Transgender Intersectional/International conference – Response to Evaluation Survey
Post-Conference Survey Results – Word Document
Q1 Overall, how would you rate the event?
More then 85% of people rated the event as ‘good’, ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’. On this basis the organizing team are satisfied with the overall value of the event. However, 7.41% rated the event as ‘poor’ and so we are attentive to, and seek to address, criticisms made in the qualitative feedback comments.
Q2 What did you like about the event?
The organizing team appreciated a range of positive comments for this question, such as appreciation for accessibility, international perspectives from outside the West, and ‘The idea, the aspirations and the enthusiasm’. There were many positive comments, but for brevity and focus we shall focus in the evaluation on the criticisms raised for question 3.
Q3 What are the criticisms and problems that you would raise about the event, and do you have any suggestions for solutions and ways these could be addressed in future events?
For this question there were varying criticisms, from which we offer selected and broadly representative quotes to capture main points as follows:
One person criticised ‘rudeness’ of some audience members,
Four people criticised the audio-typists’ behaviour when transcribing talks. However, another person emphasised that the transcribers should be given the scripts in advance (scripts had in fact been requested from speakers well in advance, though not all speakers provided these).
One person criticised those speakers who saw intersectionality as only about race and gender. In response, the organizing team do believe that in light of original intersectional theory from Kimberlé Crenshaw having focused on race and gender, that a focus on race and gender was reasonable; however, we could also see that in places, more attention to other dimensions of inequality such as disabling processes could have been beneficial.
One person stated the ‘utter lack of awareness of the intersectional nature of cultural, ethnic, disability and mental health issues was literally one short step short of criminal’. They also commented for example that ‘it was entirely inappropriate to have a majority of cispeople organising and facilitating a non-gender-conforming conference’. In response the organisers can confirm that the organizing team was led from the start by a trans woman and trans scholar and activist, Gina Roberts, and that in the original organizing team prior to the conference there were more non-cisgender people than among those present at the event; also that some team members who do not identify as trans also do not identify as cisgender.
One person commented ‘I was disappointed with some of the performative nature of white ‘allies’ on Twitter who kept criticising the event and centering whiteness, instead of helping the organisers to build inclusivity and to let speakers – who had travelled from all the world, representing different narratives and backgrounds – share their expertise.’
One person criticised scheduling the final keynote too late, and also said they would prefer fewer PhD student speakers giving under-developed thoughts relative to more personal stories.
One person called for ‘an emphasis on calling in rather than calling out’, and suggested expanding the organizing committee to include groups who felts excluded. The organizing committee feels it did attempt to develop an environment of calling-in, not only in the Q&A sessions of each panel but also during the multiple forums it established upon request.
One person commented that it was unfair to speakers who were people of colour skyping in that they were not informed that there had been racism involving ‘abuse’. This is a point that the organising committee take on board; in future we would highlight relevant issues briefly to incoming online speakers to enable them to make an informed choice about continuing participation. The same person commented regarding unspecified speakers that ‘the desire to find “better” and more suitable understandings of gender in asian and african pre-colonial societies was expressed and discussed in an exotist way’ perpetuating ‘racism and exotism’. On this point it is hard to comment without speakers being specified, but interpretations differ.
One person advised ‘to have fewer well-chosen papers and more space to work through them, and especially longer breaks’, as a way to be prepared for likely conflicts. On this the organizing team feel the full programme was valuable in this event addressing new issues (especially in the Scottish context), but would agree future events might better adopt a more in-depth and focused approach.
One person commented that ‘[name of conference organiser]’s comments were very inciting and aggravating to hear’. Another characterised [name of conference organiser]’s initial response as not taking the online criticism seriously, and as ‘dismissal’. In response: [name of conference organiser]’s initial comments on day 2 shared information to enable people to read the comments on Twitter, such that those online comments could inform and be part of the ongoing conference discussion. They also made serious points about how the conference was constituted in economic terms, providing funding to enable international representation to address racial and economic structural inequalities; and also to highlight representation of people of colour on the organising committee. This was not intended as a dismissal of the Twitter comments, however we acknowledge our response was interpreted in ways that led to dissatisfaction, and we regret the effect this had on delegates. The organizing team acknowledge for future events the importance of tone and substance of communication when handling complaints as they arise during the conference.
Two people suggested mentioning with the safe space policy at the start that speakers from non-western contexts may use terminology thought inappropriate in the west, and that this should be discussed with understanding. The organisers would consider this as part of a more multi-dimensional and elaborated safe space policy for future events.
One person said ‘Everything was fine for me. I didn’t find anything wrong.’
One person said there needed to be more clarity on distinguishing academic and activist contributions and suggested ‘the programme was simply too full’, advising use of parallel streams. Another person similarly commented ‘trying to be an academic and community platform does not work’. In response, organizers agree that we could have said more on the relationship between academic and activist/community content, but overall we would defend the value of bringing academics and activists or community members together.
One person criticised lack of accessibility of the lunch room. The organizing committee feels it did everything within its power to ensure an accessible space for lunch for conference delegates.
One person said ‘well done to the organisers, i loved your energy, the way you tried to give individual attention to everyone and the way you incorporated different speakers from all over the planet.’ Another said ‘The conference team clearly went out of their way to be as inclusive and accessible as possible, and I have no criticisms’.
