‘Transphobic’ film event to go ahead at Edinburgh University despite outcry

Students say it will ‘endanger trans people on campus’

A row has erupted at Edinburgh University over the upcoming screening of a film on campus which some staff and students have accused of being “transphobic”.

Adult Human Female is a 90-minute documentary film, which claims to “look at the clash between women’s rights and trans ideology”. It discusses issues such as trans women being placed in women’s prisons, and criticises political moves toward gender self-identification.

The local branch of the University and College Union (UCU), which represents teaching staff, wrote to the University of Edinburgh last week asking them to withdraw the use of a university venue for what it called a “transphobic event”.

Due to take place tomorrow, 14 December, the sold-out event has been organised by the Edinburgh Academics for Academic Freedom (EAAF) group.

Responding to the request for the university to withdraw the venue, the group wrote: “We’re sorry our UCU branch takes a censorious and dogmatic view of sex and gender”, adding they are not afraid of being “cancelled”.

The student Pride Society also condemned the planned event, saying it was “appalled” by the university’s decision to host a screening of the film, saying this would “endanger trans people on campus and beyond, erasing their identities” as well as encouraging the spread of hate.

Meanwhile, the Students’ Union believes the “event will contribute to an unsafe and unwelcoming environment on campus for our trans members.”

The university says it supports a welcoming community for all its staff and students, but it is its “duty to make sure staff and students feel able to discuss controversial topics and that each event allows for debate.”

Speaking to The Edinburgh Tab, one of the film’s directors Deirdre O’Neill said: “We note that no evidence of transphobia in the film has been cited because none exists”.

A rival event has been organised by students to coincide with the film screening. The university’s elected LGBTQ+ Liberation Officer, Jamie Prada, said: “Those organising this event are the minority, and I would encourage all trans folks and allies to join us at our Trans Solidarity Community Event.”

The film has caused controversy elsewhere. A public screening of the film was originally planned to take place in Nottingham last month, but was reportedly cancelled after the venue for the screening learned of its content.

The production company behind the documentary, Reality Matters, denies the film is transphobic. “The only time the film contains ‘transphobic language’ is when one of our interviewees is criticising transphobia”, it wrote on Twitter.

The documentary’s motivation is summarised on its website: “In record time, the trans movement has captured the big institutions. The police, the political parties, the media, the universities and major corporations have taken up the cause in the name of inclusiveness. But is it really harmless when men identify into the female sex?”

It claims that trans activists are guilty of “reality denial”.

The film has an age rating of 15 from the British Board of Film Classification, which describes the film as having “Issues relating to trans and women’s rights discussed at length. Discriminatory terms such as ‘tr***y’ and ‘pan-fry sexual’ occur, often in the context of reported speech.” The BBFC also mentions the use of strong language and sexual violence and threat.

The call from UCU Edinburgh for the event to be cancelled has caused controversy on social media among those who both support and oppose the film.

Monica Lennon, the Scottish Labour MSP has supported the banning of the film, saying that the “truth is that transphobia and hate won’t win.”

Columnist for The Scotsman, Susan Dalgety, said the reaction from staff and students against the film was “another reason why women are getting angry”.

Meanwhile, an Edinburgh University lecturer warned the Union that: “A commitment to freedom of speech is fairly useless if you only extend it to folks who share your views”.

“Well done to UCU Edinburgh for fighting back”, another wrote.

Edinburgh Academics for Academic Freedom invited members of the UCU to watch the film, rather than trying to “ban a film you haven’t seen.” Principal Peter Mathieson has also encouraged those who criticise the film’s content to watch it and engage in respectful discussion.

The event is planned to go ahead at 6pm on Wednesday 14 December in 50 George Square. The Trans Solidarity Community Event will take place nearby at Teviot Row House.

Any student, staff member, or member of the public who believes that this event breaches the Dignity and Respect Policy, can submit a complaint to the University.

The following statements have been provided to The Edinburgh Tab:

The University of Edinburgh said: “The University is committed to fostering an inclusive, supportive and safe environment for our whole community. As part of our commitment to freedom of expression and academic freedom it is our duty to make sure staff and students feel able to discuss controversial topics and that each event allows for debate.

“Given the size of our community, it is inevitable that the ideas of different members will conflict. We always encourage respectful debate and discussion whenever there are differences of view or opinion and ensure that attendees of all events are aware of, and comply with, the University’s Dignity and Respect Policy, so that those wanting to attend feel able to contribute.”

Deirdre O’Neill, Co-Director of Adult Human Female, said: “On the BBFC certificate, one interviewee quotes the discriminatory language in order to condemn not endorse discrimination. The film catalogues case after case of women being abused and harassed for raising concerns that their sex based rights are under attack. Yet of this there is not a word from those who want to cancel the film.

“We note that no evidence of ‘transphobia’ in the film has been cited because none exists. We urge people to watch the film and debate the issues. We think that an appalling culture has developed on university campuses, promoted by students and the UCU, that effectively cannot deal with reasonable arguments. It is a deeply authoritarian mind set that is danger to democratic values.”

Jaime Prada, Liberation Officer, said: “We are disappointed that trans lives continue to be framed as a debate, both by the organisers of this event, and the University’s Compliance Group who have allowed it to go ahead.

“Events like this have a clear, negative impact on the safety and wellbeing of trans members of our community. The right to freedom of speech does not give you the right to target an already vulnerable group with misinformation and hate speech.

“Those organising this event are the minority, and I would encourage all trans folks and allies to join us at our Trans Solidarity Community Event, which will take place from 18:00 on Wednesday 14 December in the Lounge Bar, Teviot.”

Edinburgh Academics for Academic Freedom has not responded to requests for comment.

Edinburgh Pride Society has published a statement on its Instagram, and UCU Edinburgh has published a statement on its website.

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