To register our disquiet

Today in the Times:

Mick Hartley shares the letter:

The LGBT charity Stonewall has a Diversity Champions programme, which UK universities are rushing to associate themselves with, thereby demonstrating their commitment to inclusivity and the battle against transphobia. Hidden away near the bottom of the Sunday Times letters page today, a large number of academics – mostly women – express their concerns:

As academics we are writing to register our disquiet over the inappropriately close relationship between the LGBT charity Stonewall and UK universities, via the Stonewall Diversity Champions programme.

The membership requirements of this programme are in tension with academic freedom. For instance, university members must instigate specialist trans policies, in addition to general equality policies, which outlaw “transphobic” teaching and research material but offer no clear definition of what would count as such.

“Transphobic” and “transphobia” never are clearly defined, are they, probably because if the definition were clearly spelled out, too many people would see how bonkers it is. It’s considered “transphobic” to say [write, teach] that men are not women.

Alongside Stonewall’s definition of transphobia as including any “denial/refusal to accept . . . gender identity”, this leaves academics unable to question the contested notion of “gender identity” without fear of sanction.

That’s no accident. They don’t want us to question the contested notion of “gender identity”; they don’t want “gender identity” to be called a contested notion, we’re supposed to call it an absolute and unquestioned fact.

Equally, Stonewall’s guidance advises against inviting any speaker to a university who would deny “that trans people are the gender they say they are”. This is a further unacceptable restriction upon free academic debate.

You know…this item is one of the things I hate about the dogma the absolute most, this idiotic insistence that what people say they are should never be questioned. That is bullshit. Of course we can question what people say they are! They can get it wrong, and they can lie; they can even do both. They can, we can, everybody can – we can all be wrong about what we are.

People can’t just show up at universities and “say they are” professors and hijack the nearest lecture room. People can’t show up at your house and “say they are” your best friend and invited to dinner. People can’t “say they are” stable geniuses and expect to be listened to with attention and reverence. The whole idea that this is some core principle of enlightened political thinking is a massive con game.

The programme requires staff to undergo “trans awareness training”, during which tendentious and anti-scientific claims are presented to academics as objective fact, without the opportunity for scrutiny: for instance, that “gender is how people interpret and view themselves” and that “1 in 100 are born with an intersex trait”. In our teaching, we’re exhorted to “ask the pronouns” of students. Yet many of us would deny that pronouns refer to an inner feeling of gender identity, and wish to say so.

There are other areas that some of us wish to explore and question, such as the ramifications of Stonewall’s new doctrine that female-attracted trans women, with penises, are “lesbians”; an “affirmation model” for gender-questioning children; and the social changes caused by opening up women-only spaces to self-identified women. It is imperative to interrogate the radical shifts in thinking that all this implies, but we feel inhibited from doing so in the intimidating atmosphere produced by Stonewall’s influence.

We therefore urge Stonewall to clarify that it fully supports academic freedom of thought. Failing this, we ask universities to sever their links with this organisation altogether.

Signed by:

Prof Kathleen Stock, University of Sussex; Dr Katie Alcock, Lancaster University; Dr Sophie Allen, Keele University; Prof Rosemary Auchmuty, University of Reading; Dr Michael Biggs, University of Oxford; Prof John Collins, University of East Anglia; Dr Madeleine Davies, University of Reading; Sarah Davies, University of Salford; Prof Catharine Edwards, Birkbeck; Prof Debbie Epstein, Roehampton University; Prof Rosa Freedman, University of Reading; Prof Leslie Green, University of Oxford; Sarah Honeychurch, University of Glasgow; Sian Hindle, Birmingham City University; Dr Chloe Houston, University of Reading; Dr Susan Matthews, Roehampton University; Dr Ruth McGinity, University College London; Michele Moore, University of Essex; Dr Kath Murray, University of Edinburgh; Dr Deirdre O’Neill, Brunel University; Christine Peacock, University of Salford; Dr Marian Peacock, Edge Hill University; Prof Jo Phoenix, Open University; Dr Laetitia Pichevin, University of Edinburgh; Dr Jon Pike, The Open University; Dr Eva Poen, University of Exeter; Kathleen Richardson, De Montfort University; Prof Sophie Scott, University College London; Dr Holly Smith, University College London; Prof Judith Suissa, University College London; Prof Alice Sullivan, University College London; Selina Todd, University of Oxford; Dr Mary Turner, University of Huddersfield; Dr Stuart Waiton, Abertay University; Professor David Pilgrim, University of Liverpool

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