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Europeans are pushing back on gender ideology

Jess de Wahls

TOLGA AKMEN | AFP

John Burger - published on 06/25/21

An artist "canceled" by London museum is rehabilitated, and parliaments have voted down bills.

One of Europe’s most venerable art institutions has done an about-face after trying to “cancel” an artist for what had been termed “transphobic” viewpoints.

The reversal, following an online petition against the Royal Academy of Arts in London, is the latest example of Europeans pushing back against transgender ideology.

The Academy had decided not to stock in its gift shop works by Jess De Wahls after eight social media users complained about her viewpoints on gender ideology.

De Wahls, in a 2019 blog post, had said she had “no issue with somebody who feels more comfortable expressing themselves as if they are the other sex,” but could not “accept people’s unsubstantiated assertions that they are in fact the opposite sex to when they were born and deserve to be extended the same rights as if they were born as such.”

The art museum apologized for having removed De Wahls’s work, saying it had “no right to judge her views.”

De Wahls urged all such institutions to “make space for disagreement.” She told the Times of London that she hoped that her experience would encourage others to stand up for their views on gender.

“There are going to be a lot more people like me who will not sit down and just take it. Enough is enough. It is totalitarian, it’s scary and I’m just so sick of it. Humans can’t change sex. Let’s get back to the facts and go from there.”

Deja vu?

De Wahls, 38, told the Times that the climate of “fear” around discussion of gender reminded her of her childhood in East Germany, where people “didn’t know who was working for the Stasi, so you wouldn’t know who you had to be careful with.”

“I was six when the [Berlin] wall came down, but my parents lived through this,” she said. “Their formative years were spent in a state of fear. That’s what set my alarm bells [off], when people started reacting this way, saying [privately] I completely agree with you, but I don’t know if I can say anything at work because I might lose my job.”

The De Wahls kerfuffle is just one example of Europeans rejecting gender ideology, or at least some aspects of it. In May, the Parliament of Spain voted against a bill that would allow people to determine their own gender. Proposed by the left-wing Podemos party, it would have set no age restriction for “self-id,” a concept that says children should be allowed to change the legal identity of their sex simply on their own authority, without any medical approval. The bill also would have allowed puberty blockers and hormones for minors and let males who identify as women play in women’s sports.

Also last month, Germany’s parliament rejected a Green Party bill allowing children to have gender-reassignment surgery from the age of 14, even if parents oppose it. It would also have introduced a fine of €2,500 ($3,045) for referring to a transgender person based on his biological sex.

Pushback is also being felt in Sweden. In May, Stockholm’s Karolinska University hospital, which has Sweden’s largest adolescent gender clinic, said it would no longer prescribe puberty blockers and hormones to children under 18.

Some observers are downplaying the apparent trend, however. Amparo Domingo of Women’s Human Rights Campaign in Valencia, Spain, attributed the defeat of the pro-transgender bills to domestic politics rather than people understanding the issues and implications and rejecting them. “Most Spanish people don’t know what it is all about,” she told the Economist

In Hungary, meanwhile, a bill passed by Parliament and awaits a presidential signature would ban promoting homosexuality and gender change surgery to minors. Only organizations handpicked by the government will be allowed to give talks on such topics in schools. Advertisements that present homosexuality or gender change operations “as an end in themselves” are also to be banned for minors.

But European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday threatened legal action against Hungary if the bill takes effect.

“This Hungarian bill is a shame,” von der Leyen said in a news conference. 

Academic freedom

Academia too is seeing a pushback on the ideological conformity that often accompanies the gender issue. 

After Essex University students complained that Jo Phoenix, a professor of criminology at Britain’s Open University, was a “transphobe,” the sociology department disinvited her from speaking there. A university-commissioned investigation said that Essex had infringed on Phoenix’s right to freedom of expression and that its decision to “exclude and blacklist” her was unlawful, according to the Economist

Pushback on gender issues in Europe is not exactly new, however. In December 2019, J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, tweeted her support for a British woman whose employment contract was not renewed due to her comments about transgender people. Then, last year, Rowling commented, “I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives.”

In spite of offering an olive branch to her critics in the way of a 3,600-word essay on her website, in August 2020, Rowling still faced difficulties. She returned her Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award after Kerry Kennedy released a statement expressing her “profound disappointment” in Rowling’s “attacks upon the transgender community.” Though she said she was saddened by Kennedy’s statement, Rowling said that no award would encourage her to “forfeit the right to follow the dictates” of her conscience.

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