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Response: Staff Pride Network Statement on Sex Matters Letter

We have become aware of an article shared on the ‘Staff Pride Network’ (SPN) section of the University of Edinburgh official website, written in response to a recent letter written by Sex Matters to Baroness Kishwer Falkner, Chair of the EHRC asking for the EHRC to undertake a “Reindorf Review” for the higher education sector.

The authors of the SPN statement claim that the letter from Sex Matters “paints a very biased view of the current situation regarding academic freedom in UK Higher Education institutions”. In the Sex Matters letter, the lobbying group, Stonewall, is criticised for promulgating “misleading information about the Equality Act” through their Champions Scheme – a conclusion supported by the Reindorf Review (243.11., page 73). The SPN claims that this is “false”. In an FOI revealing University of Edinburgh’s submission for Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index scheme, the term “Staff Pride Network” is mentioned 57 times, and its abbreviation, “SPN”, is mentioned 245 times. The activity of the Staff Pride Network is clearly a key area of assessment in Stonewall’s ranking of the University of Edinburgh and yet nowhere is this apparent bias and conflict of interest mentioned in the SPN statement.  

The authors of the SPN article state that the letter “depicts those academics who share ‘gender critical’ beliefs as victims of ‘trans rights activists’.” We would remind members of the SPN and the University that the journalist and campaigner, Julie Bindel, was physically assaulted by a protester at an event hosted on university campus. At the University of Sussex, threats against Professor Kathleen Stock have led police to advise Professor Stock on her movements, told her to install CCTV in her home, and marked her phone for an immediate call out should she dial 999. Raquel Rosario-Sánchez, a PhD student at Bristol, has recently taken action against her university for failing to protect her from bullying and harassment from students on the basis of her feminist principles. Professor Jo Phoenix has also taken the Open University to court this week for failing to protect her from harassment due to her gender critical beliefs and has been diagnosed with acute PTSD as a result of this treatment. This is not a “depiction” but rather the grim reality facing gender-critical academics in the UK from extremists that SPN have failed to distance themselves from in this statement. Instead, they have made vague threats of the “consequences” those with the protected characteristic of sex and philosophical belief can expect to face based on their mischarictarisations of these beliefs. 

The SPN have identifed 28 current and former University of Edinburgh staff who are signatories of the Sex Matters letter, and have circulated this statement in an email to over 650 university staff, as well as publishing it publicly on the university website. We would question how this behaviour aligns with the University’s Dignity and Respect policy, which states the University’s commitment to fostering “a positive culture for working and studying which supports freedom of thought and expression within the law, and within a framework of respect for the rights of other people” and “Promote an enabling and inclusive environment where all individuals are treated with dignity and respect, free from bullying, harassment and discrimination.” The individuals named within the letter are said to have a “significant platform (through lectures, publications and other opportunities) to share ‘gender critical’ beliefs” and these beliefs are characterised as “abusive” and “discriminatory” thus drawing into question the character and professionalism of the named staff. 

In light of Forstater, gender-critical beliefs are a protected philosophical belief, but the University as of yet have failed to publicly affirm this position. The University of Sussex have recently put out a further statement on the treatment of Professor Kathleen Stock condemning this form of discrimination on the basis of sex and philosophical belief (Equality Act 2010). We would recommend that the University of Edinburgh follow their lead and publish a statement condemning unlawful campaigns of harassment and intimidation against staff and students with these protected characteristics.  

We have previously published a rebuttal to an article produced by the Staff Pride Network, which was later removed from the university website, presumably, as a result of the defamatory and inaccurate claims made within the post. It appears neither the SPN nor the University of Edinburgh have learnt from this mistake and are allowing the SPN to continue in their campaign of vilification of staff and students and further escalate conflicts on campus. 

The authors of the SPN’s recent statement concede: “We make no disagreement with the notion that a distinction can be made between sex and gender.” The key point of difference between SPN/Stonewall and Sex Matters is that Sex Matters believe that this distinction matters and that gender identity should not supersede sex in all circumstances. Perhaps the members of the Staff Pride Network would be better off productively resolving these tensions rather than defaming and contributing to creating a hostile workplace for their fellow members of staff.