Speaker accused of transphobia invited to Oxford Union

Image description: the Oxford Union 

The SU LGBTQ campaign has criticised the Oxford Union’s invitation of Debra Soh, a Canadian columnist and writer. Debra Soh is currently scheduled to speak at an online event for the Oxford Union on February 19th. Soh, who has a Ph.D. in sexual neuroscience, is described on the Union website as a “renowned Canadian science columnist, political commentator and academic sex researcher.”

Soh has been accused of transphobia and has criticised efforts to ban conversion therapy for the trans community, writing an article in 2017 called “why bans on conversion therapy are misguided”. In September 2020, Soh wrote an article titled ‘How the nonbinary trend hurts those with real gender Dysmorphia.’

In December of last year, Soh stated on a show hosted by Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham that: “There is definitely no science to suggest there are more than two genders.”

The Oxford SU LGBTQ campaign released a statement today criticising the Union for inviting her:

“This term the Union has invited Debra Soh, a Canadian neuroscientist who made her reputation studying paraphilias (that is, sexual fetishes and associated behaviours) before leaving academia and taking a hard turn into criticising the idea of gender identity, supposed early transitions in trans youth, and efforts to outlaw conversion therapy. She is not an academic, and when she was, trans health was not her field; she is hardly qualified to comment on these issues and her positions are unequivocally transphobic.”

The campaign went on to accuse the Union of trying to use controversy to promote the event saying: “…they invite a defender of conversion therapy, who has written for the far-right journal Quillette, and it quickly becomes the talk of social media, promoting their event for them.”

“That transphobia is viewed by the Oxford Union’s leadership as an acceptable belief to platform, even a reliable source of attention, continues to exemplify a culture at this university that is profoundly anti-trans.”

The statement also claims that the Union, “has repeatedly demonstrated its unwillingness to change”. The campaign further highlighted that other incidents of the Union inviting transphobic speakers occurred recently: “this is not even the first time this year we have been compelled to comment on the Union’s practice of inviting anti-trans speakers.”

The statement concludes asking Oxford Union members to consider giving money to charities that help LGBTQ children:

“If you are a member of the Union, it is your money that helps perpetuate this atmosphere. You might consider donating to charities that work to support LGBT people, especially young people, who are most at risk from conversion therapy, such as the support line Outline, youth group Gendered Intelligence, or the UK Lesbian & Gay Immigration Group, which aids LGBT people from all over the in the application process for asylum in the UK.”

The Oxford LGBTQ society supported the criticisms made by the SU campaign, stating that:

“We join our friends at the SU LGBTQ+ Campaign in condemning the invitation of Debra Soh, a known transphobe and defender of conversion therapy. It is inexplicable to us how the Oxford Union continues to fail LGBTQ+ students at Oxford, once more causing hurt and justified outrage at a speaker on their term card.”

“This is especially so given the speaker published a book titled ‘The End of Gender: Debunking the Myths about Sex and Identity in Our Society’ only last year, which would seem to suggest either an intention of the Union to give a platform to anti-trans voices, or blatant incompetence at selecting their speakers.”

The Oxford Union President, James Price, stated when approached for comment:

“I’m proud of the work of so many people for putting together such a diverse, broad and hopefully-thought-provoking term card that includes speakers across the political spectrum. The Oxford Union champions free speech, alongside robust scrutiny and debate. It is, was, and will be a place that debates important issues, and no one will ever be allowed to speak without being robustly challenged and taken to task for their views. We will always welcome the help and advice of anyone who can help us better do that, and we will always ensure, even in a virtual term, that members will be able to have their questions put to every speaker.”

This article was updated at 17:55 on 22nd January 2021 to include statement from the Oxford University LGBTQ Society.

Image credit: the freedom association via Creative Commons