Free Speech Union: weekly news round-up

Dear Mike Buchanan,

Welcome to the FSU’s weekly newsletter, our round-up of the free speech news of the week. As with all our work, this newsletter depends on the support of our members and donors, so if you’re not already a paying member please sign up today or encourage a friend to join, and help us turn the tide against cancel culture.

Death of the Queen

Very sad news about the death of Her Majesty the Queen. One cannot help but worry that attacks on Britain’s heritage will intensify now that one of its greatest custodians has passed, and the accompanying attempts to cancel those of us who still want to celebrate our history and culture will multiply.

Professor Kathleen Stock – Prospect Magazine’s ‘Top Thinker’ of 2022!

The philosopher Kathleen Stock has won Prospect’s ‘World’s Top Thinker 2022’ prize, as chosen by the magazine’s readers. It’s a terrific accolade, thoroughly well-deserved and indicative of the extent to which a grassroots fightback against cancel culture is now underway. As Prospect notes, the persecution – let’s call it what it is – of Professor Stock over recent years has turned her “into an emblem for open inquiry and free speech”.

Professor Stock resigned from the University of Sussex last year following a sustained cancellation campaign waged against her by self-styled ‘anti-TERF’ activists determined to destroy her career and have her sacked for her gender-critical views – that is, her belief that biological sex is real (Mail). Shamefully, even when Professor Stock received death threats and the police advised her to install CCTV outside her home and stay away from campus unless accompanied by bodyguards, the local branch of her union, the University and College Union (UCU), couldn’t quite bring itself to offer unconditional support to its fee-paying member (although it did issue a statement offering support to “trans and non-binary communities at Sussex”) (Times, Spiked).

Last year, FSU General Secretary Toby Young was joined by Professor Stock at one of our online speakeasy events to discuss the free speech war over sex and gender. You can watch that event in full here.

Prime Minister Truss commits to rethinking the Online Safety Bill!

During the Tory leadership election, an FSU-led campaign helped thousands of our members to contact the candidates, urging them to look again at the “censors’ charter” that is the Online Safety Bill. Thanks to the success of that campaign both candidates committed to doing something about clause 13 of the Bill, which aims to regulate so-called ‘legal but harmful’ online content. So it’s good to see that during her first PMQs as leader, Liz Truss went out of her way to confirm that the Bill would indeed now be tweaked to “allow free speech” (FT).

“Would she accept that no responsible Government can avoid the need for excellent, balanced, sensible regulation in the online space?” asked Jeremy Wright MP, and “will she therefore assure me that the Bill will come back to this House swiftly for us to consider further and amend if necessary?”

“I can assure my Right Hon. and learned friend that we will be proceeding with the Online Safety Bill,” Truss replied, before adding that “there are some issues that we need to deal with. What I want to make sure is that we protect the under-18s from harm and that we also make sure free speech is allowed, so there may be some tweaks required, but certainly he is right that we need to protect people’s safety online.” (The exchange is available to view on our Twitter page here.)

It’s in part thanks to the actions of our members that the new Prime Minister is talking about “tweaking” the Bill, rather than simply waving it through as is.

But will a “tweak” be sufficient? There are other aspects of the Bill besides clause 13 that pose a threat to free speech. At present, for instance, it requires providers like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to remove in every part of the United Kingdom content that’s illegal in any part of the United Kingdom. So if something is illegal to say in Scotland, but not in the rest of the UK, the big social media companies would have to remove it in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Do we really want to empower Nicola Sturgeon to dictate what the entire British population is allowed to see and say online? That seems insane, particularly as Scotland has just passed the Hate Crime and Public Order Act – a piece of legislation that will make it illegal to say a large number of things that are currently lawful to say in the rest of the UK. (FSU Scottish Advisory Council member Jamie Gillies describes the Act as an “authoritarian mess”.)

Over the coming months it’s going to be more important than ever to keep up the pressure on legislators. Now that the leadership contest is over, one very effective way for members to do so will be to use our website’s template email generator to write to their MP and ask that he or she look again at the Bill (the campaigning tool is here). We’ve updated the email to take account of Liz Truss’s recent remarks, welcoming her willingness to amend the Bill and pointing out all the aspects of it that will need to be “tweaked” if its threat to free speech is to be neutralised.

