May 23, 2024 - 6:15pm

The Russell Group, the collection of 24 elite UK universities, has issued an apology today after grouping “gender critical” ideas alongside unlawful forms of speech in a memo to the Office for Students.

The original memo asked that the OfS provide “examples of unlawful speech which universities would be expected to take steps to restrict, including antisemitic, Islamophobic or gender critical speech”. This was part of a list of requests aimed at addressing “ambiguities” in the guidance and helping student groups balance free speech values and legal restrictions on speech. But the OfS regulatory advice to which the Russell Group was responding explicitly acknowledged that gender critical views were protected speech.

Following a swift backlash online, the Russell Group walked back that portion of the memo. “We apologise for an error in our original submission to the OfS free speech consultation, which incorrectly listed ‘gender critical’ speech as an example of unlawful speech, in place of ‘transphobic’,” it claimed in an online post. “This was a genuine mistake and we have now republished our corrected summary.”

Gender critical views — the perspective that one can not change one’s biological sex, as opposed to hateful views towards transgender people — are considered protected speech under the Equality Act, as the result of a 2021 court case brought by a woman who lost her job after criticising gender self-identification policies. Maya Forstater, a tax expert at a think tank, was let go after tweeting that males could not change their sex, but a panel ultimately found that this was a protected philosophical belief.

“Just as the legal recognition of civil partnerships does not negate the right of a person to believe that marriage should only apply to heterosexual couples, becoming the acquired gender ‘for all purposes’ within the meaning of GRA does not negate a person’s right to believe, like the claimant, that as a matter of biology a trans person is still their natal sex,” the judge ruled. “They are beliefs that are and must be tolerated in a pluralist society.”