Freedom of Expression,  Transphobia

Free speech and censorship: Today’s letter in the Observer

A letter published in today’s Observer, and signed by a number of activists and academics, has prompted heated debate.  It raises concerns about a range of alleged examples of censorship on campus. Both the signatories and the letter’s critics perhaps have a point. The first issue raised was the cancellation of Kate Smurthwaite’s gig at Goldsmiths.  The train of events leading to the cancellation was quite complex and it doesn’t seem accurate to claim that it was ‘cancelled by Goldsmith’s College’ although neither is it adequate to brush it aside as a mere matter of ticket sales.

Another concern was that:

the Green party came under pressure to repudiate the philosophy lecturer Rupert Read after he questioned the arguments put forward by some trans-activists.

It’s quite usual for political parties to face criticism when their candidates and spokespeople don’t seem to live up to their principles.  This is not precisely a free speech issue, and if Read has been refused a platform anywhere, the Observer letter gives no details.

By contrast it seems reasonable, from a liberal free speech perspective, to complain about the ‘no-platforming’ of Julie Bindel

You do not have to agree with the views that are being silenced to find these tactics illiberal and undemocratic.

Indeed, and there is no reason to assume that individual campaigners signing the letter are not motivated by their unswerving and consistent commitment to free speech. However details such as putting the word ‘transphobic’ in scare quotes, and failing to explain exactly why some trans* activists have concerns about (some of) those facing censure or censorship may help explain the objections which have been raised.