UPDATE: UWA has cancelled the booking, saying “we have been advised the risk surrounding the event has been elevated to a higher level, which mandates a more robust event management plan”.
The uni’s statement said the organisers could not provide that management plan and so the event was cancelled under their booking policy.
“The University holds firm on the principles of freedom of expression and maintains its position that it does not wish to set a precedent for the exclusion of objectionable views from the campus,” the statement read.
Petitioners are celebrating the win but are disappointed that UWA cited a technicality as the reason for cancellation, and not the content.
UWA is bracing itself for protests when it hosts a talk by the president of a controversial anti-LGBTI+ organisation on Friday (August 17).
Quentin Van Meter, who calls transgender people “delusional,” is president of the American College of Pediatricians, a small lobby group that was formed in 2002 to oppose same-sex couples’ right to adopt children.
The ACP has 600 members, while the established American Academy of Pediatrics, which supports the transgender community, has 64,000.
Dr Van Meter is the guest of the Australian Family Association, a group that opposes same sex marriage, abortion and the Safe Schools program, and his appearance at UWA is part of an Australian tour.
He’ll be speaking alongside author Patrick J Byrne, who is launching a book critical of what he calls the ‘transgender revolution’.
UWA student doctor Thomas Drake-Brockman started an online petition calling on UWA not to host Dr Van Meter, saying the ACP “shamelessly promotes their ultra-conservative agenda at the expense of the health and wellbeing of trans kids”.
At the time of going to print the petition had nearly 9000 signatures as of Friday and a protest was planned at UWA’s Oak Lawn on Friday at 2.30pm.
Drake-Brockman told the Voice “the ACP and Van Meter are incredibly deceitful—they veil their hateful ultra-conservative views in false legitimacy and attempt to justify their ideas with a perverted twist on the scientific method.
“This makes the platform that UWA is allowing them even more dangerous, as it lends credibility to their faulty approach, and helps them to hide their hate as supposed reason.”
Transfolk of WA issued a statement saying they are “disappointed to hear that UWA is hosting an event insensitive to the trans and gender diverse community and we believe the message it is promoting, hinders us moving forward to equality.
“We understand that freedom of speech is a fair assumption for all, but where information is not based on the best medical information available it can be harmful.”
There’s a growing body of research showing young transgender people who are supported in their identity have better mental health than those who aren’t supported, or who are forced to live with their birth gender.
The Curtin Centre for Human Rights education also objected to UWA’s decision, saying “to host a group that is actually bringing into question the existential existence of transgender people through ignorance and hate, masked through rational thought, is completely antithetical to what we would have thought UWA stood for as an institution”.
Australian Medical Association (WA) president Omar Khorshid said: “The position statements put out by the ACPeds in regards to transgender topics are archaic, outdated and completely contradict most reputable research in this area.
“We do not want to shut down discourse on these topics, and universities are the best placed institutions to discuss conflicting ideas.
“However, these messages are anti-health, devoid of any robust evidence and could ostracise an already vulnerable group of people.
“The AMA (WA) urges any concerned students to make their voices heard and rebut the assertions put forward by this fringe group using peer reviewed studies that are available.”
The top brass at UWA were bracing themselves for a backlash this week: An internal email signed off by vice chancellor Dawn Freshwater and chancellor Robert French was sent to staff saying,
“A denial of access to the facility would be based on the opinions of these speakers and the impact of the expression of those opinions on members of the university community.
“The university considers that cancellation of the Australian Family Association event at the Octagon would create an undesirable precedent for the exclusion of objectionable views from the campus. It would also give rise to arguments that the values we hold are supported by intolerant and repressive policies against those who do not share those values.
“The university acknowledges the deeply held concerns of those who do not want this event to proceed. Plainly it does not endorse the opinions of the speakers on any of the matters on which they are likely to speak.”
The sprawling 773-word email stressed the university respects LGBTI+ people, “evidenced by the rainbow flag which has flown for some months at the front of the UWA campus”.
The venue was booked by an ex-student and the email states “the university executive was informed yesterday” [Monday August 13] about the booking.