Ann Henderson triggers controversy over ‘transphobic’ Twitter support

Content Warning: Transphobia

Ann Henderson, Rector of the University of Edinburgh, has been seen affirmatively responding to tweets by allegedly transphobic organisations.

Henderson’s official Twitter account retweeted about a drop-in session meeting titled “How will changes to the Gender Recognition Act [GRA] affect women’s rights?” The event is supported by the organisations Fair Play For Women, Transgender Trend and Woman’s Place, all of which promote allegedly transphobic rhetoric.

Edinburgh Labour Students Chair, Andrew Wilson, spoke to The Student: “Ann retweeting this seems completely contrary to the work EUSA [Edinburgh University Students’ Association] is doing on the GRA consultation. This could also be seen as her endorsing these transphobic organisations which are in complete conflict to all of… [the Students’ Association’s] policy/safe space policy. Edinburgh Labour Students wishes to reiterate that as long as Ann continues to sideline the legitimate concerns of minority groups, we do not support her holding office in the Labour Party, or our own university.”

There are allegations that one of the groups Henderson has shown support for via her retweet is the body responsible for transphobic stickers seen in bathrooms inside Students’ Association buildings recently.

The Sabbatical Team at the Students’ Association has issued a joint statement as follows: “The organisations responsible for the tweet and its content are explicitly transphobic groups, and are referenced in the recent wave of transphobic materials distributed in the university and Students’ Association’s buildings.

“After raising the issue of these materials and organisations with the Rector in a recent meeting, and hearing her recent speech purporting to support LGBT+ students at the university, we are shocked that the Rector continues to support these organisations on Twitter.

“The university needs to be a place where transgender students feel supported and respected, and as a representative for staff and students, the Rector’s actions are unacceptable. The Sabbatical Officers have contacted the MPs representing the university area, Ian Murray and Tommy Sheppard, to urge they not attend the event referred to in the tweet, and to instead support the advancement of trans rights in the Gender Recognition Act (England and Wales) consultation.”

A spokesperson for the University of Edinburgh said: “The Rector posted these links/made these comments in a personal capacity. The university’s position is one of zero tolerance towards harassment, bullying, discrimination and victimisation of any kind – this includes zero tolerance towards transphobia.”

Edinburgh’s PrideSoc has responded to Henderson on Twitter: “Concerning your recent retweet of FairPlayForWomen, are you aware of the transphobic nature of this event? The GRA has not and will not affect women’s rights. Anyone claiming otherwise is pushing an anti-trans agenda under the guise of feminism.”

The university’s network for LGBT+ staff, Staff Pride Network, also tweeted: “We hope that this was retweeted in error as we do not consider these orgs friends of LGBT+ folks. But we are also very happy to chat with you offline rector about our perspective on GRA reform.”


A previous version of this article omitted the word ‘allegedly’ in the first and second paragraphs. Updated: 20:13, 12 October 2018.

The statement of the Sabbatical Team at the Students’ Association was amended at their request following the publication of the article to reflect their change of opinion. Updated: 11:50, 14 October 2018.

Image: Peter Dibdin

By Mei Futonaka

News Editor

3rd year International Relations student

74 replies on “Ann Henderson triggers controversy over ‘transphobic’ Twitter support”

I especially hate the smarmy hypocritical rhetoric use to depict a woman being “seen as (insert unsubstantiated slur)”.
Some student journalists apparently need a crash course on McCarthyism.

I honestly believe that they wouldn’t care. I’m aware that journalism courses teach a module on ethics, but how many of these “journalists” are studying journalism? Ethics, impartiality and (frankly) decent writing seem to be lost skills to Mei Futunaka.
As for (yes, bad writing, I know!) the Student Association’s officers, it’s all very well jumping on what seems like the unstoppable bandwagon of Trans activism, but their responses show only that they’re trotting out a rote line, with very little sign of analysis regarding the arguments pro and con Trans rights possibly affecting women’s rights. Quite worrying, when EU is supposed to produce fine graduates. I note that of the many Student bodies decrying Henderson, only one – a male – is named. One wonders how many of the spokespersons making these statements, were female?

