THE BLOG

Germaine Greer: Entitled to Free Speech but Not Above the Law

20/11/2015 09:30 GMT | Updated 19/11/2016 10:12 GMT

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Credit: Taz Rahman, amonochromedream.com

Stood out in the elements, battered by rain and wind and cold, a small collection of local feminists and trans activists held their signs up high next to the line of attendees for Germaine Greer's Hadyn Ellis Lecture, who one by one had their bags checked by the handful of security officers on duty. Regardless of the shoddy weather and the unnecessarily high complement of five police officers (and other security staff), we were pleasantly present and in high-spirits.

Four of us handed out materials we'd prepared including quotes, some old and new, from Greer on trans women and a couple of suggested questions for the Q&A session that would follow the talk. Most of the attendees, to their credit, happily accepted them and read them as they made their way into the theatre, even complimenting us for demonstrating. Others sneered, refusing to make eye contact with us and rushing on ahead. One woman even elected to cry: "No, I believe in free speech," as though it had any relevance to our flyers.

As the last of the attendees trickled in, I fought with myself as to whether or not I should go in too. I'd managed to secure two tickets, one for myself and another for my partner, but I was hesitant to attend. I am a trans person, something I'm not quiet about by any means, and I've faced my own share of dissent directly and indirectly from friends and strangers alike. Like most people, I believe, I'm not particularly interested in hearing someone make derogatory comments about a group that I'm a part of to an audience that largely, it seems, agrees. I elected not to go in. It was a move for the sake of saving myself from disappointment, anger and upset and I stand by that decision. It was much easier decision to make admittedly as I knew a few good eggs who were going in that would naturally report on what was said.

Instead, when the line was finally cleared and the doors closed behind them, we decided to go regroup nearby (since the building we were outside is fairly secluded and it was incredibly unlikely that we would have been seen by anyone else as the talk rattled on). We sat in a circle, almost all of us clutching our phones, desperately refreshing all our social media feeds, waiting for any word on what was being said.

As expected, it seemed to be largely baffling guff with the occasional good point scattered scarcely betwixt (generating visions of an infinite amount of monkeys using an infinite amount of typewriters) but then came the much anticipated Q&A session. We all collectively held our breath. Would anyone challenge her? Would anyone read one of the questions we suggested? Would she finally, given a perfect opportunity to do so, explain her position with decency and without further attacks on trans people?

Well, it might not surprise you to hear that her response was as vile as ever (some of the worst I've highlighted further along in this article) but it may surprise you (if you're not particularly familiar with equality laws) to hear about my next course of act.

After hearing about her using this platform to promote transphobia, more specifically transmisogyny, (as we could have predicted before this campaign even began) I began penning a letter. You see, what I've been doing these last few weeks, along with speaking to various media outlets and planning for this protest, is reading up about the Equality Act 2010.

The rights afforded to trans people are slim, we are not covered under any hate speech legislation, but we are covered under the Equality Act 2010 (unless you're a trans person who doesn't want/can't have gender reassignment surgery, in which case you're stuffed).

So, this afternoon I printed out the letter I've been working on and popped it in the post, addressed to Cardiff University President and Vice-Chancellor Colin Riordan. Yeah, that Vice-Chancellor who's been quoted all over the shop falsely claiming that Cardiff University doesn't need to follow equality laws.

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Here's a copy of that letter for you below:

To whom it may concern,

Subject: Germaine Greer's Hayden Ellis Lecture (18/11/2015)

Please accept this letter as a formal complaint of harassment which occurred at the Hayden Ellis Lecture on the 18th of November, 2015.

On the date listed above, myself and a small group of protesters gathered outside the Julian Hodge Lecture Theatre in the area that was kindly provided by yourselves.

Our protest, as you are probably well aware, was scheduled following my communications with you on October 21st regarding my concerns about your decision to host Germaine Greer despite her history of inflammatory language towards trans people like myself. In the email I included quotes from Greer with links to their sources along with a warning that despite the talk not being about trans people, just like the talk she gave in Cambridge University earlier this year, she was likely to express those hateful views regardless.

I had tickets for the event for myself and my partner but elected not to go following the atmosphere of hostility among the attendees towards our cause and by extension towards me.

However, a couple of my acquaintances were in attendance to document the talk for various publications and for our own piece of mind, to confirm that your provisions for the talk were sufficient in maintaining the dignity and safety of trans students, staff and community members (as per your own policies and the Equality Act 2010).

I was largely unsurprised to hear that at the end of the talk, Germaine Greer took the opportunity provided to explain her position to instead reiterate and expand on her hateful views (of which you were forewarned).

Here are the comments stated as documented by attendees (which I will not censor for the sake of disclosing the full information):

"I don't believe a woman is a man without a cock."

"I don't accept transgender males (trans women), even those who are post-operative, as women."

"I can take this pencil and call it a hammer but it still doesn't make it one."

"If you didn't find your pants full of blood when you were 13 there's something important about being a woman you don't know."

The Equality Act 2010 states that trans people are protected against unlawful discrimination by you as a service provider because of their gender identity.

In inviting and hosting Germaine Greer, she is carrying out a service on behalf of the university and as such the responsibility of her comments falls both on her and yourselves.

Harassment is defined in the Act as unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, and has the purpose or effect of:

• Violating the dignity of trans people, or

• Creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for trans people.

You are liable for your breach of the Equality Act 2010 and your refusal to address concerns that this very breach would occur should Germaine Greer be hosted at the university.

I am incredibly disappointed that this was allowed to happen, especially by a university that celebrates its accolades from Stonewall for providing a safe place of study for LGBTQA+ students.

I look forward to receiving your response within 28 days from the date of receiving this.

Yours sincerely,

Payton Quinn

So, what's next? I'm currently seeking further legal advise about the next steps and I will be eagerly awaiting the response from Colin "no case" Riordan.

I'd like to thank everyone who's supported our cause so far, both locally and globally. Your words and actions have been extremely heartwarming and have helped me stay strong in the face of a tidal wave of malice and scorn. Here's to the future. It's going to be a bumpy ride.