Edinburgh University leaders have been criticised by students for allowing a film to be screened which they say “spreads misinformation” about trans people.
The documentary, titled Adult Human Female, was shown at the university followed by a discussion, on December 14.
However, there were chaotic scenes outside the lecture theatre where the film was being screened, with students blocking access to the venue.
A planned viewing for the documentary in November was cancelled following an earlier backlash.
In a statement, the sabbatical officer at the Edinburgh University Students’ Association said that the film paints trans people, particularly women, as “dangerous and predatory”.
They explained that this portrayal has a “demonstrable harmful impact” on a marginalised and vulnerable group.
The students’ association statement acknowledged the importance of freedom of speech.
But, it set out the harmful impact of the documentary that was given approval to be shown.
“The contents of the film paint trans people, particularly trans women, as dangerous and predatory,” it read.
“We don’t believe any of our students or staff should have their identities scrutinised, or be positioned as a risk to others, simply be existing.
“We recognise the value of academic discourse in university spaces and do not wish to restrict anyone’s freedom of speech.
“However, this film spreads misinformation regarding trans people, which has a demonstrable harmful impact on an already marginalised and vulnerable group, without any grounding in reality.”
The statement indicated that people had been encouraged by the university to engage in “respectful debate” with the event’s organisers.
Footage posted on social media appeared to show one student spitting at a group in attendance for the screening.
It continued: “Despite consistently raising these concerns with members of the university’s senior leadership team, the film was still allowed to be shown, and it remains unclear to us where the lines are drawn between the university’s commitment to freedom of speech, and the dignity and respect policy, which aspires to create an inclusive and welcoming university community for all students and staff.
“In response to student and staff complaints, members of our community were encouraged by the university to engage in respectful debate with the event’s organisers, without acknowledging both the existing power dynamics between trans people and those who publicly argue they are inherently abusive and predatory.”
Concerns were also raised over “harassment and abuse” aimed at members of the association.
“The right to freedom of speech comes with a responsibility to consider the impact our speech can have on others, and the right of others to criticise what we are saying,” the statement read.
“In line with this, we support our members’ right to engage in safe and legal direct action, on this and other issues.
“We wish that the university had acknowledged this balance in their statement, but instead the statement seemed to prioritise the right to debate trans lives above all else.
“We also wish they would have taken a stand against the harassment and abuse our members have experienced simply for refusing to have their right to exist debated, and acknowledged the role they have played in that abuse by allowing this screening to go ahead.”
Edinburgh University defended its decision to allow the statement to go ahead.
It read: “We stand by our decision to let Edinburgh Academics for Academic Freedom (AFAF) hold the screening of ‘Adult Human Female’.
“As part of our commitment to freedom of expression and academic freedom, it is our duty to make 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 continue.”