The Witchfinder explores legal remedies that may be open to gay journalist Milo Yiannopoulos and feminist Julie Bindel after being banned from attending an event at University of Manchester Students’ Union. Comments are legal opinion, untested by any court.
In 2012 the European Court of Human Rights rules in the case of Redfearn v United Kingdom (Application no. 47335/06). Arthur Redfearn was a bus driver. He was also a member of the British National Party, a British far right party that opposes immigration and multiculturalism. Conservative grandee Lord Tebbit once called them, “Labour with racism”.
The Court ruled in favour of Mr Redfearn and UK law was changed. Recent case law appears to confirm that political views – even extremist views, can fall within the definition of a ‘philosophical belief’ under s10 Equality Act 2010.
“We have been made aware of various comments lambasting rape survivors and trans* people, and as such we are concerned for the safety of our students on the topic of this event. He is a rape apologist and has repeatedly used derogatory and debasing ableist language when describing members of the trans* community.”
I am unaware of any occasion where Milo Yiannopoulos has apologised for, nor mitigated rape. He has on some occasions highlighted false allegations and the need for procedural safeguards.
Yiannopoulos is a supporter of #GamerGate, a cultural libertarian, pro-free speech, anti-censorship, consumer movement. As a prominent cultural libertarian, he would likely have mentioned #GamerGate in the context of freedom of speech.
Yiannopoulos has indeed lambasted a transsexual recently – a #GamerGate critic who admits to have made statements in support of paedophilia and white nationalism (archive here). As for his beliefs on transgenderism, Milo did state that, “Transgenderism is a psychiatric disorder” but at worst his words were slightly clumsy. He shares his belief that it is a disability with the American Psychiatric Association.
The APA produces the official guide to psychiatric conditions, the ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual’ which calls it ‘Gender Dysphoria’. Whilst the name of the condition has been changed and the emphasis shifted to disability rather than disorder (archive here), it remains a diagnosable condition in the psychiatric manual.
The UK NHS also recognises Gender Dysphoria as a diagnosable and treatable condition, although it does refer to studies suggesting it is a biological rather than mental condition (archive here).
In his article Milo does not call for discrimination against, nor segregation of, transgender or transsexual people. Instead he simply points out that current treatments of the condition have a high suicide rate, citing this medical study (archive here) and are not effective. A view he apparently shares with … the Guardian newspaper, who commissioned a study of their own in 2004 that concluded, “Sex changes are not effective, say researchers” (archive here).
The Guardian commissioned study found,
“The review of more than 100 international medical studies of post-operative transsexuals by the University of Birmingham’s aggressive research intelligence facility (Arif) found no robust scientific evidence that gender reassignment surgery is clinically effective.”
Julie Bindel is said to have been banned for,
“Bindel’s views and comments towards trans people, which we believe could incite hatred towards and exclusion of our trans students”
In reality what I found searching her articles on the Guardian was this sensitive piece (archive here) about a gay man who felt railroaded into surgery he now regrets. Transsexual and transgender ‘rights’ are a genuinely sensitive issue that have led to conflicts with feminists, in particular those who object to pre-surgery males using female spaces such as toilets, which makes them feel unsafe.
For the purposes of the Equality Act 2010, Student Unions are an association, covered by Part 7. Discrimination against guests for a protected characteristic (e.g. philosophical belief) is prohibited. It may also be argued that Bindel and Yiannopoulos’ views are expressions of their identities as gay people, insofar as they regard transsexual beliefs as discriminating against them.
Some gay rights activists feel that homosexual children are sometimes wrongly identified as transsexual and pressured into adopting a transsexual role when in fact they are simply gay.
A court interpreting the Equality Act would also be required to, as far as possible, interpret the statute in accordance with the Human Rights Act 1998 and in particular Articles 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion), 10 (freedom of expression) and 11 (freedom of association). Remedies under the Act include damages for hurt feelings – literally (see s199 (4) Equality Act 2010).
“(4)An award of damages may include compensation for injured feelings (whether or not it includes compensation on any other basis).“
Leaving aside the Union for a moment, state universities are themselves subject to the Human Rights Act 1998. If members of a society chose to book a university room for a political speaker, it may be that they or the speaker could enforce the terms of the Human Rights Act 1998 directly against the university by way of claim for damages and / or an injunction.
Finally, it strikes me as somewhat defamatory to call Milo a ‘rape apologist’ simply for promoting procedural safeguards.
A key proponent of the bans is Jess Lishak, who wrote a lengthy, now deleted post explaining the reasons for the bans that was covered in the Mancunion (archive here). She does not seem to acknowledge the tensions between the proponents of lesbian and women’s rights and those of trans-women or the legitimate debate between them.
This is not a simple, black-and-white matter and it seems that Jess Lishak’s one-sided approach is potentially discriminatory in itself. When I emailed Ms Lishak, setting out the potential areas of unlawful discrimination she read my email, but did not respond nor did she deny the allegations.
In your Inquisitor’s opinion, this is a major blunder by Lishak. Her insensitive, floundering approach to free speech, balancing the rights of minorities with differing views on the meaning of ‘discrimination’ has garnered much controversy for the University and its Students’ Union. The decision to ban two prominent equalities activists is at worst unlawful and at best clumsy and insensitive.
When her time in student politics is done, Jess Lishak will be seeking employment in the real world. Whether in the public or private sector, her controversial approach and divisive positions are likely to follow her to her detriment.