One person said ‘It was quite clear that many of the white people in the conference (myself included) were complicit in the racist behaviour on display’.
One suggested the introduction to the conference could have included an introduction to the meaning of intersectionality. The organizers agree this with hindsight; we introduced decolonizing theories elsewhere; we had expected some papers to engage directly with intersectionality, and the lack of direct engagement with intersectionality theories was a limitation of the conference that was a responsibility of both speakers and organizers collectively. However, organizers do feel we delivered a programme that addressed multiple dimensions of power and inequality, and we would have been able to introduce intersectionality more into the conversations if the event had developed differently.
Q4 How organized was the event?
92.6 % of respondents rated the event as ‘extremely, very or somewhat organized’, and on this basis the organizing team regards the event as a success in relation to the main aspects of organization, with credit mainly to Gina Roberts and the administration and support team at the University of Edinburgh.
Q5 How friendly was the staff at the event?
Over 96% of people commented that staff were extremely very or somewhat (11%) friendly, so the organizing team are satisfied with this response.
Q6 Would you be interested in attending a similar conference in the future?
66.6% (two thirds) said they definitely would be interested, and 85% said they definitely or probably would. This seems a very positive response.
Q7 Please provide any additional reflections or suggestions about this conference and any future conference that might be organized.
There was a very wide variety of comments, on which the organizing committee have reflected and from which we will seek to learn for future events. A broadly representative selection are below, in the sequence they appeared in the online evaluation, and we will allow conference participants to have the last word here – although in light of concerns raised about representation of people of colour and other groups at the event, we caution against interpreting these as offering a balanced intersectional analysis:
‘Please just keep going, and don’t let the detractors get you down. This was an amazing thing that you did’
‘it fell flat on its face through incompetence and lack of willingness and/or ability to intervene effectively to resolve issues before they snowballed [. . .] ‘It involves taking accountability [. . .] and ownership of learning the lessons and absolutely ensuring that it cannot happen again in a clearly demonstrable manner (Through consultations with experts, a comprehensive risk assessment, provision of competent psychological support, a sensible safety agreement emphasising compassion and upholding human rights and University values, and some kind of personal evidence of upskilling (through things like a Scottish Mental First Aid Certificate – as every incident at the conference ultimately was rooted in poor mental health, facilitation training and certification in mediation and conflict resolution skills) […] Consultation with experts in trans-equality would have very quickly told you that including transpeople in the organisation process was not only desirable, but completely necessary for the event to have any hope of success.’
In response to this statement, the organizing committee would like to confirm that it did consult with trans-equality experts at different stages in the planning of the conference. On the issue of ‘conflict resolution training,’ ‘competent psychological support’ for delegates, and how incidents at the conference were ‘rooted in the poor mental health’ of delegates, the organizing committee would include considering such factors and support mechanisms within a future risk assessment of a similar conference.
‘Thank you for running this – there needs to be more events like this!’
‘Any papers to be presented should be forwarded and transcribed prior to the event.’
‘I also think the criticisms that were brought up – while necessary – were devoid of actual practical solutions. I was surprised a lot of the time at the hypocrisy: there were white people crying out about tweets by PoC trans people not being read out, while shouting over indigenous minorities. There were people calling out about lack of PoC involvement and, to me at least, it looked like the organizers who were PoC felt uncomfortable. And, as I have experienced myself, not everyone is comfortable being a spokesperson just because they’re a venn diagram of overlapping identities. There were calls for boycotts without thinking about the time some people took to travel to Edinburgh, especially Renata Carvalho. And I’m sorry, but how are a bunch of academics meant to wave a wand and have the Home Office cough up visas? You all literally tried what you could on a first try and I would like to see anyone else do better. The world isn’t a twitter thread and the kind of radicalism being practiced by attendees doesn’t get anything done. All in all, I admire the organizers for how they responded and coped.’
‘the efforts to tackle the issue, put a lot of responsibility on the People of colour attending.’
‘having lots of very open discussions about how white the conference was is important.’
‘I think it’s important to note that you are being held to a far higher standard here than would apply at pretty much any other academic conference. I have seen far worse at conferences, handled much more dismissively.’
‘It would be useful if there were printed copies of papers available beforehand.’
‘I think that maybe a more considered response would have been helpful when dealing with the [twitter] comments but also an acknowledgement that although there were important issues in the room that needed addressing, we should be banding together to fight the bigger external issues facing our community.’
‘I really appreciate your efforts and hope the eruption of fragile process didn’t put you off doing this again.’
‘maybe create SMALL groups of people coming from different contexts’
‘The time of year for this conference wasn’t ideal for me and my colleagues since it was in the midst of exams and exam boards’
’Please consider doing another conference like this again’
‘I think a note on privilege at the start would have been useful. I think white cisgender people particularly those from privileged academic positions not identifying their position well enough and acting defensive made matters worse. I understand finding the line between reacting appropriately and white guilt is hard but simply saying “sorry we made a mistake and will do better” is always better than being defensive.’
‘I just want to thank the organizers for such an amazing conference. It is a shame that you all had to deal with unnecessary drama. I hope this hasn’t deterred you from continuing the conference as the LGBT scene in Scotland lacks PoC narratives’