Stonewall’s new boss Nancy Kelley let census expert be no-platformed The Times 23.05.20

The original article is here.

The new head of Stonewall, an LGBT charity that campaigns for “acceptance without exception”, allowed a top social scientist to be barred from a discussion of how Britain conducts its census.

Nancy Kelley was one of the leaders of a research group that agreed to have the scientist “no-platformed” in the latest row over academic freedom.

Alice Sullivan, professor of sociology at University College London and director of one of the UK’s biggest social science projects, was due to speak at a seminar last month alongside officials from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which is organising the 2021 census.

Sullivan leads the 1970 British Cohort Study, which follows 17,000 people born in one week 50 years ago. She was invited by the research body NatCen, which works closely with the ONS. Kelley is NatCen’s deputy chief executive and is to move to Stonewall later this year.

The event was cancelled after some NatCen members alleged that Sullivan held “anti-trans views”. Emails disclosed under information laws reveal fears “that including Sullivan as a panellist could be seen as NatCen endorsing anti-trans views, risking reputational damage and perhaps more importantly risking harm to staff and audience members”. Circulated among the six-strong leadership team, the emails say the NatCen LGBT group “suggested she not take part or that the event be cancelled”. It was scrapped days later.

Sullivan had intended to discuss proposed ONS guidance that people should be allowed to self-identify as male or female in the 2021 census. Under the guidance, respondents would be able to answer according to what they felt themselves to be and not their birth sex. In December Sullivan organised a letter, signed by 80 social scientists and published in The Sunday Times, arguing that to let people choose how to answer will affect the accuracy of the census.

Sullivan revealed her no-platforming experience in a paper published last week in the International Journal of Research Methodology. She writes that she was told the seminar was cancelled because inviting her was “too risky” and another speaker had threatened to pull out if she attended.

“Many people do not recognise the scale of this culture of no-platforming or how it operates,” she said. “I hope that developing a better understanding of how this culture of silencing on gender issues works will help universities and research organisations to recognise what is going on and take a more robust approach to defending scientific prerogatives.”

She added: “It is troubling that Nancy Kelley appears implicated in cancelling a research methods seminar rather than allowing an open discussion . . . No-platforming is a tactic that we used to associate only with hard-left sects and student politics. Trans activists have brought no-platforming and silencing of mainstream views into organisations that should know better. It is far more widespread than people realise. The academics affected come from a range of disciplines, yet they are nearly always women.”

NatCen said: “The National Centre for Social Research is committed to independence and impartiality. Given the current lobbying on census sex and gender questions, and the need for us to retain our actual and perceived independence given we have been testing different approaches with customers in this area, we did not feel it appropriate for NatCen to hold a seminar at this time. Our staff have a wide range of differing views on issues including in this area. We encourage them to express these openly and we value diversity. There is certainly no staff lobby or policy to no-platform academics or anyone else at NatCen and we have given that reassurance to Professor Alice Sullivan.”

Stonewall and Nancy Kelley declined to comment.


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