In January, Arthur published and then retracted what we had called a debate about gender-neutral washrooms. At the time, we said that we were retracting the piece for two reasons. First, we never should have framed safe-spaces for marginalized people to go the bathroom as up for debate. Second, we failed to hold this debate to sufficiently high editorial standards and, as a result of our failure, we had caused great harm to the community. We took full and complete responsibility for all harm caused because it was our fault, nobody else’s.
We are writing this editorial to further clarify this point, because it seems that some in the community have misunderstood our actions. Specifically, that this was about Heather Brown and her views in particular. It has very little to do with Brown, but everything to do with us.
That we should not have published a debate about this topic is clear. The effect was to cast doubt on the worth of safe-spaces for people who often face violence in gendered bathrooms. If it is worth covering the event of multi-stall, gender-neutral washrooms occurring in the student centre, then we did it in exactly the wrong way. There is merit to covering the bathrooms, but certainly not in the way that we did it.
The other part of this is the content of the debate. There were two articles. One — written by Nick Taylor, writing in favour of the bathrooms — corroborated its claims with evidence and drew upon the experience of existing gender-neutral bathrooms on campus. The other article was arguing against the bathrooms, which neither corroborated its claims nor drew upon real-world events.
At the same time as the piece lacked any serious attempt to corroborate its claims, there is also no evidence to support Brown’s claim that there are more cis women than trans or nonbinary on campus. This assumes that you can necessarily tell a cis woman or non-binary woman by looking at them. As Maxine Niehaus wrote in this paper, some people are not out as trans or non-binary and have many reasons for not being out.
Also, if, as the writer contends, women would feel uncomfortable, then the writer in question should have attempted to back this up with the testimony of other women. Instead, there was speculation on behalf of women against the bathrooms. The effect of publishing this article was to cause harm to the trans community. Furthermore, this stance was rejected overwhelmingly in feedback that we received from women directly and indirectly.
We failed to sufficiently engage with the language of the piece. Whilst we do not believe that Brown herself is transphobic — neither does Taylor — the intentions are not as important as the effect. The ambiguous language used resulted in transphobia being spread on campus, causing harm to the trans community. It embodied the kind of dog-whistle transphobia that has marred much of the discourse on gender-neutral bathrooms.
Texas senator Ted Cruz was often at the forefront of this conversation in U.S.A., alleging that the installation of gender-neutral washrooms would allow paedophiles to abuse children and encourage ‘men’ to abuse women. In doing this, he was casting doubt on the morals and humanity of transgender people and arguing that they do not exist. Calling trans women “men” misgenders them, opposing their right to self-definition. Negative effects of this include dysphoria, when one’s emotional and psychological identity opposes their assigned biological sex; as well as related feelings of depression and anxiety. In the context of Cruz-led discourses, allowing lines that alleged women would be vulnerable to sexual assault by men (statistical evidence suggests that you are far more likely to be sexally assaulted by somebody you know) without sufficiently clarifying the language was extremely reckless of us.
Arthur is a learning environment for people who wish to learn journalistic craft. Inevitably, people will make mistakes — we are made up of students. At the same time, our job as editors is to ensure that mistakes do not cause harm, particularly to marginalized groups. Again, in this responsibility we failed.
We have consistently reached out to the writer to the clarify this point, to no avail. Hence, we are writing this editorial. Let the record show that Heather Brown is no more a martyr than any other campus conservative that preceded her. Just as the Trent Queer Collective was happy to give Brown the time to clarify her views and the issues in private, so are we.
Read the original retraction statement here.