Post-Conference Statement of Reflection
The Conference Organizing Committee wishes collectively to thank all the participants and the sponsors involved in Transgender: Intersectional/International Conference. We are incredibly grateful for the support we received in organizing such a conference. In this statement, we will present a short initial review of the Conference, including a response to feedback we have received so far. After we conduct an evaluation of the Conference via survey, we will follow this with another statement. We will first summarize some central achievements of the Conference and then address key criticisms.
The Conference was conceived at the outset as a space to hear transgender narratives with a particular focus on intersections of structural inequalities in Scotland and around the world. We sought to conceptualise and address structural inequalities in terms of speaker representation and resourcing of speakers, while recognising this is always challenging to follow through.
We are quite a diverse team, ethnically and professionally, with varied backgrounds. The open invitation for presentations resulted in a collection of 32 academic and non-academic presentations selected on the basis of merit and the diverse topics they represented. Topics from the first panel onwards included the marginalisation of trans people of colour, asylum seekers, and refugees. Other topics included issues of caste, ethnicity, poverty, and neurodiversity, for example.
We provided funding in different ways for many of our speakers, several of whom travelled internationally. Additionally, we provided a travel and accommodation bursary for those who required it. No fees were required from any speaker.
During the conference, we welcomed an audience of around 140 people. Attendees included academics, activists, artists, professionals, as well as community group representatives. Our ticketing service strived to accommodate people of different socioeconomic backgrounds, offering free attendance for those unable to pay. Overall, we believe our pricing of £4 for entry for any one day was reasonable.
We hosted the event in a wheelchair accessible venue. We responded to access requirement issues that were raised in advance by participants. We provided a note-taking service for people with hearing impairments.
While we have made significant achievements, the environment in which the Conference took place is structured by inequalities, and these were present at the event. We think it is important to address those here, particularly as it relates to some of the feedback.
The UK immigration system and the racism and transphobia of particular airport authorities in Europe created structural barriers, denying visas and access for a number of speakers. This resulted in there being less diverse representation in the room. However, the committee feel we adequately highlighted this issue at the start of the conference, including in the opening welcome speech and the accompanying photographs of speakers who had been denied access, to make them visible in the room. We then made efforts to enable the speakers to present via Google Hangouts wherever possible.
We acknowledge that certain services that we provided also raised issues. This was particularly apparent with the note-taking service designated to support people with hearing impairments. This was a new experience for us and for many speakers. It was not immediately apparent whether note-taking delays were due to technical problems in drawing on previously submitted transcripts, or other issues. From feedback from the audience, we became aware of inappropriate comments typed onto the screen by the note-taking service particularly when they could not understand the accent. We acknowledge that this development, in addition to our attempt to support the service by requesting the UK-based and non-UK-based speakers ‘slow down,’ became an issue. For future reference, we would select and brief note-takers with greater rigour in relation to the nature and demands of the conference. From the feedback of the note-takers themselves, a more systematic and sufficiently early provision of speaker notes would have avoided many of the issues that arose.
During the first day, one of the scheduled speakers withdrew citing lack of representation of people of colour in the room, lack of critical awareness of race and intersectionality, the handling of racism within plenary discussion, and micro-aggressions from conference participants. We believe that there is racism in trans and queer studies as fields of study; this was one of the key motivations for organizing the conference. The issue of representation may partly reflect how the Scottish population and racial and ethnic inequalities in Scottish universities and civil society often shape attendance, relatively speaking, for example, but we took steps to work around this. In the first instance, we sought to advertise the conference widely, especially via social media in order to reach audiences outside of academia. We had advertised the Conference via some UK email lists specifically focused on race and on migration, and internationally. In addition, we had provided funding for four African members of the LGBT Unity group for asylum seekers and refugees to participate. On the issue of critical awareness of race, we are clear that racism was centred in the first panel of the Conference, and in specific papers thereafter. On the issue of racism during plenary discussion, we feel there was a responsibility of audience members as well as organisers to address racism in the discussion, but as organisers, we have taken on board the need to be vigilant on this issue. In relation to micro-aggressions from participants, the organisers feel that while they cannot prevent negative behaviour from participants towards people who experience structural inequalities in relation to either visible or invisible characteristics, our responsibility is to provide mechanisms to receive feedback and to fully challenge such behaviour and we feel that we had a structure in place to listen and receive information about such behaviour. We believe both the organisers and the audience members were able to listen to every voice in the room albeit with some prompting from each other during tense moments. Realistically, the potential benefit of a conference addressing intersectionality is that it brings different groups into the same space, enabling prejudices to be challenged. And yet, we understand that it is often people from minority groups who end up taking a disproportionate emotional and intellectual burden of dealing with such challenges.
After 9 A.M. on the second day the invited speaker who had withdrawn posted a message explaining their reasons for withdrawal to the Conference team, and also posted the message on Twitter requesting that it be read out. This only came to the attention of Conference organisers during the first panel, and it was highlighted by an audience member during the panel discussion. A member of the Conference organising team felt a responsibility to respond in a situation where they were not aware that the speaker had withdrawn the previous day, and we acknowledge this reflected problems of communication in the Conference team. The organiser immediately provided information to enable participants to access and read the statement online, while not reading it out. With hindsight, comments declining to read out the statement should have been avoided prior to consultation. The statement was subsequently read to the Conference by a member of the organizing committee.
We then fully consulted Conference participants in a series of forums within the auditorium, including by anonymous feedback and a final 50-minute plenary at the end of the second day. This – including the need to arrange online presentations by those denied access to the UK via airport or visa authorities – required a series of changes in the schedule that confused some members of the audience. However, we did manage to provide both time for all our speakers to present – which was important to all of us – and space for people to have their say.
To address points raised in the final feedback session, and by some speakers who addressed border regimes: regarding the visa issues, members of the organisation team had already committed prior to the conference’s beginning to follow up visa issues in support of speakers who were blocked from travelling. We agree in future it would be desirable to give better guidance in advance to speakers about note-taking practices, and more importantly to be constantly vigilant about the disproportionate emotional and intellectual burden placed on minority groups of any kind in a given setting.
In this statement we have addressed the feedback and criticisms that emerged during and immediately after the conference. We are still in the process of conducting a second phase of feedback gathering through a questionnaire, which will take place over the coming week, and a response to this will be published on the conference website. We are also open to further comments on any of the above so that we might address the issues better.
We would like to end this statement with a sincere apology to any attendee who felt the conference space failed to provide them with the requisite feeling of safety.
Gina Roberts, Dominique Green, Sylvia Morgan, Kumud Rana, Matthew Waites, Valentina Aparicio
Transgender: Intersectional/International Organizing Committee
Transgender Intersectional/International Home
Welcome to the home of ‘Transgender: Intersectional/International’ – a two-day multidisciplinary conference to be held at the University of Edinburgh on 28th and 29th May 2019.
Generously funded by the University of Edinburgh’s Information Services, the Institute of Academic Development (IAD), the University’s alumni-funded Student Experience fund, the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures, as well as the Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities, and the Scottish Graduate School for Social Sciences, our conference aims to bring together scholars, artists, professionals, and activists to discuss issues related to transgender and non-binary experience, with a focus on social policy, health and wellbeing, law, the arts, digital humanities, and media.
All requisite information should be contained on these pages but if you have any additional queries don’t hesitate to contact the organising committee.