Speaker disinvited from Royal Holloway event due to retweeting ‘transphobic’ comedy scene

Claire Fox claimed students who invited her were ‘absolutely bullied’ into cancelling the event

The Debating Society at Royal Holloway, University of London (RHUL) disinvited a House of Lords peer because she retweeted a comedian’s comment about transgender women.

Baroness Claire Fox was invited to speak about her “interesting career” in politics and with the free speech think tank the Academy of Ideas. But the event was cancelled after six other student societies wrote to the Students’ Union (SU) and accused Fox of being “transphobic” for retweeting a clip from a stand-up by comedian and UCL alumnus Ricky Jervais.

The SU’s president was then seen describing Fox as “an advocate for hate towards trans people” who “re-tweets and praises this video of Ricky Gervais being overtly transphobic” in an email to the Debating Society, The Telegraph reports.

Fox said she was “rather miffed” for being cancelled over retweeting someone else’s joke and called claims of her “transphobia” “slanderous.” She also used the incident as evidence of free speech being “ultimately crushed” on campuses with “activist unions” “censoring those that do not align with their ideology.”

Claire Fox (Image credit: YouTube)

Before being allowed as an external speaker, Fox said Royal Holloway’s Debating Society had to go through what she described as a “bureaucratic nightmare” of SU safeguarding checks that found “no evidence that I was a hate monger or a threat.”

But even after receiving permission to speak, the event was cancelled after the SU emailed the Debating Society and claimed six student societies complained of Fox’s alleged “transphobic views,” citing her retweet of a scene from a comedy show by Ricky Gervais.

The one-minute clip involved the comedian describing “old-fashioned women” as “the ones with wombs” and “new women” as “the ones with beards and c*cks.”

In the email to the Debating Society, the SU’s president RHSU’s president wrote: “I wonder if you have thought about the impact of bringing a person who is an advocate for hate towards trans people and publicly ridicules them, and whether you are comfortable with the fact that that is the message your society is sending out to trans students.”

The SU also told The London Tab that the event was cancelled “following concerns from six of our ratified societies.

“As with all events hosted by our societies, due diligence of visiting speakers is always conducted. In this instance, a tweet shared by Baroness Fox deemed discriminatory towards transgender people emerged. Due to this, the Debating Society committee decided to cancel the event.”

Fox said: “I was slightly miffed that my crime was retweeting Ricky Gervais. I mean is that it?

“I thought [the joke] was very funny, as did millions of others around the world who shared it. I shared it, too, and apparently that was all the evidence they needed.”

Fox claimed to The Telegraph the SU email is slanderous and “based on the false allegation that my gender-critical views are in any way anti-trans people or a threat to trans student’s safety.” She used the message as evidence of the Debating Society being “harangued” into cancelling her.

She said: “This email, and a lot more messages of its type, from the Student Union, which is supposedly impartial in terms of judging outside speakers’ political views, was used as a form of coercive control and pressure to the Debating Society committee to cancel my talk.”

She also mentioned how the Debating Society’s president wrote to her: “After back and forth with the SU, it seems that they will find any way to make your visit onto campus an issue of student safety and wellbeing. I see it as nothing less than bullying.”

The SU responded to The London Tab that societies are “given as much autonomy and freedom to operate as possible, with this extending to the organisation of events which inevitably, may be deemed controversial by others.

“As a Students’ Union, the well-being of our members is our first priority at all times. We respect the society’s right to cancel the event and will always be supportive of decisions taken to safeguard our transgender community.”

In the House of Lords, Fox used the incident as evidence of “free speech under attack” and to support more protection of academic freedom under the Higher Education (Free Speech) Bill.

She said: “[The Royal Holloway incident] is not about me. Yes, my freedom of speech was curtailed. But much more significantly, while the student union didn’t formally cancel the talk, their hostile reactions created a situation in which students who are keen to hear different opinions were denied the right to do so on a university campus.

“This is why new legislation needs teeth, so students denied their right to invite guest speakers, hear dissenting views, make academic freedom a reality, not a box to tick, need to know they have tort as an option.”

The Free Speech Union, which backed Fox and protested the event’s cancellation, received a comment from Royal Holloway’s principal, Prof Julie Sanders, that the event could not “safely” proceed without security measures for “wellbeing considerations.”

Fox mentioned this on Sky News: “Academics should be encouraging the students at their university to invite external speakers to read widely to speak and listen widely to lots of different opinions. And yet it was the principal of the college to close down the debate.

“Safety is now interchangeable with saying words that might hurt you – so when students say, ‘we won’t feel safe if Claire Fox comes,’ it’s because they mean that words might hurt them.”

In response, a spokesperson for Royal Holloway told The London Tab: “At Royal Holloway, we are committed to the principles of academic freedom and free speech and aim to create an inclusive and supportive environment for all students and staff.

“The Royal Holloway Students’ Union, and its societies, work as separate entities from the university and organise events in line with their own processes and procedures.

“As a university, we will continue to work closely with the Students’ Union in relation to the legal and regulatory responsibilities for organising events.”

The Royal Holloway Debating Society, Ricky Gervais, and Baroness Claire Fox have been contacted for comment.

Feature image credit: Google Streetview and YouTube.

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