York event with speaker who ‘doesn’t believe in gender identity’ postponed over security concerns
York Free Speech decided to postpone due to ‘threat of protest’ and the need for additional security
An event hosting Julie Bindel held by The University of York Free Speech society has been postponed “due to threats of protest” and the need for additional security measures.
Julie Bindel, a feminist writer, has, in response to social media posts questioning her opinions, previously argued “no woman has a penis” and said “I don’t believe in gender identity, or the use of they/them in the singular.” Examples of tweeted responses from Bindel can be seen below.
The Free Speech Society is “hopeful the event can be rearranged”.
The event, titled “An Evening with Julie Bindel: Feminism and Free Speech, Prostitution, Porn and Political Lesbianism” was scheduled to take place this week, Wednesday 16th March, but has been postponed.
In a statement about the cancelled event, the Free Speech Society said: “The York Free Speech society event ‘Feminism and Free Speech’ was set to take place on the 16th of March in a lecture theatre at the University of York. The premise of the event was exploring why a single perspective of feminism is often presented as the only acceptable feminism on university campuses. Liberal/choice feminism.
“The speaker – Julie Bindel, had planned to speak on why those with feminist beliefs that don’t fit into a singular perspective on issues such as sex work and prostitution often feel alienated and feel afraid to speak up. She was also going to speak on the concept of political lesbianism. This is the brief that was presented to both the speaker and the student union. The event was approved by the student union and all of the relevant paperwork was completed on the 22nd of February. The event was then put on the website where tickets could be ordered on the 2nd of March.”
The event was subsequently taken down from the website as a more thorough risk assessment was thought to be needed. Added to the revised risk assessment was the chance of a protest.
The Free Speech Society continued: “Added to the risk assessment from the one I originally submitted was that there was a chance of protest. We assumed that this may be related to an email we had received from the LGBTQ society offering guidance. I decided I did not need any guidance. The event was not planning to address gender identity and 3 out of 5 members of the society committee are gay so we were more than prepared to moderate discussion related to Julie’s views on political lesbianism.
“The reason given that there was a risk of protest was ‘people may want to protest as the speaker has made previous comments that risk causing offence, particularly in relation to trans rights’. I was aware some of Julie’s comments on issues of gender identity had been deemed controversial and it was not unexpected that the LGBTQ society may find issue with this. A small protest was not an issue and it wasn’t something I was not prepared to handle.”
On Monday 14th March, the society was then told the event was unable to go ahead on the planned date as the university wanted to reclassify the event from a regular society speaking event to a “special meeting” with additional required security. There had been widespread backlash from the student community over the event.
Other tweets Bindel has previously posted in response to questions about her beliefs include: “I would no sooner add my pronouns to my sign-off than I would adding ‘God Bless’. I don’t believe in gender identity and I don’t believe in God. End of”; “I identify as a penis attached to a vintage coffee table. Pronouns – can/you/dig/it”; and “A person with a penis is a man, and therefore not a woman, and therefore definitely not a lesbian.”
The York Tab contacted Julie Bindel for comment and provided screenshots of the tweets seen in this article. She pointed out that the tweets were her response to tweets directed at her asking about her views.
Bindel has since written an article about the event, in which she said: “Almost every time I am invited to speak at universities, there is a massive fight between those that want to hear a genuinely feminist perspective, and those who think that my mere presence will cause the death of transgender and ‘sex working’ people on campus.”
She continued, “I had not intended to speak about the trans issue at all”, and said she’d been planning on talking about feminism.
The Free Speech society said it is trying to rearrange the event with Julie Bindel. Their statement said: “The event may not be entirely dead in the water and I am hopeful it can be rearranged, but I’m not overly optimistic.We will do our best to set a new date, but the date it was intended to be released on is cancelled.”
Patrick O’Donnell, President of University of York Students’ Union said: “Student wellbeing is a priority for YUSU as is our commitment to protecting the right to freedom of expression within the law. The Education Act places legal duties on universities and by extension students’ unions to uphold free speech.
“While we will work with the Free Speech Society to support the proposed event to go ahead in due course in line with safety recommendations, students have the right to express opposition to the views of this or any other speaker. YUSU is absolutely committed to ensuring that those that wish to challenge or protest peacefully will equally be supported and enabled to do so.”
A spokesperson for The University of York said: “Disagreement is a fundamental part of debate and democracy, and we have a responsibility to uphold lawful free speech on campus. To ensure any such event can go ahead safely, there needs to be several practical steps followed, such as appropriate stewarding, suitable ticketing, event chairing and any necessary security.”