Trans rights activists halt gender debate at Essex University The Times 07.12.19

The original article is here.

A seminar on criminal justice and gender issues was cancelled at the University of Essex after organisers said that trans activists had threatened to “obstruct” debate and discussion.

Jo Phoenix, chairwoman in criminology at the Open University, was invited to speak on trans rights on Thursday as part of the Centre for Criminology’s autumn seminar series. It was entitled “Trans rights and justice: complicated contours in contemporary sex, gender and sexualities politics”.

The event was cancelled with a few hours’ notice after a number of university staff accused her of being “anti-trans” and “exclusionary”, saying the event broke equality guidelines. It is the third time in a month that a university has cancelled an event after complaints from either students or staff who accuse the speakers of transphobia.

The university declined to comment, but its Centre for Criminology said that the seminar “was cancelled as we were concerned open debate and discussion might be obstructed”.

Professor Phoenix has voiced her concern that academics are increasingly anxious about the suppression of academic analysis and discussion of transgenderism. In her field of criminology the rights of trans women to serve their sentences in women’s prisons is particularly vexed. It has been exacerbated by the case of the prisoner Karen White, a convicted rapist and paedophile who was born a man but used a transgender persona to attack female prisoners in a women’s prison.

Tracey Loughran, a historian and dean in the Essex University humanities department, was among those who contacted university administrators to complain about the seminar.

In a tweet directed to the university, she said: “This speaker is part of the anti-trans platform. Free speech is one thing, but trans rights are human rights and we shouldn’t be debating human rights. The campus must be a safe space for trans people. There’s a speaker-vetting policy, how did this slip through?”

Richard Garside, director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies (CCJS), said universities had to stand up for academic freedom. “I hope that the University of Essex gets this event back off the ground. Appearing to capitulate to a handful of bullies and ideologues is not a good look,” he said.

The CCJS had a conference cancelled in March at short notice at the Open University after warnings from trans activists that they would protest. The university said it had faced “significant pressure” and been threatened with the event being disrupted.

On Tuesday a research conference on how transgender issues are handled in schools was cancelled at Edinburgh University amid fears that speakers and guests would be at risk from trans activists. The event, due to take place next week, was to discuss plans for new guidance on supporting trans pupils in Scottish schools.

Oxford Brookes University scrapped an appearance by the feminist artist Rachel Ara last month at the last minute after students accused her of holding transphobic views.

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