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Gender-critical Stonewall founder named Edinburgh University rector

LGBT activist and author Simon Fanshawe. Credit: Anna Moffat

February 12, 2024 - 3:55pm

The University of Edinburgh has announced that the writer and Stonewall co-founder Simon Fanshawe will be its next rector. Following an uncontested election, the activist and former comedian will assume office on 4 March. Having been involved in Stonewall’s inception in 1989, in recent years Fanshawe has been criticised for his support for gender-critical feminism and has challenged the charity’s pivot on policies regarding transgender people.

The announcement of Fanshawe’s appointment this morning was welcomed as “terrific” by Edinburgh Academics for Academic Freedom (AFAF), a group for faculty members focused on free expression on campus. Edinburgh academic Neil Thin, who in 2021 was cleared by an internal investigation after a student campaign falsely accused him of racist and transphobic comments on social media, described it as “wonderful news”, with congratulations also coming from Ann Henderson, a trade union activist who served as the university’s rector between 2018-21. Henderson later said she stepped down in part because of a coordinated campaign by students and the university newspaper in opposition to her stance on single-sex spaces.

Last year, Fanshawe gave a talk at the University of Cambridge which was picketed by students banging drums and rattling the door outside the venue. In his address he claimed that LGBT activism has become increasingly “narcissistic” since the creation of Stonewall, and now centres around the “idea of the individual as indomitable”. In a 2022 article he described Stonewall in its present form as a “propaganda machine that preaches extreme and divisive gender ideology under the guise of ‘factual’ information”, and which in doing so infringes on women’s rights.

Fanshawe now works as a consultant on diversity and inclusion, and has previous experience of an administrative role at the University of Sussex, where he chaired the governing council. He was awarded an OBE for services to higher education in 2013. Responding to the news, Fanshawe stated that as rector he would work to “advance the university and its staff and students and fearlessness in the exchange of ideas”.

Beyond the student campaigns against Henderson and Thin, Edinburgh has been involved in several high-profile disputes over free speech in recent years. In 2022 the university cancelled a screening of Adult Human Female, a documentary challenging key tenets of gender ideology, after students described the event as “a clear attack on trans people’s identities”. A rescheduled screening was also called off the following year, before the film was eventually shown in November, despite a protest outside involving over 100 students and faculty members.

Earlier in 2022, student protestors occupied a meeting for Edinburgh’s [Pro-] Life Society, with one using a megaphone to say, “We are not allowing you to continue this talk.” On Edinburgh AFAF’s formation, a union official labelled the group a “haven for racists, transphobes and other assorted bigots”. 

On the announcement of Fanshawe’s appointment, one university staff member posted online that it was “unwelcome” news given the writer’s “controversial views”. The same staff member also accused Fanshawe of “campaign[ing] against the legitimacy of trans people”, a charge the latter denies. Dr Gina Gwenffrewi, an Edinburgh lecturer in Trans Studies, referred to the decision as “an outrageous declaration of contempt by the University of Edinburgh for trans people”. 

The position of rector is nominated and elected by students and staff, and is not chosen by the university’s governing body, Edinburgh’s website states. Fanshawe was the only “valid” nomination submitted. He has vowed to “promote mutual understanding” between faculty members and undergraduates with opposing views when he takes up the role.


is UnHerd’s Deputy Editor, Newsroom.

RobLownie

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Mike Downing
Mike Downing
5 months ago

Has the tide turned? I’m not holding my breath but this is indeed a ‘brave’ move in the current polarised climate.

No doubt rentamob will be screaming about the ongoing trans genocide (big secret – there isn’t one) and I’m sure that Talcum X (Owen Jones) will be serving up some fatuous drivel in the Grauniad tomorrow as he soils his diaper (if he isn’t getting it on with a couple of ‘broody lesbians ‘).

Mr Fanshawe even looks like an adult (shock horror) and not the baby-faced derangeos that seem to have taken over the Internet around this topic.

What’s not to like ? If he was in charge of Stonewall I’d even consider re-starting my subscription….