Thank goodness students elected a rector who believes in free speech and for women’s right to meet and discuss the impact of the eradication of hard fought for rights and protections for girls and women. Your article criticising anyone who wants open discussion and no intimidation only serves to make challenge even more necessary. Open your pages up to honest open and respectful discussion or hand over editorial control to those who believe in democracy. If you truly believed in your own rhetoric you would not be so keen to shut down discussion

It’s very concerning that The Student would assert that the organisations concerned are transphobic without presenting any evidence to support the claim, or giving the organisations an opportunity to respond and articulate their position. For a clear, well-argued account of the concerns that many women and trans people have about the proposed changes to the GRA you should look at Prof Kathleen Stock’s speech delivered at the House of Lords on Wednesday – full text available on Medium.

@SADHBH -very well said. The one sided reporting in this article, the lack of balance and the hyperbole, misinformation and verbal attacks on women’s rights groups is deeply concerning. Orwell would recognise all this for what it is, propaganda and oppression, associated throughout history as the default position for every brutal dictatorship and regime. Students that fought this kind of oppression in the past look at the current generation in horror. Freedom of speech is precarious and even applies to those with whom we disagree and the unashamed attacks on it by the trans lobby/Stonewall etc. should be raising alarm bells. Students should be able to think critically, not parrot ideology by rote. Female students especially need to think how this will affect them. Just look at the number of men trying and succeeding to replace us in many areas of society and all they have to do is wear a dress or say they ‘feel’ like a woman.
The definition of ‘Trans’ is so loose now that it can include part time cross dressers. men who tell us they ‘feel like’ or ‘are’ women and girls who play football. Oh and the hate/transphobic stickers and leaflets, I assume these the are ones saying’ women don’t have a penis’? Biological fact. Empirical truth is not beaten by feelings. Someone’s beliefs are fine and I will respect them, I will not, however, allow my rights to be removed because of them, without putting up a fight. Finally, anyone who tells you there is ‘No Debate’, is a liar, anyone who tells you ‘you are not allowed to debate’ is a liar.

I for one am very happy that I can finally “identify” my way into lesbian spaces. Those ladies were being very selfish denying my penis entry into their hot, hot girl-on-girl scenes! Now I just put on a dress and lipstick and they HAVE to include my penis or be denounced as bigots.

Here’s an example of exactly WHY we need to put a stop to the notion of Self ID and men having access to our safe spaces.

Such lazy reporting, why is there no evidence of transphobic hate from these groups? It’s a public consultation therefore the public is more than entitled to discuss it. Grow up and stop having a tantrum because people disagree with you.

I’m all for doxxing and bullying older women cos of something they tweeted on the same day that women became womxn and Karen White was jailed for life, but I found this article too upsetting. The trigger warning at the start isn’t enough and you should be sacked for your transphobia

What a narcissistic piece of self indulgence this propaganda piece is. By labeling everyone who does not follow your ideology as “phobic” you a) lie and b) make the term useless.

The more nonsense you done up with the more women will fight back.

are you suggesting that Karen White shouldn’t be jailed for life? He is a rapist and child abuser who, thanks to the rhetoric woman-haters like you espouse, assaulted 4 more women in a female prison, where HE had no right to be. Shame on you. You should be banned from every political party you try to infiltrate for life.

Who should be sacked, Aimee Challenor? Just for clarification. I can’t make sense of your comment (sorry). And why do you need a trigger warning to read words? Just asking.

Embarrassed to call myself a graduate of this once great university if this is what the student body has become. Ann Henderson has spent most of her adult life campaigning on social justice issues, including fighting for the rights of women on issues like abortion. The author flames her for retweeting the link to an event at which there is to be discussion about the potential impact of a proposed law change on women. A change in the law already enacted by some organisations which has already harmed women. That is her crime? How utterly pathetic. Get a grip. Write some real news.

These bullies will find they are on the wrong side of history. Fantastic women like Ann Henderson and the thousands like her, who believe in free speech and listening to women, will never be silenced.

So happy to see the comments are 100% in favour of free speech and women’s rights. The writer should d take note.