The FSU’s packed schedule of events this autumn!

Details of the FSU’s packed schedule of events this Autumn was emailed to members earlier this week, so do check if you’ve received that message (and let events@freespeechunion.org know if you haven’t).

Our upcoming members-only events include a live, in-person launch of Andrew Doyle’s brilliant new book The New Puritans: How the Religion of Social Justice Captured the Western World. The comedian, author, and presenter of GB News’s Free Speech Nation will join FSU General Secretary Toby Young on-stage in London on 27th September to discuss how we can push back against cancel culture and reinstate liberal democratic values. There’ll be plenty of time for an audience Q&A, as well as for audience members to purchase signed copies of The New Puritans.

On 5th October we’ll be holding our second Online Annual Convention. This event is exclusively for Gold and Founder members, so do consider joining now as a Gold member or upgrading your current membership package. The Convention affords senior staff and the Directors of the FSU the opportunity to thank members for their continuing support and to report back on highlights from the past year – e.g., legal victories, case-work successes and the impact our behind-the-scenes policy work is having. It’s also an opportunity for Gold and Founder members to participate in a Q&A where they get to have their say about the work we’re doing.

Then, on 12th October, Toby will be joined in conversation at an exclusive Online Speakeasy by stand-up comedian, actor, writer and presenter Jack Dee. You can watch Jack’s video message inviting you to the event by clicking here.

FSU members will also be offered discount tickets to the Battle of Ideas Festival 2022 (15th and 16th October). During that event, Toby will be speaking on a panel the FSU is sponsoring that focuses on the Online Safety Bill. The Free Speech Champions will also be partnering on a session about how young people can be brought to care more about freedom of speech. 

Teaching Tolerance: Understanding free speech issues in schools

Join us on Tuesday 13th September at 6.30pm to consider how diversity of opinion and a fair approach to free speech can be upheld in schools. Our panel of experts and campaigners includes anti-racist campaigner Adrian Hart of Don’t Divide Us, critic of gender ideology and co-founder of Conservatives for Women Caroline Ffiske, and Clare Page, a parent who raised the alarm over highly politicised teaching materials being used at her child’s school in South London. They are all campaigning for the right of parents to access and challenge the use of politically contentious teaching materials in UK schools.

Register now to receive the Zoom link. Unlike our usual online events, this one will be open to anyone who is interested in the issue, so please feel free to share the details. More details of future FSU Events will be sent to members in an email next week, so please look out for it and email events@freespeechunion.org if you don’t receive it.

Drag Queen Story Hour – a ‘trojan horse’ for radical gender theory?

FSU members planning to attend our online in-depth on free speech in schools will no doubt be familiar with the phenomenon of ‘Drag Queen Story Hour’ (DQSH). These events were first trialled in 2015 at a public library in San Francisco and have since been enthusiastically adopted by teachers and librarians in the UK (Spiked).

The British Library, for instance, recently promoted a children’s event involving a “hot” drag entertainer who promises to “have you on the edge of your seat and gagging for more” (Mail). A primary school in London sparked fury among parents by inviting ‘Dolly Trolley’, a drag queen who boasts of performing “high-energy burlesque”, to don his “knee-high leather boots and low-cut sequinned dress” and teach dance moves to nine-year-old (Mail). “Furious” was also how the Scottish Sun described parents at a Scottish primary school after a drag queen called ‘FlowJob’ took a break from posting sexually explicit images of himself online to read stories to four-year-old children.

Supporters of the DQSH movement argue that these “performances are similar to pantomimes, except they are explicitly literacy-focused and support an interest in reading” (Mail). The founder of the UK version of DQSH also thinks that the “delivery of these stories is a celebration of communities who have been historically marginalised and had their voices silenced” (Mail).

Maybe so, but a new book by Christopher Rufo and Michael Young should give naïve but well-meaning advocates of the UK’s burgeoning DQSH movement pause for thought. A Parent’s Guide to Radical Gender Theory dives into the murky academic literature on queer theory, transgender ideology and gender identity activism to try and locate the latent theoretical assumptions that underpin movements like DQSH.

