An event with Julie Bindel hosted by Uni of York’s Free Speech Society was postponed at the last minute amid safety concerns and outrage from staff and students at the University.
Inviting Julie Bindel to a free speech event was always going to end with protest and uprisal. Bindel is known as a self-proclaimed “political lesbian”, promoting the kind of feminism that excludes several of its members.
She has written extensively, gaining prominence for her Guardian article “Gender benders, beware” in which she denied that trans women who undergo gender reassignment surgery should be considered women.
The University has a growing number of trans students, and campus should be a safe place for them. Hosting an event that gives somebody with such hateful ideologies a platform promotes the harmful message that trans students are not safe on campus.
Bindel wrote an article for Unherd, entitled “Why York University de-platformed me”. By stating that she has been ‘deplatformed’, Bindel is alluding to cancel culture. This simply is not the case. Bindel has been blocked from an event at the University for fears of student safety and security. The concern is for the students, not for taking away Bindel’s platform.
“Two days before I was due to travel to York, the event was cancelled. Days earlier the student union had removed the details of the event from the website, mumbling about ‘thorough risk assessments’. Essentially, they’re worried about spending more money on security for these events, so the organisers then usually cancel because they are then liable for the additional cost incurred.”
Here, Bindel is missing the mark entirely by claiming that funding is the issue. The issue is Bindel’s harmful ideologies and security concerns surrounding facilitating student protests. The concerns raised by the students’ union are for student safety.
The University of Manchester’s students’ union has previously made the decision to axe a free speech talk with Bindel following concerns of transphobia. This poses the question of whether the free speech society knew that their event would cause anger.
The issue here is that instead of promoting healthy debate, inviting Julie Bindel to the University puts a marginalised group of individuals in a situation that is likely to be hugely triggering.
In response to the event, the University of York’s feminist society released a statement on the event, stating that:
“The views shared by both Free Speech and Julie Bindel do not reflect the views at FemSoc. [We] believe that by giving this individual a platform to speak at the University, it is extremely damaging to the growing trans community at York.”
Similarly, the University of York’s LGBTQIA+ officers have reiterated a similar message, stating that their key priority is “the safety and wellbeing of the students we represent on campus”.
Emphasising that “no student should have to experience hate whilst at university”, the University’s LGBTQ+ Network highlight the importance of providing a safe space for students, promising to hold peaceful protests and condemning aggressive actions such as name-calling and hassling if the event goes ahead next term.
The LGBTQ+ Network has also demonstrated its support of sex workers, stating they want to stand with them and work against such dehumanisation. According to a survey by Save the Student, up to 3% of university students partake in the sex-work industry, and 9% would consider it in financial emergency circumstances. That means that around 82,500 students are currently in the sex-work industry in 2022, with 247,500 willing to try it in dire financial circumstances.
These numbers are huge, and with the sex-work industry already receiving mass discrimination in society, Bindel’s comments on the matter are only hindering the safety of students’ involved.
In response to outrage from the LGBTQIA+ community, Bindel stated:
“Almost every time I am invited to speak at universities, there is a massive fight between those that want to hear a genuinely feminist perspective, and those who think that my mere presence will cause the death of transgender and ‘sex working’ people on campus.”
Freedom of speech also doesn’t equal freedom to discriminate or offend. If an individual purposefully spreads harmful or prejudiced rhetoric then they are not automatically ‘saved’ from the consequences of their actions; people are entitled to their opinions, but there is a difference between disliking a character on a TV show and discriminating against and dehumanising an entire community of people.
Bindel goes on to claim that “the fact that [she] is a woman of working-class origin, an out lesbian, and a lifelong feminist is obviously irrelevant to these privileged kids who think being pansexual or non-binary is an oppression.”
As a white cisgender woman, Bindel needs to recognise her own privilege before she calls out students for theirs.
Feminism should encompass everybody, regardless of their background. Feminism is not feminism when trans women are excluded.