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The National (Scotland)
The National (Scotland)
Ross Hunter

Students block 'Adult Human Female' film screening at Edinburgh University

STUDENTS at the University of Edinburgh have forced the cancellation of a film screening, which an academic union had previously labelled “transphobic”.

Plans to screen the documentary Adult Human Female were criticised by the Edinburgh University branch of the University and College Union (UCU), who wrote to the university principal last week asking that the screening be cancelled.

The film, which suggests that people identifying as transgender is harmful to women’s rights, was also criticised by the university’s Pride society, who held their own Pride stall outside of the lecture theatre where the film was scheduled to be shown.

The University of Edinburgh refused to cancel the screening and reiterated the institution’s “commitment to freedom of expression”.

However, the event – which was organised by the Edinburgh Academics for Academic Freedom group (EAAF) – was subject to protest by students, who occupied the lecture hall on George Square where it was meant to be screened last night.

Police were then called to the scene.

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “Around 6.15pm on Wednesday, December 14, 2022, police were called to a report of a demonstration at George Square, Edinburgh.

“Officers attended and engaged with those present. There were no arrests."

Organisers then decided to move the screening to a different venue however this, too, was subject to protest as students blocked the entrance to the room.

After verbal clashes between protesters and those who wanted to attend the event broke out, the screening was then cancelled.

The students who protested event then released a statement via the Staff-Student Solidarity network.

It read: “Despite being a film and organisation [EAAF] supposedly interested in academic freedom and the ability to debate controversial topics, the film and those interested in it seem manifestly uninterested in engaging with the massive and growing body of empirical research into trans people, trans rights, and their effect on society, which overwhelmingly indicate that trans people are a horrifically marginalised group who experience the same kinds of oppression all marginalised groups do, and that allowing us to be ourselves is not a threat to anyone.

“Ignoring the evidence because it does not support your ideology is not academic freedom, it is bigotry.

“Demonising trans people is not fighting for women’s rights, it is bigotry.

“Standing up for ourselves, our right to exist as ourselves, and giving bigotry no place on campus is not an attack on academic freedom, it is part of our common struggle to be free.”

But the EAAF told The National that they were “disappointed” with the conduct of the students and intend to reschedule the screening for early next year.

A spokesperson for the group said: "We are extremely disappointed that a small number of censorious individuals prevented our screening and discussion of Adult Human Female last night.

“The film makes an important contribution to the discussion of how women's rights can and should be upheld, and we aimed to enable people holding different views to come together to exchange perspectives and learn. We will seek to re-schedule the event as early as possible next year."

The film's directors, Deirdre O'Neill and Mike Wayne, rebuked claims that the film was transphobic and said that both students and the UCU were attempting to stifle debate on the subject. 

They said: "Our film is in no way 'hate filled' or 'transphobic'. What it does is to catalogue case after case of women being abused and harassed for raising concerns in relation to their sex based rights.

"These legtimate concerns are never acknowledged by those who attack the film without seeing it and who want to cancel the film as happened in Edinburgh University last night. 

"We made the film in the hope that people will watch it and debate the issues. Some students, university staff and the UCU, are working to make sure that debate does not take plece. Apart from the fact this is an authoritarian, anti-intelectual, anti-democratic position to take, the crucial question is what is it that they are afraid will happen if people watch this film?" 

Jule Bandel, a Green councillor for Edinburgh City Council and student at the University of Edinburgh, attended a protest outside the venue. 

She told The National she was "appalled" the screening had been allowed to go ahead: 

"Universities and colleges should be safe and welcoming spaces for all students regardless of gender identity and trans status.

"As a queer student at the University of Edinburgh and a councillor for this city, I’m appalled that the screening of a film that demonises trans people and spreads harmful myths was given approval on our campus despite opposition from students and staff.

"I was proud to join the successful protest against the screening outside the university venues, but it shouldn’t be our job to defend our learning spaces from bigotry. Edinburgh University needs to ensure there is no place for transphobia at our university.”

However, a spokesperson for the University of Edinburgh reiterated that it was the institution's "duty" to permit the discussion of "controversial topics". 

"We stand by our decision to let Edinburgh Academics for Academic Freedom (AFAF) hold the screening of 'Adult Human Female'," they said. 

"As part of our commitment to freedom of expression and academic freedom, it is our duty to make sure staff and students feel able to discuss controversial topics and that each event allows for debate.

"In line with our commitment to fostering an inclusive, supportive and safe environment for our whole community, we put measures in place to mitigate any risks associated with the event. However, when it became clear that safety could no longer be guaranteed for all present it was decided that the event should not continue.

"Given the size of our community, it is inevitable that the ideas of different members will conflict. We always encourage respectful debate and discussion whenever there are differences of view or opinion and ensure that attendees of all events are aware of, and comply with, the University's Dignity and Respect Policy, so that those wanting to attend feel able to contribute." 

Tory MSP Tess White, who attempted to attend the screening, has written to the principal of the university to express "concerns" about what she described as an "attack on freedom of speech." 

In the letter she states that "greater effort should have gone into the security arrangements" to allow people to attend. 

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