Students and staff protest at launch of ‘virulently transphobic’ book hosted by Edinburgh Uni

The university deny claims of ‘shocking reports of physical abuse’ at the protest

Wednesday evening, students and staff gathered outside 40 George Square to protest a controversial book launch hosted by Edinburgh University on campus.

The academic book, Sex and Gender: A Contemporary Reader, was denounced by the university’s Staff Student Solidarity Network (SSSN) as being “virulently transphobic” and people were encouraged to join the protest via an Instagram post shared earlier in the day.

Protestors carried signs saying: “Trans Rights are Human Rights” and “Edinburgh Uni doesn’t care about students” and were heard saying: “Shame on you” to those entering the building. Protestors were sat outside 40 George Square, blocking the entrances. In addition to university security, police were called to the event.

Attendees of the book launch were seen stepping over and pushing past protestors in order to gain access into the building, and were assisted into the lecture hall by security. The SSSN claim “shocking reports of physical abuse” from the University of Edinburgh staff “to silence the protests of students concerned about the transphobic harassment that we know comes with these events.”

The university refutes these allegations, saying: “We do not recognise this alleged behaviour. Our security staff were working under difficult circumstances to escort the event’s attendees through a crowd of protestors that were sitting on the ground – some of whom intentionally threw themselves into the path of those trying to pass – but we did not observe any intentional physical contact between security staff, the attendees or protestors.”

Outside, a protestor gave a speech, declaring: “We deserve to exist in this space as ourselves at every moment, be ourselves, without fear of having that existence violently taken away from us and we will continue to assert that by any means necessary.”

This is the third event held on university campus to be met with opposition in the past year, coming after the attempted screening of the “transphobic” film Adult Human Female in 2022 was cancelled due to protests.

The book describes the scholars’ contributions and itself as “gender-critical” and asserts that “the view that sex matters…is an unassailable empirical fact”, saying that “sex is biological, immutable and binary (there are only two sexes).”

In their Instagram post, the SSN asserts that the book “sets a hugely worrying precedent for the normalisation of anti-trans hate in education and academia. In hosting this book launch, UofE is shamefully complicit.”

Academics for Academic Freedom (AFAF) tweeted: “This is how the protest against the launch and discussion of ‘Sex and Gender’ is being promoted. Still think it’s a bit of both sides, Professor Mathieson? You’ll notice a lack of mass emails, name-calling, denunciation and masked protests in relation to the SPN event.”

A contributor to the book said in a statement to the Edinburgh Tab: “The allegations made by the Student Staff Support Network are absurd. The book is a collection of evidence-based and carefully-argued essays which explore the continuing relevance of sex in various domains of law, policy and practice, and across academic disciplines.

“The denunciation of the book as “virulently transphobic” appears to have been made by people who have not read it: they are seemingly repeating what they have been told, without having checked for themselves.”

The police issued a statement acknowledging their presence at the protest and said: “We engaged with those present and the event passed without serious incident. There were no arrests and officers left the scene around 8.30pm.”