The core belief uniting these approaches – Rufo and Young bundle them together under the catch-all term “radical gender theory” – is that sex and gender aren’t features of objective reality, but social constructs that are wielded as instruments of power by [yawn] white men. To facilitate the destruction of this system, radical gender theorists seek to dismantle the notion of biological sex – i.e., the male-female binary – and replace it with “queer alternatives“ and a “world beyond binaries”.

All of which brings us neatly back to DQSH – on Rufo and Young’s reading, the pedagogic equivalent of a ‘Trojan Horse’. To have drag queens like ‘FlowJob’ read stories to children while their parents are off doing other things may indeed be to engage in literacy-focused pantomime and celebrate hitherto marginalised communities. But in the world according to radical gender theorists, it is also to chip away at the concept of the nuclear family – a western system that, more than any other, helps perpetuate the male-female binary and other forms of patriarchal oppression.

One of the academic sources Rufo and Young cite as evidence for this claim comes from a recent article in the peer-reviewed journal Curriculum Inquiry. The paper’s authors are at pains to point out that DQSH is “family friendly only in the sense that it is accessible and inviting to families with children”. As the authors readily admit, once its apparent accessibility has ‘lured’ families into participation, DQSH is “less a sanitising force [i.e., a perpetuation of the nuclear family] than it is a preparatory introduction to alternate modes of kinship”. DQSH is family friendly, then, but only “in the sense of ‘family’ as an old school queer code to identify and connect with other queers on the street”. In other words, parents may be parents, but ‘FlowJobs’ are a child’s real family.

Composer cancelled by his own company for tweeting in support of J.K. Rowling

Spitfire Audio, a company that provides music to the film industry, suspended its co-founder, BAFTA-nominated composer Christian Henson, after he tweeted his support for J.K. Rowling and television writer Graham Linehan, both of whom have previously spoken out against transgender ideology (MailTimes, GB News).

In his since deleted tweet, Mr Henson wrote: “As a parent I can no longer keep my mouth shut about this. I’m in full support of Glinner [Graham Linehan’s online name] and J.K. Rowling. Please look into this. If you have young children it’s in the post, if you have autistic children it’s probably already on your doormat.”

The tweet was specifically about the controversial Tavistock Clinic, a centre providing gender-identity health services for children and young people. The Tavistock has long been accused of putting transgender ideology above the health and wellbeing of children. According to whistleblowers, vulnerable children were being put on irreversible medical pathways to changing their gender, involving puberty-blocking drugs, cross-sex hormones and, in some cases, surgery (Times). In particular, children exhibiting autistic traits were hugely over-represented among those seeking treatment at the Tavistock – almost certainly because their issues were routinely getting misdiagnosed as gender dysphoria. For years, these criticisms were dismissed as ‘transphobic’ and those speaking out were censored, although the centre is now set to close after facing mass legal action from the parents of children given puberty blockers (Spiked).

Twitter being Twitter, the composer’s tweet prompted a spittle flecked backlash from pro-trans activists. As the furore intensified, the company’s CEO, Will Evans, took the remarkable decision to suspend Mr Henson and issue an apology on behalf of Spitfire Audio. “Christian’s tweet has caused hurt among our community,” he wrote. “This hurt is understandably being extended as a reflection on Spitfire Audio, its collaborators and its employees. I’m deeply sorry for that; we’ve worked hard to be a beacon for the industry and have a responsibility to do better.” He then added: “Christian’s going to take a break” and implored people to “accept my apologies on behalf of Spitfire Audio”.

Note, by the way, the eruption into this statement of the passive-aggressive slouch language of the millennial hipster. Christian hasn’t been, say, ‘told’ to stay at home ‘while HR launches an investigation’ – he’s simply “taking a break”. As George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language reminds us, the defence of the indefensible is rarely attempted without recourse to euphemism and cloudy vagueness.

Mr Evans’s statement ended by reassuring readers that while Christian was taking his break, the company would “reflect on how to move forward”.

