Principal backs transgender students over ‘hurtful’ stickers The Times 24.01.19

The original article is here.

The principal of the University of Edinburgh has been accused of “suppressing women’s rights” after he backed transgender activists in a row over “transphobic” stickers on campus.

Professor Peter Mathieson has angered feminist campaigners after assuring students that he would not tolerate “offensive stickers” that have appeared on university grounds since last summer. Some of them are understood to say “Female is a biological reality” and “Woman. Noun. Adult human female”.

He promised that those responsible for the stickers would be traced through CCTV and disciplined. Police Scotland had also been contacted, he said.

In a letter to students, he wrote: “The university has a zero-tolerance stance towards harassment, bullying, discrimination and victimisation of any kind — this includes zero tolerance towards transphobia. All members of the university community including trans and non-binary people are protected under the dignity and respect policy. It is never acceptable for any member of the university to be harassed.”

A spokeswoman for Women and Girls in Scotland, which campaigns for women’s equality and against transgender women having access to women-only spaces, was outraged that the dictionary definition of a woman had seemingly been interpreted as hate speech.

“We consider any notion that female people should not be able to define ourselves in public as itself a form of oppression, and an impediment to addressing the sexism and misogyny [faced] because we are female,” she said.

She claimed that transgender activists encouraged people to report individual stickers as hate crimes to maximise the number of alleged offences. On Facebook last November, James Morton, the Scottish Trans Alliance (STA) manager, responding to a comment on the Edinburgh stickers, said: “Please log it by reporting on the Police Scotland online hate crime form. We need the stats.” Vic Valentine, a policy officer for STA, said: “If people feel distressed by transphobic stickers, we encourage them to report [it] to police. We want to improve trans people’s confidence in approaching the police.”

Kai O’Doherty, the Edinburgh University Students’ Association’s vice-president for welfare, said the stickers were “not only hurtful to trans people, but are clear violations of policies against harassment and discrimination”.

It is illegal to aggravate prejudices relating to transgender identity. The number of cases has risen from 14 in 2010-11 to 49 in 2017-18.

A spokeswoman for Forwomen.scot, a feminist group, said that the backlash was confined to a minority of transgender activists. “Trans people in general are not part of this,” she said. Some of the stickers included Forwomen.scot’s logo, but they were not produced or distributed by a member, she said.

One of the women involved in distributing the stickers said: “I’ve been stickering in an attempt to show other women that they aren’t alone, crazy or bigoted and to encourage discussion of the issues facing women from all sides.”

Last October a feminist campaigner’s attempt to pay £2,000 to have the definition of “woman” posted on the side of ten buses in Edinburgh was rejected by Exterion Media, which controls advertising space for Lothian Buses, because the message was “likely to offend”.

Hannah Pearson, of the Equality Network, which promotes LGBT rights, said that it was unaware of any link between the bus poster operation and the campus sticker campaign.

Police Scotland said that stickers had been posted across Edinburgh city centre and they were assessed, removed and no criminality established.