The very validity of their standing within society

Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber has a more reasonable, less vituperative dissenting response to the letter to the Times.

Last Sunday at letter appeared in the Sunday Times attacking the LGBT charity Stonewall for its work with British universities as a threat to academic freedom.

That’s why I had to say “less vituperative” as opposed to “non-vituperative.” The letter doesn’t attack Stonewall.

The letter was signed by some reasonably prominent figures, such as Kathleen Stock (Sussex) and Leslie Green (Oxford) as well as motley others (including a Brexit Party candidate). It is no accident that the letter appeared in the Sunday Times, which together with its companion paper the Times has, for at least a year, maintained an almost daily campaign against transgender people and the organizations and individuals who support them and which has also been to the fore in attacking universities around largely spurious concerns about “free speech”.

That’s why I had to say “more reasonable” as opposed to “very reasonable.” It’s not true or reasonable to say that the Times has “maintained an almost daily campaign against transgender people,” because the campaign (or series of related articles, which I think are pretty far from daily) is not against transgender people, it’s in disagreement with some of the claims made by the transgender movement.

The letter to the Sunday Times was framed in terms of supposed threats to academic freedom posed by Stonewall guidance and training to universities. Of course, freedom of speech, inquiry and opinion within the academic community is of great importance. Stonewall too recognize that in their documents. But it is also vital that universities as places of education and as workplaces function as environments where everyone is able to participate and work together with dignity, rather than places where some are excluded or humiliated because of their race, sex, sexuality or gender identity.

Well, sure, depending on what we mean by certain words within that statement. Universities should be places where no one is humiliated; it’s pretty easy to assent to that. It’s not quite as easy to agree to the “excluded” part because (as I keep saying to the point of tedium) it depends what you mean. Universities do exclude lots of people – most people in fact. Universities have entrance requirements, and they charge tuition. Exclusion is key to their functioning in many ways. That’s not what Chris is talking about, but that’s just it – the words “inclusion” and “exclusion” are used more as slogans than as usefully accurate labels. I don’t know of anyone who wants to exclude transgender people from universities or disciplines or classes, and I don’t think simply declining to agree that transgender people are literally and in every sense the sex (gender) they identify as counts as unjust “exclusion.” I think Chris is saying, somewhat too indirectly, that trans people are excluded and humiliated unless everyone agrees that they are literally and in every sense the sex (gender) they identify as. I think that’s saying more than can be demonstrated.

The authors of the letter to the Times are, at best, cavalier in their attitude to the effects that this “debate” is having on trans people, who experience the very validity of their standing within society as put in question by the discourse around transgender.

I don’t really know what that means.

I wonder if it’s Chris who is being somewhat cavalier? I wonder if he’s considered the possibility that the validity of trans people’s standing within society depends much less on the compliance of the authors of the letter to the Times than it does on the population at large – people on the bus, people on the street, people at the pub, people at Waitrose, people at parties, and on and on.

Maybe the idea is that if academics “validate” trans people and their “standing within society” then the rest of the population will follow? But I don’t think that’s true. I don’t think it’s that easy.

 The letter alleges that Stonewall seeks to ban from universities any outside speaker who questions “that trans people are the gender they say they are” but I see a factual claim — and a true one — about the effect of outside speakers who hold a range of views (including advocating conversion therapy) namely that such speakers “cause LGBT people to feel deeply unsafe”.

So it’s a true factual claim that outside speakers who hold a range of views (including advocating conversion therapy) “cause LGBT people to feel deeply unsafe”. So all the views of these outside speakers, no matter which views they are, cause LGBT people to feel deeply unsafe. That’s quite a large claim, and not a very fair one.

Just as the effect of speakers preaching hate against other groups may reasonably be take into account by universities in deciding to invite them onto campus, so trans people are entitled to similar protections.

But first you have to agree that the Outside Speakers are preaching hate, and they and we their friends or allies or both don’t agree to that. Kathleen Stock doesn’t preach hate. None of the gender critical philosophers I know preaches hate.

Comments are turned off on the post, which is a pity. I’d be interested to see what other philosophers think.

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