Nine UK universities label gender-critical academics transphobes, investigation reveals.

A whistleblowing academic, who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of repercussion, has sent freedom of information requests to 151 UK universities asking them about their trans policies. 128 responded. The resulting report has been made available to CAF. Its key points are summarised below.  

Nine UK universities have policies which label gender-critical academics as transphobic. A further eight universities have ill-defined policies which could be used to censor gender-critical academics. 

A total of nine UK universities define transphobia as denying or refusing to accept a trans person’s gender identity. The definitions appear in university policy documents, for instance, Leeds Beckett’s Trans and Non-Binary Equality Guidance for Colleagues. The universities with these definitions are: 

All nine definitions are either verbatim reproductions of Stonewall’s definition of transphobia, or minor variations upon it. Sheffield Hallam University, for instance, uses Stonewall’s definition of transphobia: “the fear or dislike of someone based on the fact they are transgender, including denying their gender identity or refusing to accept it. Transphobia may be targeted at people who are, or who are perceived to be, transgender.” 

Gender-critical academics believe that sex is a material fact, not a social construct, and that it cannot be changed. They believe that, sexually, trans women are male, and trans men are female. Gender-critical academics may also believe that gender identity plays only a minimal role in determining a person’s identity, or simply reject the concept of gender identity: whether a person is a man or a woman is determined solely by their sex. Thus, many with gender-critical views are necessarily committed to “refusing to accept” the gender identity of trans people. Under the definitions of transphobia in the nine university policies, academics who hold these views are transphobic.  

Universities cannot avoid taking action that is informed by the gender debate – they must decide, for instance, whether or not to provide gender neutral toilets and changing facilities. However, whatever action a university takes, it need not have an official point of view on the gender debate. By defining gender-critical beliefs as transphobia, a university takes the view that gender-critical beliefs are wrong. The existence of such an official point of view must restrict of freedom of thought among academics. 

The chilling effect is made worse by the fact that “transphobic” is a strongly critical term – it is often compared to “racist”. The nine universities are not merely taking an official view on the gender debate; they are labelling those who disagree with this view as morally evil. This makes it next to impossible for academics and students in those universities to freely explore and debate gender-critical ideas.  

A further eight UK universities undertake to remove “transphobic propaganda” from their premises, with no definition of transphobia or of what makes something “transphobic propaganda”. Material which will be removed includes “written materials, graffiti, music or speeches”. For example, Aberystwyth University’s Transgender Equality Policy Statement for students and staff states that: “Transphobic propaganda, in the form of written materials, graffiti, music or speeches, will not be tolerated. Aberystwyth University undertakes to remove any such propaganda whenever, wherever and in whatever format.” No definition of transphobia or transphobic propaganda is supplied in the statement or is anywhere publicly available on Aberystwyth University website. This creates a menacing vagueness, which could be exploited to censor gender critical academics and students.  

The eight universities with such undefined commitments are: 

As with the definitions of transphobia, these stated commitments to removing “propaganda” are extremely similar, using identical or nearly identical forms of words. This strongly suggests that they are based on a template, no doubt one provided by Stonewall. Stonewall does, in fact, provide a toolkit for creating trans inclusive policies, and has previously campaigned for “no debate” on its position in the gender debate. 

It should be noted that holding and expressing gender critical beliefs is protected under the Equality Act (2010). Under UK law, it is illegal for universities to remove an individual’s writings, or censor his or her utterances, simply on the grounds that they express gender critical views. 

When universities create trans-inclusive policies, they must ensure that academic freedom is protected. This requires not defining transphobia in ways that simply label gender-critical views as “transphobic”, and not creating ill-defined censorship policies which are open to exploitation. 

If you wish to report infringements of academic freedom to CAF, contact us