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Bindel withdraws from debate after death threats

Feminist campaigner and writer Julie Bindel recently announced she would not be taking part in a debate on pornography at Manchester University after receiving death threats.

Students at Manchester University organising a debate on pornography invited Julie Bindel, known for her longstanding activism on violence against women, to argue against the premise ‘This House believes that porn empowers women’.

Loz Webb, Trans* Rep at Manchester University, objected to Manchester Debating Union (MDU) about Bindel’s appearance, saying: “I was very concerned [about] giving a platform to a speaker widely known for holding transphobic views…

“[Trans* students and allies] felt Julie Bindel’s transphobic statements and views made them both unwelcome at the event, and unsafe on campus, as it seemed that transphobia was being allowed and possibly encouraged…”

On Twitter, Julie Bindel described the roots of the debate as a response to her view “that gender is a social construct and that psych diagnosis of trans is gender essentialist and harmful.”

The Independent newspaper suggested that accusations of transphobia also stem from an article Julie Bindel wrote for the Guardian in 2004.

Despite Webb’s complaints, MDU declined to replace Julie Bindel as one of the main speakers, and a lengthy debate followed on the event’s Facebook page, with over 200 comments posted.

An officer from the Debating Union posted on the page to explain why Julie Bindel had been invited, saying: “We chose Bindel to speak because her opinion carries a large amount of weight on the topic we are debating, namely: porn, feminism and its effects on women.

“She has written extensively on the topic and is well researched and involved deeply in the discussion surrounding the issue.”

Responding directly to criticism that Bindel’s presence would cause some trans* students to feel unsafe, he continued: “We are here to help serve the student body, and we would never act in a way that we feel would make students feel unsafe on campus. We feel this is the case because Bindel will not be speaking about trans* issues.”

Several people commenting on the thread disagreed:

“Oh well as long as *you* feel it doesn’t create an unsafe environment, that’s fine then.”

“How on earth can you be the judge on whether this event is safe for trans* people? How can you sit there and tell them this is an inclusive event for them when they’re DIRECTLY telling you otherwise?”

“…to say that this is not a debate around trans* issues is ridiculous, especially in this instance, when so many trans* people are involved in porn and sex work. But it’s also ridiculous because we are not issues, we are people.”

On whether Bindel’s presence would make trans* students feel unsafe, one commenter summarised that “claims have been made about physical danger on the basis that hate speech is causally related to actual violence.”

Some commented that ‘banning’ Julie Bindel from the event went directly against free speech.

“Being in the same room as people who you disagree with is probably a quite inevitable part of debate. And actually as a disabled person I’d be offended more offended by the idea that I couldn’t handle being in a room with someone who was disablist. I’d find it patronising and a bit of a sad state of affairs.”

The former president of a debating society at another university extended the free speech argument further in his comment: “Pretty much every public debate is going to offend someone, in some cases entire groups, pretty badly. But we would be doing a massive disservice to our members if we refused to debate certain topics that were important because they could offend people.”

Speaking to Mancunian Matters, Julie Bindel said she had received death threats about her intended appearance and said: “One threat from a trans protester at Manchester is so creepy and frightening I have been forced to report it to the police.”

She has since reported 2 more threats to the police and has received 30.

On 11 September, she tweeted a link to the debate’s Facebook page as evidence of why she would not be taking part in the debate.

On 13 September, Bindel tweeted again: “Whilst I appreciate the genuine good messages re the death + rape threats. some of the trans folk calling for solidarity provided the justification for vile abuse towards me. Comparing me to Hitler, saying I am a hate-filled dangerous bigot, etc, just gave permission for it.”

She told the Independent, “I was coming to debate pornography. I was censored from speaking about something that has nothing to do with ‘transgenderism’, nothing at all.”

On 17 September, Bindel responded to a tweet from TransMediaWatch claiming that threats had been made against her because of allegations of transphobic views.

“No. it was because of my feminist views on porn as violence towards women – made by trans and allies”.

TransMediaWatch responded immediately with an apology:

“Apologies. We were aware of the topic of discussion but though [sic] the motivation for the threats stemmed from elsewhere. Regardless, we’re very sorry to hear about it & glad that our followers have also expressed their horror that anyone would do that.”

Quoted in the Manchester Evening News, Julie Bindel described her previous comments about trans* people as ‘stupid’ and ‘immature’.

She strongly refutes accusations of transphobia.

“I have transgender allies who tell me that this small militia group do not speak on their behalf. I have apologised several times for the comments I made in an article written almost 10 years ago.”

Manchester’s Trans* Rep, Loz Webb, who initially raised the concerns over Julie Bindel’s appearance at the debate, issued a statement on 13 September saying: “I absolutely condemn the use of death and rape threats that [Julie Bindel] had received.

“I also would like to reiterate that our primary concern was the safety and welfare of the trans* student population, and that it is very upsetting to hear that Julie Bindel’s safety and welfare was compromised in this way.”

Condemnation of the threats were echoed by others, including Henry Phipps, chairman of the Debate Union, who, speaking to Manchester Evening News, said: “We would like to thank those who expressed their legitimate concerns about this event in a constructive manner.

“However, we completely condemn those who seek to shut down debate through threats and intimidation. This behaviour is utterly unjustified, and diminishes the cause that these activists seek to enforce.”

Members of campaign group, Protest Transphobia also issued a press release condemning the threats.

Julie Bindel confirmed that she would not let such threats deter her from returning to Manchester University in the future.

“I would love to come back and do something again,” she told the Independent.

In Bindel’s absence the motion was debated by Dr Jude Roberts (University of London) and Renee Richards, former porn actress and 2008 Best Actress winner at the UK Adult Film and Television Awards and Lisa Clarke (No More Page 3 campaigner) and Emma Bean (Treasurer of MDU).

It was passed.

However Henry Phipps, chair of the MDU, said the result was “somewhat misleading”.

“There are three ways the audience can vote, with proposition, with opposition or in abstention. The split of the final vote was basically a third each way with the largest individual fraction going to the proposition. Almost two thirds of the audience abstained or voted with opposition.

“The result was further complicated in that proposition speakers expressed reservations at the motion. This went as far as Renee Richard asking the audience to vote in abstention rather than to vote with proposition. They wished to argue that porn was empowering to some women, and that porn was no more repressive than other media, rather than argue in the strongest terms that porn empowered women.”

An edited version of this story also appeared on Women’s Views on News on 27th September 2013.