“Silence is not an option”

SNP transphobia debate spills into university and public discourse

TW: Transphobia, transmisogyny 

Transphobic stickers have been found in locations across Edinburgh in the past week, near to the University of Edinburgh’s main George Square campus. 

Yellow stickers declaring “ScotGov you’re being rather SILLY” “If you think a woman has a WILLY” followed by “#SexNotGender” and “NoToSelfID” have been spotted in the Meadows, Morningside, Newington and Holyrood areas of Edinburgh. 

Other stickers sighted have stated “Female is a biological reality” and several of the stickers had razors hidden behind them. 

As reported by The Student, transphobic stickers have previously been sighted on signs in the university’s main campus in November 2020 and have been regularly spotted in other locations near university campuses from the summer of 2018 onwards. 

Speaking to The Student about the University of Edinburgh’s attitude towards transphobia, Jaime Prada a member of the LGBTQ+ committee at the university cited the “zero tolerance” approach that the Principal of the university, Peter Mathieson, has previously said the university takes towards transphobia. 

Nevertheless, they recognise that “there is much to be done” in tackling transphobia at the university. 

“Our university is not a place for discrimination of any kind. But these instances keep happening, and we need to respond.

“I do think that representation in higher institutional boards, as well as comprehensive and inclusive materials make a difference.

“Having a clear action plan on how to approach these matters can improve the university’s support.

“Silence is not an option now. Trans stories have spent enough time in the background. We all have a lot to learn, and our university has the people and resources to do so.”

Another University of Edinburgh student who is a trans woman told The Student:  

“I do firmly believe the University would support trans students in the case of a blatant example of transphobia but having a very negative reaction to bad things happening isn’t really enough. 

“A ‘zero-tolerance’ approach towards transphobia to me implies active work to train your staff and ensure that trans people feel welcome, and this hasn’t been the case in my experience.”

The student went on to add that she didn’t think the university “cared” much about trans people “until they became a PR risk”. 

“I had a one-on-one call with a lecturer to discuss an assignment I was working on and it involved data on trans people. 

“The lecturer proceeded to say ‘the trans’ to refer to trans people for an entire one-hour call and showed a lack of awareness of how gender works which was honestly concerning. 

“I doubt this person was in any way taught about marginalised groups before they were allowed to teach a class of hundreds of people.” 

The yellow stickers sighted in Edinburgh most recently reference the ongoing accusations of transphobia within the SNP party, centring around controversial proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act. 

Under changes proposed by the SNP, people in Scotland would be able to change their legally recognised gender using a “self-declaration model” which would remove the legal necessity to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria or prove they had lived as their acquired gender for two years before having the change legally recognised.

The proposed changes received a fierce backlash from within the party, with prominent figures such as MSP Kate Forbes and MP Joanna Cherry arguing that any change to the definition of male or female is a “matter of profound change” and should not be rushed into. 

But many within the party feel that discussion about the Act has veered towards transphobia, especially on social media. 

Several key figures such as Gregor Murray, the only elected trans official in Scotland, have quit the party citing institutional transphobia as their reason for leaving. 

The accusations prompted the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to intervene. On 27th January, the leader of the SNP posted a video condemning the accusations of transphobia in the party and vowing to treat it with a “zero tolerance” approach. 

Speaking to The Student about the allegations of transphobia in the SNP, Jaime Prada who is also the secretary of PrideSoc said: 

“The debate on the Gender Recognition Act amendment has been used as a cover for the transphobic discourse of some of the members of the SNP. 

“We cannot tolerate those messages being delivered at such a high level of governance. 

“Tangible actions need to be made to ensure that the party is a safe space for trans people. Nicola’s message confirms the leader’s commitment to our community. 

“However, trans lives should be taken to the forefront. Ensuring our wellbeing cannot be limited to a Twitter rant. 

“More people should learn about the daily challenges that LGBTQ+ people face. Ignorance leads to indifference, and that is the pillar of the transphobic discourses that some SNP politicians promote.”

They recognised that reforms to the Gender Recognition Act were “necessary” but said: 

“It [the proposed changes to the Act] would pose an institutional challenge to a system that has disregarded non-cis stories. 

“Some MPs argue that these changes would endanger women’s rights. Trans women are women. 

“Disregarding them is the real violation of women’s rights. It is time to end the antagonisation of the trans community.” 

Referring to the transphobic stickers that have been found in Edinburgh recently, Jaime suggested that the discourse of transphobia in the SNP might be spilling out into the public consciousness. 

“Misunderstanding the lives and challenges of trans women is one of the reasons why transphobic messages keep appearing in the public sphere and on our campus.”

Commenting on the transphobic stickers, a spokesman for the University of Edinburgh said: 

“The University of Edinburgh is a safe place for difficult conversations. We are committed to defending freedom of speech and expression, as long as it is carried out within the law and in a respectful manner.

“Given the size of our community, it is inevitable that the ideas of different members will often and, quite naturally, conflict. We encourage members of our community to use their judgement and openly contest ideas that they oppose and feel protected in doing so.”

Image: Wikimedia Commons