Trans groups demand Leeds Lit Festival ban BBC presenter from speaking in transphobia row

Dame Jenni Murray and The Leeds Library.
Dame Jenni Murray and The Leeds Library.
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Transgender advocacy groups and supporters have demanded that Leeds Lit Festival ban Dame Jenni Murray from speaking amid accusations of transphobia.

An open letter, signed by TransLeeds, Non-binary Leeds, Yorkshire Mesmac and 13 other groups, says Dame Jenni is ‘an active transphobe’ and that ‘there is no debate as to whether trans women are women’.

Dame Jenni, a journalist and author best known for presenting BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, has questioned the idea that transgender women are ‘real women’. She has previously said she is ‘not transphobic or anti-trans’.

Dame Jenni, who was born in Barnsley, is due to appear at The Leeds Library on Saturday to talk about her book A History of the World in 21 Women.

Leeds Lit Festival and The Leeds Library have said they are standing by their position.

A protest has been planned outside the library in Commercial Street at 2.30pm.

The open letter to The Leeds Library and Leeds Lit Festival reads: “Jenni Murray is clearly hostile towards the trans community, but especially towards transgender women.

“This isn't feminism. It is misogyny. This is not free speech or radical discussion. Far from it.

“It is hate speech against a vulnerable minority that in the last year alone has been the subject of a hateful campaign by the British media, both nationally and locally here in Leeds.”

Former University of Hull student Dame Jenni became embroiled in a row about transphobia after she wrote a piece in the Sunday Times Magazine which questioned whether things like make-up, clothes or even a sex change allow people who are born male to claim womanhood.

In it, she criticised transgender broadcaster India Willoughby for implying that women in hospitality roles should shave their legs as not doing so was dirty, and the late Rev Carol Stone, the first serving priest of the Church of England to transition from male to female, for being ignorant of gender politics.

Dame Jenni wrote of her ‘fury that a male-to-female transsexual could be so ignorant of the politics that have preoccupied women for centuries’.

The open letter says the way Dame Jenni has spoken and written about transgender women are examples of her transphobia.

Dame Jenni has previously pulled out of a talk at Oxford University after students objected.

Carl Hutton, chair of Leeds Lit Fest steering group and CEO of The Leeds Library, said: “The Library took the decision to invite her after careful consideration and it is a decision both the Leeds Library and Leeds Lit Fest stand by. When Jenni Murray was invited, we were aware that the invitation would not be welcomed by everyone.

“However both The Leeds Library and Leeds Lit Fest seek to promote discussion on issues, to open up rather than close down debate.

“Inviting someone to speak at the Leeds Library does not mean that the Library or Leeds Lit Fest agree with or endorse their views.

“But it does mean we believe they have a right to be heard.

He added: “No one associated with either The Leeds Library or Leeds Lit Fest condone transphobia or other forms of discrimination and we welcome everyone to our public events.”

A representative of Dame Jenni has been contacted for comment.