James Kirkup

The trans debate could cost this Cambridge porter his job

The trans debate could cost this Cambridge porter his job
Clare College, Cambridge (photo: iStock)
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This is a story about a man called Kevin Price, who was until last week a councillor and who is, for now at least, employed as a porter at a Cambridge college.

The story illustrates two points. First, political conflict over trans rights and women’s rights is far from over, especially in the Labour Party. Second, people who say the wrong thing in this debate can put their livelihood at risk.

Mr Price last week resigned from Cambridge City Council. He had sat as a Labour councillor since 2010 and was once the council’s deputy leader.

He resigned rather than follow the Labour Group whip and vote for a motion that declared, among other things that:

'Trans women are women. Trans men are men. Non-binary individuals are non-binary.'

Those are, of course, the holy words of trans orthodoxy, a catechism that cannot be questioned despite the countless questions it raises. (Here’s a starter for ten: if trans women are women, what does the word ‘women’ mean?)

Mr Price quit because, he said, he could not accept the unquestioning, uncritical adoption of those words. He noted that for some people, those words have highly troubling implications.

Resigning, he said:

‘The inclusion of the first three sentences of this motion will send a chill down the spines of the many women who believe there is a conflict of rights and who want to be able to discuss those in a calm and evidenced-based way….

[It is] foolish to pretend that there are not widely differing views in the current debate or that many people, especially women, are concerned about the impact on women’s sex-based rights from changes both in legislation and within society and who fear, not only that those rights are under threat, but that they are unable to raise legitimate questions and concerns without a hostile response.’

And that might have been the end of the story, seeing Mr Price ending his career as an interesting example of a politician putting principle before position or the party line, with a fairly measured contribution to a debate that too many politicians are still wary to enter.

If that was the end of it, Mr Price’s tale might prove only that Labour has some way to go before it reaches a settled, unified stance on this issue. There are good reasons that Keir Starmer has been trying to take a ‘listen to both sides’ position on the trans debate; one of those reasons is that his party is seriously split on the issue.

But that is not the end of Mr Price’s story. For Mr Price is now facing the sort of ‘hostile response’ he spoke about – calls for his employer to dismiss him from his job, because of his thoughts on sex and gender and ultimately, because of his reluctance to say the holy words.

According to Varsity, a student paper, the Union of Clare Students has condemned him and demanded the college authorities act against him. By discussing issues of policy and law at a council meeting, Mr Price had jeopardised the ‘safety’ of the college’s trans and non-binary students, the union suggested in a statement.

Varsity further quotes one Clare student as saying Price is ‘unfit both to hold public office and to be in a position of responsibility over students.’

Now, I didn’t go to Oxbridge and I’m not much for Marxist analysis of society as a class struggle. But I know enough about both to suggest that there’s something both distasteful and revealing about a bunch of Cambridge undergraduates threatening the livelihood of a man employed to serve them because he refuses to share their opinions and adopt their language.

There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about free speech on campus being under threat, and a lot of that talk has been overblown, based on nothing more than stupid self-important students doing what stupid, self-important students have always done and disinviting or banning people from speaking at events that no reasonable person would ever want to attend anyway.

But some of the concerns about universities and free inquiry are justified: just ask Professor Selina Todd, an Oxford historian who needed bodyguards because some people objected to her research on sex and gender in history.

And now it appears that the refusal to permit dissent or debate about sex and gender could cost a man his job at a university. I hope not, and not just for the sake of Kevin Price.

Yet if that is what does come to pass, Mr Price will be far from the first person to face such an egregious outcome, though he might just be the first man I’ve heard of to find himself in this position. Perhaps that might help persuade some people who have been too quiet on this topic for too long to find their voices at last.