Queen’s University Belfast’s intolerance of “incorrect pronoun” use punishes free expression of belief

Queen’s University Belfast Trans Equality Policy states that the university will treat the expression of certain gender critical beliefs as a disciplinary offence.

Queen’s University Belfast has published a “Trans Equality Policy”. The following passage is part of the policy: 

Transphobic abuse, harassment or bullying (including name-calling / derogatory jokes / repeated or intentional use of incorrect pronouns or name) will be dealt with under the Bullying and Harassment Policy which states that the University will not tolerate such behaviour. It will be treated by the University as a disciplinary offence. 

In this passage, the policy states that: 

  1. Intentional use of incorrect pronouns (i.e. pronouns which are not an individual’s preferred pronouns) is either transphobic abuse, or harassment, or bullying. 
  2. The university will not tolerate intentional use of pronouns which are not an individual’s preferred pronouns 
  3. The university will treat intentional use of pronouns which are not an individual’s preferred pronouns as a disciplinary offence. 

Individuals with gender critical beliefs 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. Individuals with gender critical beliefs may also reject the concept of gender identity: whether a person is a man or a woman is determined wholly by their sex. 

If an individual believes that sex is material, cannot be changed, and is wholly determinative of whether a person is a man or a woman, then they will believe that trans men are women, and trans women are men. An individual’s expression this belief may require, in some cases, using male pronouns for trans women, and female pronouns for trans men. Frequently, these will not be the preferred pronouns of the trans people in question. Queen’s University will therefore treat the expression of certain gender critical beliefs as a disciplinary offence.

Queen’s University has a moral obligation not to prohibit the free expression of beliefs. Queen’s policy of treating any expression of gender critical beliefs which require the use of non-preferred pronouns as a disciplinary offence does precisely this: it punishes the expression of some gender critical views. Were Queen’s located in England, and subject to the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act, it is highly likely that Queen’s would be breaking the law.

The expression of certain gender critical beliefs requires, in some cases, using pronouns other than those which individuals prefer. A prohibition on any use of non-preferred pronouns prohibits the expression of certain gender critical beliefs, and violates freedom of speech and academic freedom.