Scottish law student faces disciplinary action over ‘women have vaginas’ row

Lisa Keogh

A law student in Scotland is facing possible disciplinary action over saying it was a fact that women are born with vaginas and are not as physically strong as men.

Lisa Keogh, who is a final-year law student at Abertay University in Dundee, told The Times she was reported by classmates over “offensive” and “discriminatory” comments she made during a video seminar. She said she interjected in a debate to raise concerns about a trans woman taking part in a mixed martial arts fight.

Keogh, 29, said she suggested a woman with “32 years” of “testosterone in her body” would be “genetically stronger than your average woman”. She claimed that she wasn’t being “mean, transphobic or offensive”.

“This is a matter of basic biological fact and I won’t be silenced,” she said.

However, in a 2020 interview with them, Dr Vinny Chulani, director of the Phoenix Children’s Hospital Adolescent Medicine Program, said the scientific evidence to exclude trans women and girls from sport to maintain fairness for their cisgender counterparts doesn’t exist. He said there is not “really any sound body of evidence that speaks to the advantage that testosterone confers”.

“When you take a look at some of the studies that have been done on transgender females in terms of their athletic ability, it overlaps with the range that you would find in cisgender women,” Dr Chulani said. “There is no body of evidence to suggest that there is an advantage.”

Keogh told The Times she was reported by her classmates after she said that she believes women were born with female genitals and that men are stronger than women. She also claimed that she was accused of saying women are the “weaker sex” and calling other students “man-hating feminists”.

Lisa Keogh said that she initially thought the accusations against her were “a joke” because she “thought there was no way the university” would pursue her “for utilising my legal right to freedom of speech”, according to MailOnline.

Professor Nigel Seaton, principal and vice-chancellor of Abertay University, said in a statement that the university is “unable to comment on individual disciplinary cases”. But he said the university “does not and will not constrain lawful freedom of speech” within its community. Seaton said its Code of Student Discipline is in “place to address instances of student misconduct”.

“Put simply, students are free to express any lawful views they wish to, as long as this is not done in an intolerant or abusive way,” Seaton said. “To suggest that students will be investigated for stating their beliefs in a reasonable and collegial way is simply incorrect.”

He added Scottish universities are “required by law to investigate all complaints”, whether it’s by students, staff or members of the public.

Lisa Keogh said in an interview with BBC Woman’s Hour on Tuesday (18 May) that she was asked for her definition of a woman during the debate. She said she believed a woman is “somebody that’s born with reproductive organs” and the ability to “menstruate and reproduce”.

However, trans identities have always existed and are valid forms of gender expression. Transgender people have been documented in many indigenous, Western and Eastern cultures throughout human history, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).

In a February resolution, the leading scientific and professional organisation stated trans and “gender non-binary identities are healthy”. The APA’s website also explains there is a distinct difference between sex and gender identity before taking a stance in saying trans identities are valid. The organisation said gender identity directly refers to the “socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities and attributes that a society considers appropriate for boys and men or girls and women”.

Lisa Keogh added she doesn’t have any regrets about what she said. She said that she understands the university has to investigate the “vexatious” complaints, but she argued the Abertay University authorities “could have expressed some common sense on this”.

Keogh said she finishes university “tomorrow” (19 May). She said she knows that “one of the more severe punishments is expulsion”, but she doesn’t know what the university is going to do.

Lisa Keogh’s case comes as the UK’s education secretary Gavin Williamson introduced a bill aimed at ensuring free speech at universities. The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill was introduced in parliament last week (12 May). The bill will require universities and colleges registered with the Office for Students to “defend free speech and help stamp out unlawful ‘silencing'”, according to the government press release.

Universities, colleges and students unions that are found in violation of the bill could face sanctions, including fines.

Williamson argued the bill will ‘hold universities to account’ on the “importance of freedom of speech in higher education” and protect the “rights of students and academics” and counter the “chilling effect of censorship on campus”.

However, university staff and academics have questioned the validity of the evidence behind Williamson’s free speech bill. Patrick O’Donnell, president of the York University Student Union, told PoliticsHome that no student has “ever contacted me to express specific concerns about a free speech issue on campus”. He argued students were “more concerned about the woeful lack of government financial support”.

Jonathan Grant, a professor of public policy at King’s College London, told PoliticsHome that he thinks the bill is “excessive and over the top”. He argued his 2019 report, which was cited in the White Paper and supporting documents for the bill, was misrepresented by the government.

Grant told PoliticsHome that there is a “conflation of issues in the debate, the White Paper that was published in February and again in the Bill” between the “so-called cancel culture and issues around the chilling effect”.

He said the issues of “where freedom of speech is curtailed are very rare, less than 1 per cent, but we do find concerns around the chilling effects”.