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
5 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

I do think the tide is turning, though it is not an accomplished turn yet.
When a Stonewall originator is regarded as insufficiently down for the cause, the air has become too thin and too poisonous to sustain itself.
Many loud voices on the far reaches of the Left have become an idiotic caricature of their less-ridiculous former selves, and some of the less entranced will welcome the opportunity to be more honest about what they really think. I see cause for real hope in that regard anyway.

Peter Principle
Peter Principle
5 months ago

Unherd readers are maybe not familiar with the role of Rector at universities in Scotland. The job description talks of providing “high-level strategic oversight”, etc., but it does not involve any significant clout unless the Rector chooses to pick a fight and to do so in public view.
But it is really good news that Simon Fanshawe has taken on this role. He has been very courageous in countering the absurdities of the wokerati.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
5 months ago

Excellent news. The tide really is turning against the trans castration cult.

John Murray
John Murray
5 months ago

As an Edinburgh Uni graduate, I am surprised and delighted by this. However, back in my day (admittedly thirty years ago), there were at least four or five candidates for Rector. I recall the author Iain M. Banks being one of them, he didn’t win, but was charmingly nerdy in his talk with students. I suspect the uncontested nature of the election reflects lefty students not being able to organize a piss-up in a brewery. So, at least some things haven’t changed.

Howard S.
Howard S.
5 months ago

“Male and female created he them”. There are two genders in the species, Homo Sapiens Sapiens. Period.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
5 months ago
Reply to  Howard S.

Two sexes. Gender is something German nouns have, not people.

Howard S.
Howard S.
5 months ago

I know the language well. German nouns have three genders. Perhaps that’s where the gender nonsense started. There were always the rumors that Der Fuehrer liked to dress up like a woman, and Eva, like a man, when they were alone in their spacious apartment at Berchtesgarten. Just rumors, I’m sure.

Jean Calder
Jean Calder
5 months ago

This is the most wonderful news. I just hope Simon doesn’t leave Brighton & Hove, where, despite huge disquiet, the madness bubbles on
.

A J
A J
5 months ago

It was bad enough when women’s studies was replaced by Gender studies, but “trans studies” really should not exist as an academic specialism, unless it’s included in religious studies, since transgender ideology is entirely faith-based.

And excellent news re Simon Fanshawe, whom I remember back in the 80s, performing live with flowing hair and startling make-up. Now a pillar of the community. Marvelous.

Tom Scott
Tom Scott
5 months ago
Reply to  A J

What on Earth does the curriculum for ‘Trans Studies’ consist of?
Where is the supposed HE rigour necessary to teach it and examine it?
Which examining body provides validation for this?

james goater
james goater
5 months ago
Reply to  A J

“…transgender ideology is entirely faith-based.” How completely true! (And a faith-based belief system which no serious, thinking person should have any faith in!).

Graeme Kemp
Graeme Kemp
5 months ago

Good for him !

Graeme Kemp
Graeme Kemp
5 months ago

And maybe defund “Trans Studies” …

Jae
Jae
5 months ago

There is hope then. I read the headline the wrong way at first, thought he was a Stonewall advocate. Felt utterly miserable for a minute. Thank goodness it’s not so.

However, not too long now for a “Die-in from the screeching tyrannical mob.

Andrew H
Andrew H
5 months ago

Edinburgh University has a department of Trans Studies? Jesus wept. No wonder the place has become a bastion of deranged narcissim.

D M
D M
5 months ago

I thought i’d look up the word bigot.
What are two synonyms for bigot?
bigot
dogmatist.extremist.fanatic.true believer.zealot.
who actually fits this description more? just asking.

S Wilkinson
S Wilkinson
5 months ago

Dr Gina Gwenffrewi, an Edinburgh lecturer in Trans Studies, referred to the decision as “an outrageous declaration of contempt by the University of Edinburgh for trans people”. 
Well HE would say that, wouldn’t HE.

kuer polin
kuer polin
4 months ago
Reply to  S Wilkinson

I’m not sure if he said this, can you share the evidence/
  Quick Draw