'Higher level of risk': UWA cancels controversial US doctor's transgender talk
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'Higher level of risk': UWA cancels controversial US doctor's transgender talk

Dr Quentin Van Meter, who headlined an event at Old Parliament House on Tuesday night.

Dr Quentin Van Meter, who headlined an event at Old Parliament House on Tuesday night.Credit:Facebook

Just days after defending a decision to allow a talk on transgender gender identity with a controversial US doctor to continue, the University of Western Australia has voided the event's booking.

The university cited safety concerns over a "higher level" of risk over the decision on Friday.

The event was to be hosted by the Australian Family Association in the Octagon at UWA's Crawley campus on Friday, with US paediatric endocrinologist Quentin Van Meter as the main speaker.

Dr Van Meter is the co-author of the scientific paper Gender ideology harms children, which claims "conditioning children into impersonating the opposite sex is child abuse".

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In the lead up to the talk, the UWA Student Guild Pride Department organised a protest against Dr Van Meter’s ideas — UWA responded with a letter to students saying the event would go ahead, acknowledging no decision it made would satisfy all parties and a "line had to be drawn".

But a new letter from UWA's Vice Chancellor Professor Dawn Freshwater tells students the University's Campus Management team had conducted a campus safety review as part of event due diligence, which advised that a higher level of risk was now present "which mandates a more robust event management plan."

"In line with this the private event organisers were requested to comply with the University's Conditions of Hire, including the provision of a risk assessment and detailed event management plan, which addressed issues of safety for the event," the letter reads.

"The event hirers were instructed to provide this information by 5pm on the day prior to the event, to ensure that the University was able to be confident that the event did not pose a safety risk, consistent with the terms of hire."

UWA said the event organisers were unable to provide this information by close of business on Thursday, and as a consequence, the venue hire booking was voided for "failure to meet the conditions of hire."

"The University holds firm on the principles of freedom of expression and maintains its position that it does not wish to set a precedent for the exclusion of objectionable views from the campus.

"However in this case the event hirers could not meet their obligations of the venue hire contract, providing no confidence that UWA could ensure safety on campus."

Free speech or hate speech?

Dr Van Meter is well known for his comments likening transgender gender identity with a delusional disorder; “a state of mind with no biologic basis for it that can be found”.

With a protest on campus looming, UWA wrote to students earlier this week explaining why it had decided to keep the event going.

"The university considers that cancellation of the Australian Family Association event at the Octagon would create an undesirable precedent for the exclusion of objectionable views from the campus," the letter read.

"It would also give rise to arguments that the values we hold are supported by intolerant and repressive policies against those who do not share those values.

"The university acknowledges the deeply held concerns of those who do not want this event to proceed.

"Plainly it does not endorse the opinions of the speakers on any of the matters on which they are likely to speak."

Speaking earlier this week in response to UWA's original decision to continue to host the event, Dr Van Meter said he believed the university had made the right choice.

"I know what universities are like in the US and when a contrary opinion has the opportunity to be stated, the reaction has been excessive protesting and physical violence," he said.

"I would pray that’s not the outcome here. I would be ecstatic if people with strong opinions could come and state their particular concerns and ask questions and have a dialogue.

"I have no intention of shouting across the fence, and calling names or displaying any sort of hateful behaviour.

"The university has made the right choice by letting this go on ... I think [letting me speak] is a fair thing, and I think [the university] is fair minded.

"I would be dismayed I was able to talk and the university said I could not do so."

But UWA Guild President Megan Lee said the university was a place for discussion, and not a "platform for hate speech".

"We firmly support our trans students and stand against the decision to allow the Australian Family Association to host Dr Quentin Van Meter on campus, whose message stands in direct opposition to the values of tolerance, acceptance, and inclusion that the Guild espouses," she said.

"The presence of the Dr Van Meter on campus and his opinions on LGBT+ people, especially trans people is deeply hurtful and traumatising to our students who already feel particularly targeted by transphobic discourse in wider society.

"The UWA Student Guild does not in any way endorse the message that the Australian Family Association or Dr Quentin Van Meter promote or this event."

UWA said it had counselling and psychological services available for students including the Guild’s independent support service.

David Allan-Petale is a Fairfax Media journalist and writer based in Western Australia, breaking news with a focus on arts and culture.

Hannah Barry is a Fairfax Media journalist based in Western Australia, focused on breaking news.