Former University Rector criticises handling of transphobia allegations

The University of Edinburgh’s former Rector, Ann Henderson, has published an article criticising the institution’s handling of repeated ‘unsubstantiated public allegations of transphobia and abuse from a University of Edinburgh student organisation’ that ‘effectively went unchallenged by the University.’

The allegations described by Henderson began in August 2018, after Edinburgh Labour Students issued a public statement against Henderson.

Further complaints arose after she retweeted Fair Play for Women’s post encouraging MPs to attend a meeting regarding proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act.

She states this impacted ‘every aspect of [her] personal and professional life’ and caused her to ‘fear for [her] own physical safety around campus student venues.’

Fair Play for Women state they ‘support trans rights[…] it’s right that transgender people have their own category under equality law, and protection from discrimination.

‘But people born male do not have the automatic right to enter the legal category of the female sex.’

In her article, Henderson stated she felt ‘thorough scrutiny requires all the arguments to be heard, tested and questioned, and all affected voices heard, so that unintended consequences and conflicts can be addressed – before law is made.’

Henderson stated that a ‘University statement distanced itself from my action, appeared to accept that the feminist organisations were transphobic, and implicated me by association.’

Henderson criticised the university and Principal Peter Mathieson’s handling of further complaints, including one lodged by the Edinburgh University Pride Society Committee over the same event.

She indicates the Principal offered little support both here and following her request for an intervention, after The Student published an article containing allegations of transphobia.

Henderson concludes that she did not feel protected by the Nolan Principals of public life on ‘harassment, dignity and respect and freedom of speech’ and that the university failed to show significant recognition to her achievements as the second female rector in 159 years.

The Student approached the University for comment and a spokesperson said:

“The Rector is elected by, and therefore accountable to, our students and staff.

“It is a voluntary (and unremunerated) role – not an executive one.

“Depending on the amount of time a Rector chooses to give to their role, they may engage with students and staff to hear their views on issues; formally preside over meetings of the University’s Governing Body; and play a formal representational role at official ceremonies, such as graduations.

“Their role may often require them to understand and respond to different perspectives within what is a large and diverse community, and we understand that this can be challenging.

“Of course, Rectors can (and do) express their views on issues within or outwith their University role if they so choose.

“We are fully committed to freedom of expression and published a statement on this important issue last year.

“It is inevitable that in such an environment, different ideas within our community will sometimes contradict or conflict with others.

“However, we expect debate to be conducted at all times in a respectful manner.”

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