Why not commission an article in which you allow Fair Play for Women, A Woman’s Place, and Transgender Trend to explain their positions? Allow your readers to make up their own minds. Invite women’s rights activists to speak at a public meeting – allow their ideas to be heard. It’s time to end this closed shop of ideas – ‘no debate’ is not something that should ever be said in a university setting.

You should probably alter this article because it comes off as severely uninformed, bias and quite inflammatory.
You need to substitute every time youve used the word ‘transphobic’ with ‘supporting women’s rights’.
WPUK are not transphobic. Even the slightest bit of research will show you that their meetings are regularly attended by ACTUAL TRANS PEOPLE ffs.

The article says the student bodies wrote to MPs to tell them not to go. They really have no faith in their own arguments … ‘please don’t go and listen to people arguing to keep the law as it is now. We are worried that if you hear their sensible points you will realise that we are very wrong and they are very right ….’

Bloody hell, this is a bizarre thought-policing article. Since when is it appropriate to bring the whole weight of a university down on a woman who retweets an inoffensive comment some disagree with? Andrew Wilson is demonstrating extremely controlling and punishing behaviour. This should be a red flag to others in his life.

Interesting that so many others who tell off Ann Henderson manage to be anonymous. Edinburgh University LGBT society has a reputation for misogyny so much of this comes as no surprise. You’d think academics would understand the importance of allowing everyone to participate in democracy. FairPlayForWomen is a good website to check out if you are new to this issue

Frankie: It’s not “the whole weight of a university” but rather the whole weight of EUSA, who are about as heavy as the Mexican hats they banned students from wearing.

What a disgrace to females you are Mei Futonaka. What are you – the Twitter police? How dare you be so disrespectful and bullying toward this woman. You need to take a long hard look at yourself and how you think it’s ok to bully a woman who retweeted something you don’t agree with. Utterly disgraceful beyond words.

You’re supposed to be the future generation? If this is the kind of bile you’re peddling out to shut women up, to facilitate a harmful, activist movement, god help us all. Your mothers must be so proud. Stop handwringing and stand up for democracy on this important debate.

Wow look at this a TERF hive you should all be ashamed of yourselves. Not wasting time here, I’m off to do proper feminism which is inclusive of ALL WOMEN. Penis can be female!

So now we’ve even somehow moved on from ‘penis can be woman’ to ‘penis can be female’? I hope all you biology students out there now realise what a waste of time the degree you’re studying for is.

‘Proper’ feminism is for actual biological females, not for males who believe that being a woman is just a feeling in someone’s head. Being a female has real physical, social and biological consequences. If you don’t realise that, you’re a waste of an education. Get back in your virtual signalling box. You’re an embarrassment.

I once heard someone put it excellently: the dispute is between people who think feminism is about “femininity” and those who think feminism is about female-bodied people. You’re clearly in the first camp: you don’t believe the Patriarchy and systemic misogyny are about controlling and subjugating female-bodied people; you think they’re about… I don’t know, really? Controlling “effeminacy”? Pink vs. Blue; dresses vs. trousers; that kind of thing? I mean, one only has to scratch the surface to see how silly your camp’s underlying ideas really are. You lot have been so busy sloganeering and bullying you haven’t done a whit of introspection on the soundness of your own principles.

Female-bodied people deserve special protections as a class. I’m open to the suggestion that there can be some cases where some male-bodied people can be welcomed into women’s spaces, but these are on women’s terms — biological females’ terms. I don’t know how you can even call yourself a feminist when you are literally campaigning to hand over the terms of who counts as a woman exclusively to biological males. You literally want to deny women the right to define womanhood, and hand that privilege in its entirety over to biological males. This is the ridiculous place we end up at when our “feminism” is centered on “femininity” instead of female people.

Absolutly, disgusting that these claims are printed time and again without any evidence being given or in fact sought. PRO Women doenst mean anti trans

Everyone here is accusing this article of ‘policing’, but god forbid an article such as this exists! What a load of hypocrites in the comments. Honestly the woman probably didn’t mean to come across as anything but feminist, but christ the TERFS are out tonight!

Nobody has suggested that this article shouldn’t exist; simply that it should provide balance to its reporting of a contentious issue, support the claims it makes with evidence, and refrain from making damaging insinuations.

