The Royal Academy has U-turned in this stance on gender-critical artist Jess de Wahls after initially pulling her work from its gift shop over her alleged “transphobia”.
The institution said its decision not to restock her work after a handful of complaints over her belief that biological sex cannot be changed “betrayed our most important core value – the protection of free speech”.
Ms de Wahls discovered through a public Instagram post from Royal Academy (RA) on June 18 that her work would no longer be sold due to her allegedly “transphobic” views first expressed in a 2019 blog .
Following widespread condemnation of the decision and the possibility of legal action being raised by Ms de Wahls, the RA has now apologised and pledged to support freedom of expression.
A statement issued by the academy said: “We had no right to judge her views on our social media.
“This betrayed our most important core value – the protection of free speech.
The statement added: “Plurality of voices, tolerance and free thinking are at the core of what we stand for and seek to protect. These events raise some fundamental issues.
“Freedom of expression can open up debate, create empathy or respect for difference, it can also at times cause hurt and outrage.
Ms de Wahls said she has received abuse online over her beliefs
“This has confirmed to us our commitment to freedom of expression and to addressing complex issues through engagement and debate.”
The RA stated that it would reopen discussions with Ms de Wahls over restocking her work.
The organisation said there was a failure of communication which led to Ms De Wahls initially hearing from a public statement that her work would not be sold, and the institution has said “we should have handled it better”.
Internal processes at the institution in London will be examined, the RA said, in order to “navigate this better in future”.
The RA had been widely criticised for stifling free speech by pulling the work of Ms de Wahls, who claims to have been subjected to online abuse after expressing opinions critical of gender identity ideologies.
In a 2019 blog post she expressed the view that “transwomen are biological male”, her difficulty believing that biology can be changed, and her fears about gender critical opinions being suppressed.
Ms de Wahls nevertheless expressed her support for the rights of transgender people.
There was also a failure of communications internally which resulted in Jess de Wahls first hearing via social media that we would no longer stock her product in the RA shop.
“We will now reopen discussions with her regarding the restocking of her work.
There has been a great deal of debate around the RA’s recent communication about no longer stocking the work of Jess de Wahls in the Royal Academy shop. We have thought long and hard since then about this and the wider issues it raises.
One thing is clear to us now – we should have handled this better.