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The Beehive and Parliament Buildings, Wellington. (Photo: Getty Images)
The Beehive and Parliament Buildings, Wellington. (Photo: Getty Images)

SocietyNovember 14, 2019

David Seymour to host controversial Feminism 2020 event in parliament

The Beehive and Parliament Buildings, Wellington. (Photo: Getty Images)
The Beehive and Parliament Buildings, Wellington. (Photo: Getty Images)

After Massey University in Wellington cancelled Feminism 2020 last month, the controversial event has found a new home in the parliament banquet hall. 

UPDATE 2.30pm: David Seymour has confirmed that he is hosting Feminism 2020 in parliament. “After Massey University prevented Feminism 2020 from taking place on its Wellington campus, I agreed to host the event at Parliament,” he said in a statement. “Speak Up For Women has a right to conduct what is a legitimate debate without being subject to intimidation.”

The controversial Feminism 2020 event cancelled last month by Massey University is scheduled to be held instead in the parliamentary banquet hall this Friday night. Billed as “the feminists they don’t want you to hear, uncensored”, the event is presented by Speak Up For Women, a group that is outspoken in its criticism of what it calls “trans activism” and linked to a movement of people known as “trans-exclusionary radical feminists” or “terfs”. 

Granting the group such a platform could only cause harm to an already vulnerable community, trans author Caitlin Spice said. The event set a “dangerous precedent”, she said, for future events to be hosted in parliament. “I think other groups who also have fringe or extremist views will want to use that venue as well to give them the same air of legitimacy – they’ve opened a real Pandora’s Box that could have serious repercussions for everyone.”

According to critics of the group spoken to by The Spinoff, the venue was booked for the group by Epsom MP and ACT leader David Seymour, who criticised the cancellation of the Massey event. When approached for confirmation, however, Seymour said, “the answer to your question is no”, before asking if The Spinoff was covering the passing of his End of Life Choice Bill.

Speak Up For Women rejects any characterisation of transphobia, describing itself as “a non-partisan organisation that exists to protect and advance the rights and interests of women and girls in New Zealand”. The website describes how the group was founded during a campaign against the self-ID amendment proposed to the births, deaths and marriages bill. The group is also opposed to the role of trans women in women’s sport, claiming “sport must be categorised by sex, not gender identity”.

The original event planned for Massey’s Wellington campus last month prompted a 6,000-strong petition calling for its cancellation. “The group advocate against trans rights and spread scaremongering misinformation about trans people,” the petition read. “By hosting the ‘Feminism 2020’ event Massey are providing a platform for hate and division to be spread here and make trans and queer people feel unsafe.”

The event was cancelled in October, with Massey citing health and safety concerns. Speak Up For Women characterised the event’s opponents as “extremists accusing us of hurting feelings while they’re actively encroaching on human rights”.

It has found a new home, however, in parliament’s largest function space. “The Banquet Hall is a semi-circular space designed to host state banquets and receptions,” its description reads. “Its considerable size makes it ideal for big events, seating up to 280 guests banquet style or up to 350 people in theatre style.”

The event is listed as taking place on Friday November 15. Other events being held in the parliamentary precinct include a wedding rehearsal and a mindfulness session. 

The Speak Up For Women branding is disingenuous, said Spice. “They are using the women’s suffrage colours and the word feminism but, once again, if you look at their history, everything they’ve done has been around denying trans people’s rights. People need to look past the branding and ask what they actually represent, what they actually have done and who they are actually speaking for.” 

Spokesperson for Speak Up For Women Ani’Obrien “strongly rejects” any accusations of transphobia. “We advocate for the retention of women’s existing sex-based rights and are resisting an ideology being written into policy and law,” she said. “A discussion needs to be had on balancing the rights of people who believe in gender with the rights of the material reality of females.”

Spice also said she believed the timing of the event during trans awareness week is deliberate, and that there are more productive ways to support the wellbeing of trans people in New Zealand. “Actually speak out against transphobia that you see and hear – especially in person,” she said. “Let people know that misgendering a trans person is not OK and saying horrible things about trans people is not OK. We are human beings and we have feelings.” 

During a week dedicated to celebrating the trans community, Spice said she was focusing on the positives. “I think it’s important to remember that this is a very small group of people who won’t last the distance. I don’t think you can do anything to stop the inexorable march of human rights and that includes trans rights. They will become redundant, they will go away, and the lives of trans people in New Zealand will just get better and better.”

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