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Activist Simon Fanshawe named as University of Edinburgh rector

Simon Fanshawe
Simon Fanshawe is the new rector of the University of Edinburgh

Writer and activist Simon Fanshawe has been named as the new rector of the University of Edinburgh.

The former comedian, who now works as a consultant on diversity and inclusion, will take up office on 4 March following an uncontested election.

Mr Fanshawe won a Perrier Award - awarded for the best comedy show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe - in 1989.

He was one of the six co-founders of LGBT rights charity Stonewall but has recently criticised the organisation.

Mr Fanshawe has previous experience of working in universities.

He chaired the governing council at the University of Sussex from 2007 to 2013 and was made an OBE in 2013 for services to higher education.

He replaces Debora Kayembe, a human rights lawyer who has served as rector since 2021.

'A great honour'

Mr Fanshawe said being named rector at Edinburgh was a "great honour".

"It is a university with a great legacy and current practice of stellar research and wonderful teaching," he said.

"The role of rector offers great opportunity to convene discussions on the most effective ways of advancing the university, its staff and students and to promote mutual understanding in the exchange of ideas."

Mr Fanshawe spent part of his childhood in Edinburgh. He went to the city's Davidson's Mains Primary School and still has family connections in the capital.

Leigh Chalmers, vice-principal and secretary of the University of Edinburgh, said: "We look forward to working with Simon and we thank Debora for her service."

The position of rector was created in the 19th Century by the Universities Scotland Act 1858. Previous rectors at Edinburgh include William Gladstone, Sir Winston Churchill, Gordon Brown and Muriel Gray.

The position is elected by the student body and the primary role of the rector is to preside at the University Court. They also work closely with students and the Edinburgh University Students' Association (EUSA).

Simon Fanshawe in 1998
Mr Fanshawe (in pink cap) campaigning in 1998

Mr Fanshawe has a long history as an activist for LGBT rights but has in recent years become a critic of Stonewall, the organisation he helped found.

In a newspaper article in 2022, he said Stonewall had become a "propaganda machine that preaches extreme and divisive gender ideology under the guise of 'factual' information."

He said the organisation's views on transgender rights had become ideological and were "fast eroding women's rights and their protection in female-only spaces, as well as posing a potential risk to children, who might be led to believe that irreversible medical intervention is the solution to common adolescent insecurities about identity."

Film controversy

University of Edinburgh lecturer in Trans Studies Dr Gina Gwenffrewi condemned the appointment. Writing on X, formerly known as Twitter, she said: "This is an outrageous declaration of contempt by the University of Edinburgh for trans people."

The University of Edinburgh has recently been at the centre of controversy over trans and women's rights. Last November, protesters failed to stop a film on women's rights and trans issues from being shown there.

Two previous screenings of Adult Human Female were cancelled after pro-trans activists blocked the venue.

The screening finally went ahead despite a protest involving more than 100 people who claimed the film was transphobic, a claim denied by the academics behind the screening.

The group behind the film screening, University of Edinburgh Academics for Academic Freedom (EAFAF), welcomed the appointment on X.

"Congratulations and thank you to our incoming rector @SimonFanshawe. We're over the moon at this news, and we look forward to welcoming you to @EdinburghUni. You're the perfect person for the role," they wrote.

Women's rights campaigners For Woman Scotland congratulated Mr Fanshawe and described him as a "lovely, thoughtful man who will be an asset to Edinburgh University."