By the woman, I meant Ann Henderson. This is what I’m talking about, everyone in these comment threads are so quick to get volatile, you’re all so offended, I wonder why?

This article is a load of people punishing a woman for *retweeting* something they don’t like.

That’s a clear example of policing someones behaviour. Why do you think supporting women like Ann is wrong?

P.S. Most women become ‘terfs’ after googling the acronym and looking deeper into radical feminist theory. The more you randomly accuse women of being ‘terfs’ the more of us become radical feminists. Look at any #PeakTrans thread – it’s true.

I don’t know anything about Ann, I personally think she thought she was retweeting a feminist thing as I said if you actually read my comment. However when reading these comments, it is clear a lot of people have out of date and rather hateful views of transgender people. Plus it shite feminism if your excluding women from the movement hun. Just saying 😉

Surely it applies equally the other way? A “woman” could gain access to men’s rooms by self-defining as a man? If a given right is A Good Thing, then can it really be A Bad Thing to extend that right to more people?

To bathe their own children sure. The point here though is that they’re not men but women by definition of the logic of self-identification. I have an inkling that this was the premise where the train left the rails. The rest just followed on from there modulo a sally into authoritarian censorship and name-calling by the usual Lefties. Personally I think that the problem goes deeper than that and that it originates with the whole concept of identity politics.

I don’t think that anyone is suggesting that attacking women should be legalised, That will remain a crime irrespective of the proposed law change.

For TERF read ‘WITCH’ Thanks to all the bullying of women and pandering to men who ‘feel like women’, there are more people than ever who recognise TRA’s for the misogynists that they are. Run along now because the cry of ‘terf’ no longer has the power to silence women. Get over it.

Dear Mei Futonaka, now you have read these comments, If I’d written that article I’d take it down, post an apology and slink away blushing.

This article is an evidence-free attempt to bully and silence reasonable views of women. The author and editors should be ashamed of it.

F.Doff: Do keep up. “Phobic” used to be a suffix meaning “has a fear of”. It has now been carelessly redefined it as a suffix meaning “disagrees on something with a Leftie”.

There are many born males who get womanly feelings that are conservative. Caitlyn Jenner a rich, shot Republican who until recently opposed gay marriage equality. No political boundaries with male paraphilias.

Hoi Polloi: Glad to hear you say this in a comments thread in which the subtext is “Any man who self-identifies as a woman is dangerous to women”. Bigotry much?

I agree totally, R. I would also say that if name-calling other people is what constitutes A Friend’s argument, they haven’t got one. We aren’t four years old. The world isn’t goodies and baddies. So, A Friend- Bring your arguments and ideas and dialogue critically, with evidence and take your name-calling back to preschool where it belongs.

Oh dear Mei. That didn’t quite go how you were expecting did it? The Suffragettes fought for the rights of women. Were they transphobes too?

I fully agree with former Edinburgh U Rector Iain Macwhirter, who wrote on Twitter, 7 hours ago:

“My successor as Edinburgh Rector, @ann4rector is accused of transphobia merely for retweeting an event discussing the Gender Recognition Act.

Regrettably, @EdinburghUni has equivocated. It should defend freedom of speech on campus and disown this smear.”

You’re kidding right? Freedom of speech here died with the Chris Brand affair if not before.

In a free society, we debate to come to a consensus. In a free society we listen to all sides of the debate. In a free society we do not target women for thinking freely. A free debate is NOT dichotomous, simplifying protagonists into goodies and baddies because we are adults and not four years old. A free debate grapples deeply with issues and evidence. What I read in this article is ill-considered, thought-policing, friend-policing and cultish behaviour. The stupid thinking inherent in believing in goodies and baddies drips off the page. Totalitarianism in a woke cloak.

“3rd year International Relations student” and you’ve not yet grasped that other people are entitled to opinions too. In your studies have you encountered a US Senator Joseph McCarthy?

The transgender movement is just misogyny in drag. Losing ground to women in so many areas, a largely male-driven movement is now trying to define women out of existence. I am not a bloody wom*n, I am a woman, and women do not have penises. End of story.

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