UEA postpones seminar by ‘controversial’ feminist speaker

The University of East Anglia has postponed a seminar by feminist speaker Kathleen Stock, a professor in philosophy at Sussex University, following threats of protest from transgender activists.

The seminar, which was due to take place on Thursday 23 January, has been postponed due to what the university described as “issues of academic freedom”. Prof Stock, who has been labelled a ‘TERF’ by some transgender activists, said she had been told that the university grew concerned after activists threatened to protest at the event. TERF stands for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist. It is used as a derogatory term to describe those who object to trans women having access to women only spaces on the grounds that identifying as a woman is not the same as being born a woman. It can also be used to refer to people who are deemed to hold transphobic views more generally.

The University, in correspondence with Stock, suggested that a transgender speaker should be invited the following week in order to respect “the views of members of the transgender community”.

This comes as the latest row over transgender issues and freedom of speech on university campuses. In November, artist Rachel Ara, had a planned talk at Oxford Brookes University cancelled after she was accused by students of holding transphobic views.

In a statement UEA said: “As a university we are proud of our reputation for thinking without borders and welcome debate from all points of view. This was a genuine deferral rather than a cancellation and we are hoping to reschedule the event. We have contacted Kathleen Stock to apologise for the late notice of the deferral and have offered to pay compensation for any pre-booked travel costs. 

“The visit, and the media coverage it has generated, raises questions concerning academic freedom and the rights of people to self-identify. These viewpoints are not in conflict. As a community and as a society we need to find a way for these opinions to be debated in a respectful way, while being mindful of the impact on individuals.”

Prof Stocks told Concrete: “I think UEA postponed it because they panicked, and because views like mine (which respectfully question the political and social primacy of inner feelings of gender identity over fact about biological sex, in some contexts) are wrongly thought to be offensive to trans people – when in fact an increasing number of trans people agree with me. 

“But Universities are heavily influenced by trans activist organisations such as Stonewall tend to obstruct critical academic discussion of gender identity. Stonewall have proposed a complete redefinition of womanhood and manhood – which has serious implications for women – as well as redefinitions of sexual orientation in terms of being attracted to gender identity, not sex – which has serious implications for lesbians and gay men. 

“Academics need to be able to discuss these without it automatically being thought of as offensive. 

“UEA is a Stonewall Diversity Champion and has stated its ambitions to be in Stonewall Workplace Equality Index. 

“I expect this has played a role in the panicked reaction, and the requirement of having a speaker with a different view the week after. This is not a normal requirement for a talk.”

A spokesperson for Uea(su) said: “As far as the SU knows, the talk by professor Kathleen Stocks has been postponed for security reasons. 

“The Student’s Union is here to represent students no matter their gender or sexuality, and we support our trans students. 

“We believe the UEA community should be inclusive and diverse, and we will continue to lobby and work with the university to achieve it.”


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Ted Tuthill-Jones

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August 2021
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