OPINION: Prejudice in the guise of academic research is just prejudice

by Baroness Barker | Liberal Democrats
Wednesday, 17 April 2019 14:55 GMT

A rainbow is seen behind the Big Ben clock tower, at the Houses of Parliament in central London, Britain, October 16, 2016. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

One dodgy dissertation or flawed thesis passed off as research can become another blunt instrument with which to attack trans people

Baroness Barker is the LGBT+ spokeswoman in the House of Lords for the British Liberal Democrat party

Last June, I went to Pride in London. The sun was shining and there was a joyous atmosphere as LGBT+ people from all walks of life lined up to celebrate and parade with others from all over the world.

Then there was a hold up.

A group of eight self-identified lesbian feminists ignored rules, there in order to ensure that a huge event goes smoothly and safely, and disrupted the start of the march. Many, probably most, participants were angry that a day that is supposed to be about celebration and solidarity had been soured.

I think this was a perfect exposition of what this campaign and these groups are – a small number of people determined to sow division and halt the progress of the whole community, including lesbians.

I use the word “groups” although that may be inaccurate. There were many organisations in the often vitriolic and vociferous debate that were against the reform of Britain’s Gender Recognition Act, under which people can legally change their gender.

Many describe themselves as grassroots campaign groups, and are not registered charities so they don’t have a constitution that sets out publicly how their organisation is constituted or to whom and how it is accountable. And many say that they are funded by supporters, not by government – usually with bank details for people to send in donations.

But because they are campaign groups rather than charities, it is not always possible to determine who is funding them or how they are spending their money.

Mainstream British newspapers have run articles critical of organisations that work for trans equality such as Mermaids and Stonewall; organisations that are regulated as charities.

Last week, Openly published an opinion piece about a piece of research that claimed it provided evidence of lesbians experiencing threats and intimidation by trans women. Only it wasn’t and it didn’t. It was a set of leading questions, predicated on the assumption that trans women present a threat to lesbians.

It was, by the author’s own admission “sent to women-only and lesbian-only groups on social media, as well as to individual lesbians in my own networks. As such the sample does not claim to be a representative sample of the lesbian community.”

And yet this has somehow been deemed worthy of an opinion piece.

Badly flawed as the “research” is, it sheds an interesting light on the process by which a campaign continues to be propagated in colleges and universities. This line of thinking started decades ago with articles and books by academics based on the ideological belief that trans women cannot exist.

It became immaterial how trans women were supposed to function in our society – probably because such people want trans women to disappear from our society. At best they call for segregation – trans people in their own areas, not mixing with anyone else. They completely (and conveniently) ignore how this segregation would be policed, instead relying on promoting unjustified fear.

It is important to call this out. Prejudice with footnotes and references, calling itself academic research, is just prejudice claiming a veneer of respectability.

Before you know it, one dodgy dissertation or flawed thesis passed off as research can become another blunt instrument with which to attack trans people, their families and friends.

It is also dangerous because it can provide fuel for the increasing hate that trans people now face in our society – hate often promoted by our unquestioning mainstream media.