Psychotherapist warns of 'thought police' after losing transgender research case

(Photo: Pexels/Sharon McCutcheon)

A psychotherapist who lost his court bid to research transgender regret at Bath Spa University has blamed a climate of 'fear'.

James Caspian had wanted to study why some transgender people decide to detransition to their original sex.  His proposal was initially approved by the university before being vetoed by an ethics committee.

The High Court heard this week that the committee saw 'no point in causing unnecessary offence' and that 'engaging in a potentially "politically incorrect" piece of research carries a risk to the university'. 

Mr Caspian argued that the university made the decision because it feared a backlash from the trans community and that academic freedom was at threat. 

His barrister, Paul Diamond, told the High Court: 'That is not academic judgment, that is terror on the streets of our universities.' 

The court, however, sided with the university and declined Mr Caspian's request for a judicial review. 

Michael Kent QC said: 'I entirely accept that there are important issues of freedom of expression. I just do not accept that, on the facts of this particular case, there is an arguable case made out.'

Mr Caspian is now fundraising to appeal the High Court's verdict. 

Speaking after the hearing, he told Spiked that the 'thought police' are making people afraid to say what they really think about trans issues. 

'We know the real police are interviewing people who question whether transwomen are women in the way that natal women are. It is extraordinary,' he said, referring to the case of Kate Scottow, a 38-year-old mother of two who said she was arrested and held by the police for several hours after calling a trans woman a man on Twitter.

'And it is this fear that was driving Bath Spa's veto of my much-needed research. They think they're going to get accused of hate or transphobia,' Mr Caspian said.

In separate comments to The Telegraph, he said he feared for academic freedom at a time when there are very few studies into transition regret. 

'I think this sets a dangerous precedent in that research into sensitive areas will not be carried out because universities don't want to take ownership,' he said. 

Carys Mosely, policy researcher at Christian Concern, said Bath Spa's actions amounted to 'academic self-censorship'.

'Given that transgender politics cuts to the heart of the importance of telling the truth about human nature, this should be viewed as a serious no-no for any university,' she said.

'This is not even like an incident where someone has said something that is highly critical of transgender politics and medical gender reassignment, and where that "something" has been reported to the police as a "hate incident". It is fear of that sort of thing happening.

'Did the university not consider that it should prepare to defend itself robustly against the risk of such vicious attacks?' 

She said the field of study into transgenderism has been 'progressively taken over by activists'.

'The question is, if you cannot study this in a university, which is supposed to be an independent seat of learning and critical thinking, where can you raise the issues?' she said. 

Others have similar fears as revealed by a letter in the Guardian signed by over 50 academics warning that proper analysis and discussion around transgenderism is being suppressed as a result of trans activists with a 'dangerously all-encompassing' definition of transphobia. 

The academics, who come from top British universities including Oxford and Cambridge, said it was 'not transphobic' to investigate transgenderism as they warned of a campaign of harassment against academics who dare to question the dominant narrative. 

'Members of our group have experienced campus protests, calls for dismissal in the press, harassment, foiled plots to bring about dismissal, no-platforming, and attempts to censor academic research and publications,' they said.

'Such attacks are out of line with the ordinary reception of critical ideas in the academy, where it is normally accepted that disagreement is reasonable and even productive,' they said. 

Alice Sullivan and Judith Suissa, of the UCL Institute of Education, have also warned that academic study into transgenderism has been 'derailed' by trans activists and that certain topics are becoming 'off limits' on university campuses.

While female students have reported feeling unable to speak up about their views in class, feminist academics have experienced harassment after defending the sex-based rights of women. 

'For anyone concerned about language and meaning, and committed to democratic values, it is deeply troubling to see reasoned disagreement – often motivated by a concern with rights and justice – routinely labelled as "fascist",' they said.

'It is precisely within a climate of engaged, informed and intellectually rigorous debate, and not in some rarefied 'marketplace of ideas', that ethically and politically troubling ideas can be challenged and criticised.

'Part of the point of going to university is to be exposed to a range of ideas that may challenge, inspire and even unsettle, and to develop the ability to engage with, articulate, defend and criticise arguments on a range of topics.

'This involves developing the disposition to listen to and appreciate nuanced discussion.'

Feminist group Women's Place UK has said that women attending its meetings on government proposals to introduce gender self-identification have suffered harassment from trans activists. 

Last year, it accused Oxford University students of trying to shut down their public meetings on the campus after the Student Union LGBTQI Campaign group urged students not to attend the meeting, accusing the group of being 'transphobic' and using 'hate speech' against the trans community. 

'While we do not deny that freedom of speech is an important tool, we firmly believe that it is damaging to the welfare of trans people, and the feminist movement, to support the hate speech perpetrated by Women's Place UK and its affiliates,' said the LGBTQI Campaign. 

A spokeswoman for Woman's Place UK accused the LGBTQI Campaign at the time of defaming the group and its speakers and said politicians needed to do more to protect free speech on university campuses.

'Politicians from Sam Gyimah to Harriet Harman say they back free speech, especially among students. It's time for them to put their money where their mouths are and stand up for women holding peaceful, respectful debates about matters of public interest,' she said.

'We're not insisting that they agree with everything we say, just that they let us speak and let people listen to our questions.

'We are ordinary women who just want to meet to talk about the our legal rights, and so we ask politicians to stand up for our right to speak and be heard.'

Earlier this month, the Government responded by issuing new guidance to protect free speech on university campuses. 

The Government said the new guidance would ensure university campuses remain a 'forum for open and robust enquiry' while offering additional clarity around the 'contentious issue of hate speech'.

Dr David Llewellyn, Chair of GuildHE and Vice Chancellor of Harper Adams University, welcomed the guidance and said that British universities needed to teach students how to critically analyse different perspectives.

'Higher education institutions are champions of free speech, places where ideas and views - even those that some might find offensive - can be rigorously discussed and challenged. Our staff, and others contributing to our educational and research activities, must be able to freely consider contentious issues,' he said.

'We also have to be able to work with students to develop their ability to critically analyse what is being said, weigh up different arguments and contribute to the debate.

'That is why we welcome this new guidance, which will provide greater clarity on the rights and obligations for freedom of expression, particularly in areas such as the balance between our commitment to free speech and legislation to prevent radicalisation.'