In response to ‘Sex Matters’ letter

Dear Network Members, 

You may have become aware of a letter by a collective of academics operating under the name ‘Sex Matters’ written to the Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission demanding a “Reindorf Review” for the higher education sector. While we are once again loath to draw attention to these beliefs, we also recognise that silence does not make our position clear to those in our community most affected by these beliefs and the ways in which these beliefs are expressed. This statement is to reinforce our solidarity to those affected and that we will continue to work in ways which support our trans and non-binary colleagues and students. 

This letter paints a very biased view of the current situation regarding academic freedom in UK Higher Education institutions and depicts those academics who share ‘gender critical’ beliefs as victims of ‘trans rights activists’. There is no reflection on why students and staff might feel motivated to protest those academics actively promoting their ‘gender critical’ beliefs and a failure to acknowledge the harms experienced by the trans and non-binary members of these communities as a consequence of discriminatory expressions of these beliefs. For clarity, the Staff Pride Network committee would like to make it known that we do not endorse this viewpoint of the situation. It is clear to us how harmful ‘gender critical’ beliefs are to the trans and non-binary members of our community, and that reductive, biologically essentialist attitudes towards sex are also damaging to everyone. No-one thrives if they are forced to adopt an identity based on binary sex characteristics, while trans and non-binary members of our community are especially and significantly harmed by this.  

The letter claims that the Stonewall Diversity Champions Scheme promotes misleading information about the Equality Act which is simply false. It also criticises Athena SWAN for encouraging HEIs to monitor gender and not sex. We support the monitoring of gender and of gender diversity in our institutions because it is far more realistic to learn about how our staff live their lives and how they move through the world as their lived gender identities rather than forcing staff to select a binary sex characteristic that may be wholly inaccurate and may force trans and non-binary members of staff to disclose sensitive private information about their gender history.  

We make no disagreement with the notion that a distinction can be made between sex and gender. Biological sex is a complex combination of anatomy, hormones and chromosomes that can result in a variety of sex characteristics in the human population. Gender is also a complex combination of the ways in which we experience and present our identities in a multi-gendered world. We reject the characterisation in the letter that there are UK Universities that impose a ‘radical gender orthodoxy’. This appears to be an attempt to stigmatise those who do not conform to an antiquated belief system that promotes a binary understanding of sex. We also recognise that sex is a protected characteristic. The guidance around the Equality Act as to how sex is determined is broad, it does not provide a precise definition of sex and it does not specify that sex is rooted in ‘biological sex’. 

We are concerned to note the names of 28 current and former University of Edinburgh staff as signatories of this letter, many of whom have a significant platform (through lectures, publications and other opportunities) to share ‘gender critical’ beliefs. While we recognise the freedom of those individuals to hold and express these beliefs, they should recognise that exercising freedom does have implications for other people, and that just as they are free to hold and express their beliefs, others are free to counter-argue or take other lawful action (such as protesting) in response. In particular, however, it is right to recognise that no one is free to express their beliefs, or their disagreement with others’ beliefs, in ways that are abusive or discriminatory. Members of our network have been deeply disturbed by this letter, as well as members of the student community. We extend our solidarity to those affected and will continue to work in ways which support our trans and non-binary colleagues and students.  

We hope that one day all staff and students are able to go about their lives feeling safe, respected and without harassment. 


The Staff Pride Network Committee