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‘Microaggression’ Guidance at Edinburgh University

Guidance titled “Recognising and Counteracting Microaggressions Against Trans and/or Non-Binary People” is currently being used in official staff training at the University of Edinburgh.

This document was produced by the same authors as the “What is transphobia?” article, which was later removed from the (EDI) section of the University website, and repeats many of the same arguments and misrepresentations we addressed in our response.

Transphobia is defined as “the hatred, fear, disbelief, or mistrust of trans and gender non-conforming people.”

As stated in our original response, “Disbelief” is not evidence of prejudice, it’s evidence of freedom of thought and expression.

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In sports, the available evidence concludes that males retain performance advantages over females. Research in this area is at risk of being prevented by policies that inhibit discussion on biological sex.

The resource is described as intending to provide “identity safety” for all staff and students. Transphobic microaggressions are said to be the result of “transphobia, misinformation or ignorance” and include “denial or erasure” or “questioning of lived experience”.

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Women’s groups are smeared as “anti-trans campaigners” and accused of “spreading misinformation and stoking hatred.”

The same misrepresentations of the arguments are repeated. This was also addressed in our previous response.

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“‘Reasonable concerns'” over single-sex spaces and the rise of adolescent referrals to NHS gender identity services are described as an “attempt to limit the rights and marginalise” trans and NB people and compared to homophobia, anti-Semitism, racism and Islamaphobia.

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Again, we see the phrase “fear and moral panic”. Recently, NICE revealed the evidence base for puberty blockers to be very low.

This conflicts with the claim that “early support for individuals reduces psychological problems and suicide in later life.”

In sports, the available evidence concludes that males retain performance advantages over females. Research in this area is at risk of being prevented by policies that inhibit discussion on biological sex.

The guidance calls for academic freedom and freedom of expression to be restricted for “transphobic or trans-hostile speakers.”

Remember, the provided definition of “transphobia” is very broad.

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In 2019, the Staff Pride Network (SPN) resigned after an event on women’s rights was allowed to go ahead and accused the University of “failing to take a stand against transphobic hate on campus”. One of the speakers, Julie Bindel, was later assaulted by a protester.

Other events have failed to go ahead after similar accusations of “transphobia” from the Staff Pride Network, who described a “harmful impact of this event on the trans and non-binary community here at the University.”

The guidance recommends joining the SPN and says the network can “work with you to develop curriculum and other resources.”

The University is a member of the Stonewall Diversity Champions/Workplace Equality Index scheme and SPN activity is a key part of the assessment.

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It’s stated that “non-binary” refers to “three or more genders” and refers to “non-binary identities” as plural.

It’s stated that “non-binary” refers to “three or more genders” and refers to “non-binary identities” as plural.

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Non-binary people “will have a pronoun they wish you to use, which might be different to what you expect” and the singular “they” pronoun is given as one example.

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“Misgendering or lack of effort to change are both unacceptable and a form of microaggression.”

How will this impact on those who speak English as an additional language or those with disability/other protected characteristics?

The guidance cites the Equality Act (2010) and the protected characteristic of gender reassignment. Non-binary, however, is not a protected characteristic.

Sex is a protected characteristic and is defined in the Act as “male” or “female” of any age (s 212(1)).

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Stonewall advise public bodies to go “above and beyond the law” as “the most inclusive employers consider non-binary to be a protected characteristic.”

Where are the Equality Impact Assessments for this attempt at “going above and beyond the law”?

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Gender is described as the “experience” of “one’s internal sense of where we are on the male/female spectrum” or “where they exist in relation to being female or male” and this “complicated concept” supersedes “sex assigned to us at birth”.

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The concept of a sex “spectrum” and the ubiquity of an “internal sense” of a “gender identity” are new and widely contested ideas.

Yet mentioning sex or questioning these ideological claims is conflated with derogatory language and described as a “microassault”.

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Staff at the university have been raising concerns over this document and the problems it raises for months.

This guidance suggests that existing equality law and discussions surrounding sex and gender are transphobic and presents contested ideological arguments as undisputed facts. It defames staff and students and will create a #ChillingEffect on freedom of thought and expression.

This article was originally posted as a Twitter thread.