Dispute over ‘detransition’ study heads for High Court The Times 07.02.19

The original article is here.

An academic researcher who was refused permission by a university to study people who regret or reverse gender reassignment treatment is to challenge the decision in the High Court (writes Rosemary Bennett).

After a battle of lasting over two years, the court has granted James Caspian an oral hearing on February 19 to challenge Bath Spa University’s decision to veto his Masters thesis proposals into “detransition”, which he says is a growing and worrying trend. It means he will be able to put his case publicly for the first time.

Mr Caspian, 59, is a psychotherapist who has spent his career working with transgender people and became alarmed by reports from clinicians that the number of reverse gender reassignment procedures was on the rise. He initially had his research proposal into the phenomenon accepted by the university.

When he sought to widened the scope of the research into the people, particularly young women, who regretted gender reassignment but stopping short of reversing it, Bath Spa said his proposal would have to be resubmitted and sent to the ethics committee. The committee rejected it, citing the risk to the university’s reputation of permitting “politically incorrect” research.

“Engaging in a potentially politically incorrect piece of research carries a risk to the university. Attacks on social media may not be confined to the researcher, but may involve the university,” it said. “The posting of unpleasant material on blogs or social media may be detrimental to the reputation of the university.”

Mr Caspian felt so strongly the research need to be done that he has raised over £20,000 though crowdfunding to finance a legal challenge. He has spent the past two years going back and forth between the university appeals process and the courts to try and resolve the matter and can now apply for a judicial review. However he will need considerably more funding. Bath Spa has retained the law firm DAC Beachcroft to represent it.

He has now told The Times he will take the case as far as he can, despite the personal financial risk.

“I am very glad to finally be able to present my case. It has been a long slog of two years to get to this point. I am an individual up against a publicly-funded university where no-one is risking anything, including their own money. If I lose I’ll end up paying for everything myself,” he said.

“But the research is too important. I’ve been aware for some time of the raising no of people regretting gender reassignment and reversing it. It has to be researched.”

The row over Mr Caspian’s research goes to the heart of freedom of speech on campus, with academic freedom to research difficult or unpopular subjects one of the aspects the government and university regulators are most eager to protect.

The case has attracted attention from around the world since The Times first revealed the row in 2017. It is particularly sensitive as it concerns the issue of “gate-keeping” by medical professionals. Until recently, trans people endured cruel, undignified battles before doctors allowed them to have gender reassignment treatment. Campaigners eventually succeeded in making this process simpler and more humane, but they now fear those gains may be reversed if research suggests psychological counselling should be a requirement before treatment. They believe “self-identification” as the different gender should be enough.