A concerning response to the academics’ letter

Signatories to our letter addressed to Baroness Kishwer Falkner at the Equality and Human Rights Commission have received correspondence criticising their decision to sign it, some of which we consider coercive, threatening or discriminatory.

Signatories to our letter addressed to Baroness Kishwer Falkner published in the Times on Sunday 17th October 2021 have received correspondence from various quarters critical of their decision to sign it.

The purpose of the letter was to ask the Equality and Human Rights Commission to investigate UK universities’ imposition of radical gender orthodoxy. Signatories called for guidance on prevention of discrimination.

Edinburgh University’s Staff Pride Network sent an email to hundreds of staff members (also published on the Edinburgh University website) implying that signing the letter was “abusive or discriminatory” and an attempt to “stigmatise” those who hold opposing beliefs about gender.

We consider that the email was used to try to coerce people to line up behind SPN’s philosophical beliefs about gender. We are particularly concerned by their statement:

“While we recognise the freedom of those individuals to hold and express these beliefs, that freedom does not mean that they are free from consequences…”

In the context of the death threats, harassment and physical intimidation Professor Kathleen Stock has suffered as a “consequence” of expressing her belief that sex matters, this statement is ominous, and has caused some recipients to contact campus security. It is unacceptable that signatories to our letter should receive such threatening correspondence from within the university

People who believe that sex matters (commonly called gender-critical thinkers) are protected under the Equality Act from harassment and discrimination on the basis of those beliefs. The same goes for those who believe that gender can be self-determined – the belief we have described as “radical gender orthodoxy”. 

Discrimination may extend to characterising gender critical arguments as abusive or discriminatory. University staff and students should be treated with respect and not be subjected to mischaracterisation of the expression of their beliefs as abuse or discrimination.  

We consider SPN’s email to be harassment (following the Equality Act’s definition) in that it creates an intimidating or hostile work or educational environment for those who believe that sex matters or who oppose radical gender orthodoxy. Attempting to coerce adherence to SPN’s belief systems through harassment is discriminatory. 

Given that SPN’s email was motivated by the Sex Matters letter to the EHRC regarding discrimination in universities, it is also victimisation under the Equality Act 2010. SPN (and others) should familiarise themselves with sections 26 and 27 of the Equality Act 2010 (there is EHRC guidance):

The SPN has used university infrastructure to facilitate a backlash against the signatories with the purpose or effect of deterring any expression of gender-critical beliefs, or even of concern for the academic freedom of those who do not believe in radical gender orthodoxy.

This backlash illustrates the oppressive and hostile environment prevailing in UK universities for people who hold the philosophical belief that sex matters. It only strengthens our argument that a comprehensive EHRC review into the imposition of a radical gender orthodoxy is now urgently required.

We urge Edinburgh University to:

  • publish a statement supporting the expression of all beliefs about sex and gender and respect for all, regardless of their beliefs
  • investigate harassment, victimisation and threats to the health and safety of gender critical thinkers and/or dissenters from radical gender orthodoxy
  • require the SPN to publicly retract its harassment, threats and discriminatory mischaracterisation of gender critical beliefs
  • require the SPN to cease using University infrastructure to coercively promote radical gender orthodoxy.

If anyone from another university has received similar correspondence, do let us know: [email protected]