Warwick Politics, Philosophy and Law (PPL) Society published a Facebook poll on whether gender is binary last week, which has led to opposition from the University of Warwick’s Students’ Union (SU) and societies such as Warwick Pride.
The poll asked, “Is gender binary, or is it a spectrum?” Accompanying the question was contextual information, which stated: “Gender identity has been defined by the United Nations as a person’s internal, deeply felt sense of being male or female or something other, or in between.”
“A person’s gender identity may or may not correspond with their biological sex (HRC, 2008). While more and more people are embracing their identity, many organisations are integrating this spectrum,” they said, citing Facebook as an example.
They continued: “Our aim is to create and provide a platform for academic and political discussions, no offence is intended. Derogatory comments will be deleted.”
The post also included links to an article by The Telegraph about Facebook’s gender options, and a TED talk by Alice Dreger on whether anatomy is destiny. The poll has since been taken down, with Warwick SU and societies such as Warwick Pride responding to it on Facebook.
In a statement, the SU said: “We were recently made aware of a poll hosted on a student-run Facebook page at Warwick which questioned the validity of identities outside of a set gender binary.
“We wish to make it clear that we consider this action both offensive and highly inappropriate. What may seem like a mere question to some in fact perpetuates the systemic oppression of Trans people. Some issues are simply not up for debate, including the identity, existence and lives of our Trans students.
Before you post such questions on social media consider how it may affect others, consider how it may hurt others, consider how it may put people in fear of coming out at university
– Warwick Pride President Jess Hughes
“As an SU, we stand in solidarity with our Trans siblings and will continue to call out cis privilege, and to fight and campaign for Trans rights.”
“In addition, we wish to remind all students of their responsibilities towards others when posting on social media, particularly when done for the sake of ‘controversy’, publicity or their own notoriety on campus,” they concluded. Warwick Pride shared this statement on Facebook, adding that the poll was “deeply hurtful”.
The LGBTUA+ society said: “Before you post such questions on social media consider how it may affect others, consider how it may hurt others, consider how it may put people in fear of coming out at university.”
“Your fellow students are not all like you, and regardless of our differences we expect to be treated with respect,” they emphasised. Warwick Pride President Jess Hughes also told The Boar: “The voices of trans and non-binary students should be centred when discussing such issues.
“We were very distressed when we saw the poll, as were members of the community. We agree with the SU statement, and were very grateful that they made the statement.
“I do think polls like this show a lack of understanding about gender, and it particularly concerns me that trans and non-binary students may well be on that course and feel very uncomfortable about the opinions that their peers are voicing.”
Warwick Eye, an anonymous student-run publication at Warwick, claimed that the University of Warwick Labour Society reported the post to the SU. When asked if this was the case, Warwick Labour told The Boar: “We did not report the poll, in fact any complaints to the Students’ Union have to be made by individuals.
“Having said that we fully support the statement by the students’ union on the issue and think it is bigoted to question the existence and so humanity of non-binary people – this legitimises the oppression of non-binary people.”
Some issues are simply not up for debate, including the identity, existence and lives of our Trans students
– Warwick SU
After removing the poll, Warwick PPL Society followed with a statement which said: “The PPL society would like to apologise for posting the previous poll. Our intent was to allow people to engage politically within a respectful platform aimed at fostering debate.
“However, we do recognise that the previous poll was written in a way which could be deemed inappropriate and offensive. We will think more carefully about the way we write our polls in the future.
“The Warwick PPL society is made up of people from different cultures, beliefs, sexual orientations and identities. As such we would like to further the apology if we have offended anyone.”
Adding to their statement, the society said to The Boar: “Given that this particular poll failed in its ability to facilitate rigorous, open, honest, and respectful discussion in the comment section, PPL society saw fit to remove the poll.”
Warwick PPL Society regularly publishes Facebook polls, asking people to vote on dichotomies such as Liberalism versus Marxism. The poll on whether gender is binary was sixth in their “To be or not to be?” series.
Regarding to the SU’s statement, the society responded: “In the view of the PPL Society, we are surprised at the Warwick SU for their recent post on their Facebook page.
“Universities should be places for learning and discussion of all topics. Free speech is a key part of the learning environment at any university and our SU’s stance would indicate an objection to that free speech.
“Free speech is something the PPL Society strongly believes in, and so the SU’s post has left us, among many others, disappointed.”
Also addressing whether the poll’s removal was suppressing “free speech” as commentators claimed, Pride President Jess said: “I do not believe this is an issue about free speech, because I do not believe that the existence of trans and non binary people should be up for debate. It is not up to anyone else to decide how people identify.
“Years ago people were arguing that gay people should be subjected to draconian medical practices to ‘cure’ them. And now whether some people exist is now up for debate. Polls such as this are just the latest example of how our society still has a problem with LGBTUA+ phobia.”
Free speech is something the PPL Society strongly believes in, and so the SU’s post has left us, among many others, disappointed
– Warwick PPL Society
SU President Liam Jackson also told The Boar: “Since the existence of people outside of a socially-prescribed gender binary is a physical, material, historical and scientific fact, I honestly struggle to see how there is anything to ‘debate’ in this instance.
“It is clear, however, that we need a more meaningful way for people to learn about these issues without questioning the existence of others. As a result, the SU will be working on a future project featuring a range of resources and opportunities to create a more respectful dialogue around trans and non-binary identities.”
Speaking to The Boar, SU Trans Students’ Officer Alex Lythall said: “My reaction to the poll was one of dismay and then anger over
my community and friends’ existence being put up for debate.
“We’ve had some excellent engagement with the trans awareness campaigns we’ve been running the last year, so this really feels like a step backwards.
“In addition, the various comments posted shows just how much ridicule trans, including non-binary, issues sadly continue to inspire, and how far we still have left to go towards creating a more accepting and equal society.
“The SU’s statement, written in conjunction with the Part-Time Liberation Officers, does not impinge upon ‘free speech’. Instead it highlights the fact that ‘debating’ whether someone exists is extremely harmful, and that there are often real-life consequences for those who are the subject of these ‘debates’.
“It also remains ironic that some student groups who criticised the statement on these grounds frequently remove critical comments on their own posts and events.”
The SU’s LGBTUA+ Officer has been contacted for comment.