St John’s Gender Equality Festival in transphobia U-turn

The committee for the upcoming St John’s Gender Equality Festival have released a statement apologising for the transphobic content of an article in the festival zine, leading to the resignation of three committee members who refused to add their names to the apology.

The article in question, written by Magdalen College LGBTQ rep Elsa Field, was entitled “What is a woman?” and expressed the view that “for a radical feminist to accept transgenderism is to accept the idea that society can create women and men, and that the very concept of a gender identity is one we can support.”

Field’s article goes on to criticise the “non-platforming” and “censoring” faced by self-identified “radical feminists,” arguing: “I object to a world where members of my community are routinely subject to rape and death threats because they refuse to acknowledge the womanhood of a male-bodied person who self-identifies as female.”

Condemned by OU LGBTQ Society trans rep Rowan Davis as “incredibly transphobic” in a Facebook status, and later in an OxStu Comment piece which accused Field of perpetuating “institutionalised transphobia,” the article was swiftly condemned by the Gender Equality Festival committee, who issued a joint statement last night.

The statement apologised “unreservedly” for the inclusion of the piece in the zine, stating that “we do not agree with platforming views in our zine that contribute to a culture of oppression and fear, even in a situation where the publication was trying to remain neutral.”

It did however attempt to deflect criticism by claiming that “sole editorial responsibility was maintained over the content of the zine and the copy was not seen by the committee at large before publication.” Ruth Maclean, the editor of the zine, as well as two other committee members – Jake Hurfurt and Max Ramsay – were not signatory to the statement. Committee chair Flora Sheldon later confirmed to the OxStu that: “those who have not signed the apology have been asked to step down from their positions.”

Hurfurt and Ramsay took a different line in a joint statement sent to The OxStu, stating: “we were not dismissed from the committee, we made an active choice to resign as we were told our positions would be untenable if we did not sign the statement released yesterday.”

“We disagree with the content of the article and wish to condemn all forms of transphobia and prejudice in the strongest possible terms,” Hurfurt and Ramsay continued, before explaining that “we did not sign the statement because we took issue with the characterisation of the author & editor in the apology, which we thought unfair.”

Fabian Apel, Magdalen JCR President, also distanced himself from the article, telling the OxStu: “I have read the article “What is a woman?” tonight and it does not represent the views of Magdalen JCR.”

Despite the furor, Field claimed that the article had achieved its purpose: “to promote and encourage discussion and debate of this issue.” She went on to quote her original piece, saying: “I do not deny the rights of trans activists to challenge my point of view. I certainly do not deny, or seek to belittle, the persecution and suffering of millions of trans people worldwide…I do object to the fact that radical feminists are being persecuted, subject to non-platforming, accused of bigotry and hate speech.”

“This is a very important topic that will no doubt be a continual source of discussion for the feminist community for many years to come, and I look forward to being a part of that debate.”

St John’s Gender Equality Festival will run throughout second week, and is set to include a “Trans 101” workshop delivered by OU LGBTQ Society trans reps Rowan Davis and Alyson Cruise.