Hate Speech is not Free Speech

If discrimination is #NEVEROK, UAL should demonstrate this instead of hiding behind performative activism and hashtags.

Dear UAL,  

We once again find ourselves writing another letter to you addressing neglect and failure to protect our marginalised staff and students. On Wednesday 24th February 2021, it was bought to our attention that contemporary artist, Rachel Ara, had been invited to speak at an event hosted by the UAL Awarding body.   

Rachel Ara has repeatedly challenged the right for trans people to assert their gender identities and uses social media to openly platform groups such as the LGB Alliance, who we believe seek to minimise the rights of trans people by actively campaigning against gender identity and multiple genders.   

We believe that Rachel Ara herself knows that her views are problematic as she deleted her Twitter history before 11 Feb 2021, including the tweets which caused outrage among students at Oxford Brookes and the withdrawal of an invitation to speak at the University in Nov 2019. 

We have been informed by UAL’s LGBTQIA+ Staff Network that Ara was given a platform at the university previously at the UAL Technicians Staff Conference in 2019. The staff network raised the same concerns then and were assured that it wouldn’t happen again -- yet here we are.   

During LGBT+ History Month, platforming individuals who are part of and highlight groups that aim to minimise Trans voices from the community is troubling and highly negligent.  We have a diverse student and staff body and aim to support communities and individuals across all the intersections of identity, but we cannot do that if we continue to platform individuals who make it part of their identity to hurt and isolate the most marginalised among us. We are now giving hate speech a place within our university, impacting the minds and attitudes of future creatives and enabling an environment of bigotry and exclusion.   

University of the Arts London may not want to be the example that the government uses in the fight over freedom of speech. But we must draw the line to ensure we protect the students you actively invite into our community.  Do we not owe it to our trans students and staff to prioritise their safety and wellbeing over reputation? University of the Arts London has the chance to be leading a truly inclusive culture within their institution, but instead they are showing that they would rather protect their reputation than pioneer societal and sector change -- for not only their own students, but artists everywhere.  

On UAL‘s website they state: “We are proud of our diverse student communities and we are committed to ensuring the University is an inclusive and supportive environment for everyone.” If they truly believed this, they would not endorse speakers like Rachel Ara and they would show some accountability in standing up for our students and being a voice for the voiceless.  

Hate speech is not free speech.  

If discrimination is #NEVEROK, UAL should demonstrate this instead of hiding behind performative activism and hashtags.  

This statement is also endorsed by the LGBTQIA+ Society at Arts Students’ Union.