Where everybody can be authentic to be who they are

Yet another petition saying ignore those uppity women. This one is strikingly crude and badly written for purported academics. It’s also of course a crock of shit.

As academics, researchers, teachers, professional staff, and practitioners in the Higher Education sector, we are compelled to write to rebut the arguments put forward in the article published in the Sunday Times on 16th June.

Compelled? Really? Who is compelling them? What are the sanctions?

They don’t mean are compelled, of course, they mean feel compelled – which is where this whole disagreement started. Feeling isn’t necessarily being. Adults really are supposed to know the difference.

The article cited a letter signed by a group of about thirty academics who claim that Stonewall is stifling academic freedom. We entirely reject the position taken in the letter that promoting an educational environment free from harassment and bullying via the Stonewall Diversity Champions programme contradicts the principles of academic freedom.

Ahhhhh but that’s not the position taken in the letter, now is it. Naughty. Of course the letter doesn’t advocate an educational environment full of harassment and bullying.

The letter muddles the distinction between the concept of academic freedom, and the statutory public sector equality duties of higher education institutions. For the former, the right to conduct academic debates, research, and publish activities without fear of retribution by those in power, is the cornerstone of the academy. Whilst the latter relates to the institutional duties towards legally protected groups to eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation, promote equality of opportunity and foster good relations through the practices of higher education institutions. Debating gender pronouns within an academic context is part of academic freedom whereas the refusal to respect the gender pronouns of an individual to be used in class is not.

But the right to force people to refer to an individual as the sex that individual is not is an absolute right? Why is it? Who says it is? Why don’t we get to resist this move to compel us – literally compel this time – to counteract our own perceptions every time we mention This One Special Person?

Calling it “the refusal to respect the gender pronouns of an individual” reverses the agency at issue here. Respecting the gender pronouns of an individual isn’t a real thing; it’s a political invention and a way to force unwilling people to pay extra attention to narcissists. In ordinary life we don’t “respect” people’s pronouns, we just use them as a convenience to avoid having to repeat people’s names every time we mention them. That’s it. It’s just a convention of grammar. “Respect” has nothing to do with it. A politics that is all about trying to ruin the lives of academic women over pronouns is a politics that needs to be shot into the sun.

Stonewall provides a holistic and systematic approach for Diversity Champions to assess their policies and practice against each other through the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index (WEI). Participation in the WEI is voluntary but enables public, private and third sector organisations to evaluate and share good practice. This benefits not just members of the LGBT+ communities but all staff and students by fostering a more inclusive organisational culture. We are deeply concerned that a false claim of victimhood, under the guise of academic freedom, risks being legitimised to discredit universities and Stonewall when recent news and data about the experiences of LGBT+ communities show increasing levels of reported homophobic, biphobic and transphobic hate crime, harassment and discrimination.

And the solution is pronouns? Get a grip.

We unapologetically advocate for an academy where debates are intellectual and ethical, where everybody can be authentic to be who they are, and where everyone treats each other with respect and dignity.

What does “where everybody can be authentic to be who they are” mean? Can white people who feel a strong affinity for black culture demand to be treated as black because that’s the only way they can be authentic to be who they are? No. They’d be slapped down hard if they tried. Can white people who have one Sioux or Cherokee ancestor five generations back demand to be treated as Native American because that’s the only way they can be authentic to be who they are? Nope. In both cases, the rest of the world would say no, that’s not authentic, that’s the very opposite of authentic, so cut it out. But a man who says he’s a woman? Oh that’s completely different, because [insert something here]. “Authentic” my ass.

We also encourage our colleagues in the sector to challenge prejudice and aggression towards trans and all other minoritised groups. We stand in solidarity with trans staff and students and will continue to challenge views that run counter to our goal of an inclusive academy.

Not inclusive of people who disagree with us though. Of course not.

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