesterday, a source at the University said the organisers had originally tried to invite LGBT and transgender organisations to take part "to look at what research is telling us and find a way forward", but they had refused to "share a platform" with the other speakers.

"Then there was an attempt to sabotage the event through the ticketing system, and the university management were asked to get involved but they did not do so. The organisers were told that there was going to be too hostile an environment to hold the event and while there would be nine security guards they couldn't guarantee the safety of speakers or attendees - most of whom would likely be women - which is pretty terrifying.

"It has made many women academics feel unsafe on campus and that they are on their own."

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It is the second event which has seen the university caught up in the increasingly heated row over transgender rights and women's rights as politicians seek to reform legislation around gender recognition.

At a previous event in June, which saw human rights lawyers and leading UK feminists discuss the future of women's rights, one of the speakers, author Julie Bindel, was verbally abused, "lunged at" and almost "punched in the face", by a transwoman as she left the building in Edinburgh's George Square.

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A Crown Office spokesperson said: "After full and careful consideration of all facts and circumstances the case was dealt with by way of an alternative to prosecution."

Direct Measures can include warnings; social work diversion and other diversion schemes; fines up to £300, compensation orders up to £5,000 and work orders up to 50 hours.

Members of the University's Staff Pride Network had previously resigned en-masse because the women's rights event went ahead, but the organisation has since relaunched.

In its blog on the now-postponed event, it says: "The Staff Pride Network Committee are relieved the event is not going ahead at this time and we are working with the University to provide a safe, inclusive environment for ALL staff and students to work and study."

A statement from Edinburgh University said: “The decision to postpone the research seminar entitled ‘Schools and Gender Diversity’ was taken by the organiser. We understand the organiser intends to reschedule early next year.

"The University will continue to support colleagues in expressing views even when the subject might be considered challenging by others in our community. We are clear that the University should both be a safe place for discussion and that freedom of expression is essential.”