Image of the Oxford Union chamber
Image Credit: NATO

Union invites controversial gender critical feminist

The Oxford Union has invited Dr Kathleen Stock to speak on her views about gender identity theory at the end of May, prompting controversy over accusations of transphobia.

Stock is a philosopher and former professor at the University of Sussex, a role she left after significant backlash towards her gender-critical views.

The controversy began in her workplace as peers denounced her opposition to proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act in 2018, which would allow people to self-identify their gender without diagnosis. 

In response, colleagues criticised her on social media, and organised an in-person protest. 

In April 2021, graduate students held a trans solidarity event to compete with her simultaneous research talk, which 40 of her colleagues attended instead.

Stock has also contended that her beliefs don’t prompt her to fight against laws protecting trans people, supporting their right to “live their lives free from fear, violence, harassment or any discrimination”. 

However, she became a trustee for the organisation LGB Alliance in May 2021, which has opposed trans rights issues such as gender-affirming care and legal gender recognition reform. 

This year, she also denounced the government’s plan to ban conversion therapy, saying trans children may need a “chance to think again”.

Stock resigned from the University of Sussex in October 2021, a decision that she attributed to attacks from colleagues and student movements such as Anti Terf Sussex, a group made up of queer, trans and non-binary students. They called for her to be sacked on the grounds that the viewpoints she espouses ‘exclude and endanger’ trans people. 

A local collective called the Oxford Feminist Union, a non-partisan group who work ‘to encourage open debate and ensure women’s voices are heard’, celebrated Dr Stock’s invitation.

They tweeted that they are “delighted to hear that [Stock] will be speaking at [the Oxford Union] this term”, holding that the event will be vital in “enabling free speech” and #EncouragingDebate”.

These views are not shared by some students. Clay Nash, a former Co-Chair of Oxford SU LGBTQ+ Campaign, told The Oxford Student that “it’s shameful and irresponsible for the Oxford Union to have invited Kathleen Stock ”in what is currently a dangerous climate for trans people in the UK”.

Nash pointed out that “hate crimes against trans people reported to the UK police have increased by 56% over the past year”, and highlighted that trans people themselves are increasingly at risk and “the Oxford Union is contributing to this”.

In comments made to The Oxford Student, The Oxford Union stated: “Stock has agreed, as per our guest policy, to be challenged by our membership”. The Union also emphasised a need to “[burst] the echo chamber often provided by social media” and make the event “a ‘mini-debate’, in which views and beliefs may be questioned”. 

The statement mirrors previous comments made by former Union President Charlie Mackintosh during a debate on same-sex marriage in the Church, where he stated that not debating LGBT+ issues was ‘Anglocentric’.

Nash also told The Oxford Student that the issue “isn’t about restricting freedom of speech or cancel culture, it’s about harm reduction” due to the potential danger of views like Stock’s.

The Oxford University LGBTQ+ Society stated that it was ‘dismayed and appalled’ that the Union had decided to platform Stock. It also added that the Union was ‘disregarding the welfare of its LGBTQ+ members under the guise of free speech’.

In comments made exclusively to The Oxford Student, the society stated that they “stand by the opinions expressed in our statement”, adding that “Stock has a history of insulting trans people, campaigning against their rights, and defending the abusive practice of conversion therapy, and it’s an insult for the Oxford Union to give her the special treatment of a platform to preach and legitimize this intolerance.”

The society also added that Stock’s retweet of their statement, in which she also alleged that the group had defamed her, had resulted in them “receiving over a thousand hateful, threatening, homophobic and transphobic messages, making clear that the movement she represents is driven by hate.”

Dr Stock is one of many prominent guests speaking at the Union this term, with figures such as David Baddiel, Stormy Daniels, and Mia Khalifa scheduled to speak. These speakers feature alongside debates on issues such as class in British politics, the commercialisation of Pride, and net zero. 

Image Credit: NATO Multimedia Library/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 via Flickr

This article was updated to include a statement from the Oxford University LGBTQ+ Society.