Debate over Scottish Poetry Library's 'no platforming' stance continues

Debate over Scottish Poetry Library's 'no platforming' stance continues

The Scottish Poetry Library has come under fire from transgender and non-binary authors for saying it does not support the “no-platforming” of authors.

In a February statement pointing to its code of conduct, the library said there had recently been "bullying" and calls for no-platforming—a term meaning barring people from public debate—of some writers following an "escalation, particularly on social media, of disharmony".

Its director Asif Khan told the National that social media “pile ons” against some authors had affected their mental health and incomes. In its statement, the library stressed it would not work with writers who engaged in online abuse. It said: "This does not mean that we are taking sides in any particular debate but we will not be passive if we are made aware of behaviours within our community that do not align with our values."

"We support freedom of expression," the library said. "We are a values-led organisation that embraces inclusivity, collaboration and a respect for pluralism—of languages, cultures and faiths. What we do not support, and will no longer ignore, is bullying and calls for no-platforming of writers in events programmes and in publishing."

Although the library said the statement had not been made over one particular issue, a group of writers, including Kirsty Logan, Harry Josephine Giles and Sy Brand, signed an open letter saying it may "reflect serious institutional transphobia". They claimed the term "no- platforming" risked "being read as being directly about calls from trans people to act on transphobia" and media coverage of the policy appeared to corroborate this.

The letter states: "We have all heard extensive distress from our trans friends, both readers and writers, as a result of your recent communications. Despite the library’s previous work supporting LGBT+ writers and events, many trans people do not now think the Scottish Poetry Library is a welcoming and supportive space.

"We also write in solidarity with writers combating racism, misogyny, ableism and other structural oppressions, so that oppressive action can be freely spoken about. We are asking for clarification on your code of conduct, your grievance processes, and the work you do to support and respect trans writers. We hope you will take seriously the need to rebuild trust."

But around 200 other people including Lionel Shriver and “Father Ted” creator Graham Linehan have now signed a letter supporting the library’s "unequivocal stance". Some did so under pseudonyms, saying they were afraid of repercussions.

It says: "From universities to arts organisations, libraries and government departments, the no-platforming and bullying of anyone holding views not actively endorsing extreme gender ideology is destroying our cultural life.

"Scotland has always been an example of progressiveness in arts, education and culture, and we are proud that the first stand against this aggressive chilling of intellectual debate and thought has been taken by Scotland’s national poetry library."

A spokesman for the Scottish Poetry Library said: "The SPL will reflect on the concerns presented and will endeavour to engage in a process of reconciliation with the signatories and the trans and non-binary community more broadly."