As J.K. Rowling pointed out when she re-tweeted the FSU’s initial Tweet about the incident, now might be a good time for Mr Evans and his colleagues in Spitfire Audio’s HR team to “reflect” on the legal implications of the ruling recently handed down in Maya Forstater’s Employment Tribunal victory. Ms Forstater lost her job after posting a series of tweets in which she set out her ‘gender critical’ beliefs – as in Mr Henson’s case, the basic gist was that someone’s sex is biological and immutable and should not be conflated with their gender identity.

It was in a test case at the Employment Tribunal back in 2019 that Maya first attempted to establish that her tweets should be protected under the 2010 Equality Act. Employment judge James Tayler ruled against Maya, saying that such views – that sex is binary and immutable – were not “worthy of respect in a democratic society” (Critic).

Undeterred, Forstater appealed this judgement in the Employment Appeal Tribunal, where High Court judge Mr Justice Choudhury ruled that the judgment handed down by the original tribunal had “erred in law” and promptly sent the case back to the Employment Tribunal to decide whether the claim had been proved on the facts.

The significance of that ruling was wide-ranging because Mr Justice Choudhury carefully enunciated the proper parameters for the exercise of free speech in a democratic society, making clear that even if a belief has the potential to “offend, shock, or disturb” that is not enough for it to be deprived of protection under the Equality Act, which designates “religion or belief” as a protected characteristic.

Maya’s original case then went back to the Employment Tribunal so it could be reconsidered in light of the fact that gender critical beliefs are protected. Then, earlier this year, the Tribunal ruled that Maya’s employer had breached employment law by discriminating against Forstater in virtue of her possession of certain protected characteristic, i.e., her gender critical beliefs.

Importantly, the Tribunal ruled that Forstater was entitled to criticise those holding an opposite view to her – i.e., trans rights activists – and that she had done so legitimately, adding that “mocking or satirising the opposing view is part of the common currency of debate” (TimesUnHerd).

In a statement published after the judgment, Ms Forstater pointed out that her case “matters for everyone who believes in the importance of truth and free speech”. We are all “free to believe whatever we wish”, she added. “What we are not free to do is compel others to believe the same thing, to silence those who disagree with us or to force others to deny reality.”

Swansea University and the “national scandal” of campus feminists being censured

A university feminist society has been “purged by trans activists” for “openly supporting women’s sex based-rights and sex-based spaces”, with its email accounts shut down and members forced to quit for their own safety (Telegraph, Times, Mail).

Swansea’s Feminist Society had dozens of students attending its meetings – advertised as a “space away from men” – until campus activists accused it of ‘transphobia’ and demanded its leader be expelled after the society committed the twin heresies of publicly supporting Kathleen Stock and promoting the feminist writer Helen Joyce’s book Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality.

Predictably, Swansea University Students’ Union immediately dashed off to launch an investigation into the Society’s ‘transphobia’, which nine months later was still ongoing – although union officials have yet to contact anyone from the Feminist Society. 

The suspicion lingering around this story is that students’ union committee election rules may have been used deliberately to cancel a gender critical university society that previously expressed public support for women’s sex based-rights and sex-based spaces. Having arranged its committee for the 2022-23 academic year, the Feminist Society was told it must “re-conduct” its election, only now on a date chosen by the students’ union. Without disclosing the results of that election, however, the union then backtracked, claiming the election had “failed” due to “timing” issues. The effect was to leave the Feminist Society in limbo and enable the students’ union to delete the society’s email account and profile page from its website. Petty bureaucratic proceduralism… or something more sinister? Certainly, one staff member who spoke to the Times on condition of anonymity said there was a feeling among staff that the closure of the society was the latest example of the university’s “capture” by Stonewall.

Speaking to the Telegraph about this latest episode of cancel culture on campus, FSU General Secretary Toby Young decried “the gradual erasure of feminist societies in Britain’s universities” describing it as “a national scandal and a perfect illustration of why the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, which will hold universities to account, is so urgently needed”.

Sharing the newsletter

As with all our work, this newsletter depends on the support of our members and donors, so if you’re not already a paying member please sign up today or encourage a friend to join, and help us turn the tide against cancel culture. You can share our newsletters on social media with the buttons below to help us spread the word. If someone has shared this newsletter with you and you’d like to join the FSU, you can find our website here.

Best wishes,

Freddie Attenborough

Communications Officer

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