LGBTQ+ campaign takes down statement amid SU motion confusion
The SU’s LGBTQ+ campaign has been forced to remove a post asking the Oxford Union to rescind Kathleen Stock’s invitation. Stock is a gender critical feminist and philosopher.
The campaign had expressed opposition with a now-removed social media post calling “for the union to reconsider and rescind [Stock’s] invite” and instead “let Trans voices be heard”.
This week in their second statement about Stock, they said that their original comments had been removed “wholly against the wishes of, and without the consent of” the SU LGBTQ+ campaign.
Backing up their Union condemnation, they said that “the rights of any minority group should never be up for debate”. They also condemned the event saying “free speech should not be used to actively harm marginalised groups”.
In a statement to The Oxford Student, the SU LGBTQ+ campaign condemned the University of Oxford’s intervention stopping the SU boycott. They also criticised how “harm and hurt experienced by University members speaking out has gone completely unacknowledged”.
In a personal capacity, campaign officers maintained that they “call for the Union to reconsider and rescind this invite”. They supported the official statement acknowledging they “would like to speak freely on our views around this subject” but are unable to as a “[consequence] of the interpretations of this new ‘freedom of speech’ act”.
The SU told The Oxford Student that the removal was because the first post “went against the Oxford SU’s own policies”. The new post is now “compliant with internal SU policy and the organisational understanding of the new Higher Education (Free Speech Bill) 2023”, and they appreciated the “positive impact the SU LGBTQ+ campaign”.
This Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023 imposes stricter rules on deplatforming. It requires universities and student unions to take “reasonably practicable” steps to secure freedom of speech for staff, students, and most pertinently – visiting speakers.
It defines academic freedom as including the right “to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions”. Such a right is to avoid the “risk of being adversely affected” in respect to “loss of their jobs or privileges”.
Student unions must also ensure that “affiliation” is not denied on the basis of an individual’s “ideas or opinions” or a body’s “policy or objectives”. Those affected by a breach will have the opportunity to enter civil proceedings, legally challenging deplatforming.
This comes just after weeks of student action in college JCRs, as almost half have voted for a motion to take back Stock’s invitation. This includes St Anne’s JCR calling on “the Union to rescind their invitation to Kathleen Stock” and be a true “chamber of free speech” by “[allowing] trans voices to be heard on these topics in a non-hostile environment”.
Oxford students have also begun to sign a letter in opposition to the university blocking the SU disaffiliation. Co-creator Kelsey Trevett said that “democracy and welfare should be prioritised, not undermined by university management”. They have commented to The Oxford Student that around 100 students signed in the first two days alone.
The letter is addressed to Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Martin Williams, and criticises his “conflation” of the SU’s reasons for disaffiliation with the Union’s invitation of Stock. It seeks to uphold the boycott as “motions passed by the SU are representative of the student body”.
However, The Oxford Student has seen the full version of Williams’ Telegraph letter, which acknowledges media misrepresentation of “Oxford University’s approach to freedom of speech”. He called coverage “ill-informed” in asserting that “freedom of speech and expression is alive and well at Oxford”.
We have included this letter at the bottom of the story. The statement from campaign officers in a personal capacity is also included.
In contrast, another group of Oxford students have written a Telegraph letter to “condemn the targeted harassment, bullying and threats that the committee of the Oxford Union” received due to their “refusal to rescind” Stock’s invite.
Over a hundred students signed in support of this message, including former Union President Charlie Mackintosh, acting OUCA President Peter Walker, and current Union officer Abigail Bacon.
As part of their defence of the Union, the group “[rejected] the notion that Professor Stock’s visit to the Union constitutes any real danger to members of the university”. This is in spite of the death threat Amiad Haran Diman, President of the OULGBTQ+ Society, revealed they had received amidst this feud.
The Oxford Union discussed this legal right to free speech at a Union Standing Committee meeting, at which President Matthew Dick expressed that “Kathleen Stock’s speech and her beliefs are protected by the Equality Act and are protected by law and are not hate speech”.
Vice-Chancellor Professor Irene Tracey has spoken out on free speech in Oxford, telling The Times that “freedom of speech is what we stand for”, so Stock “has a right to come and speak”. Her view on the public discourse, however, is that it has unfortunately been “turbocharged” by social media.
The full letter which Martin Williams wrote to the Telegraph:
Recent coverage and comments by those concerned about Oxford University’s approach to freedom of speech have unfortunately been ill-informed and therefore are unnecessarily inflammatory and incorrect.
The Oxford Union, a debating society independent of the University but whose leaders and members are mostly drawn from our student body, has not been banned from attending the Freshers’ Fair. Students should be free to decide whether to join a society or club. Whilst we understand there are concerns held by the Student Union about the Oxford Union, the University is actively encouraging the two organisations to talk through the issues.
Our Freedom of Speech policy makes clear that the University seeks to prepare students to encounter and confront difficult views, including views that they find unsettling, extreme or even offensive. As a result, we do not allow the no-platforming of any lawful speech whilst also supporting the right of students, staff, and societies to protest and challenge speakers at events, as long as they do so within the law and our policies.
The University and its colleges host hundreds of events each term and we will continue to invite a wide range of speakers. So, despite what some may have been led to believe, freedom of speech and expression is alive and well at Oxford.
Professor Martin Williams
University of Oxford
As you may be aware, a previous statement from Oxford SU LGBTQ+ Campaign addressing this issue was taken down. Campaign has stated that this was adamantly against the wishes of, and without the consent of, the LGBTQ+ campaign. As individuals, we wish to reaffirm our commitment to the trans community.
We further condemn Oxford University’s intervention in this debate, including the letter published by the Pro Vice Chancellor for Education Martin Williams in The Telegraph that clearly intended to silence the democratic voice of the Student’s Union. We also condemn the letter to The Telegraph falsely linking criticism of Stock to the decision by Student Council to sever financial ties with the Union and spreading transphobic talking points signed by academics at the University including some of our tutors.
Stock is a transphobic and trans exclusionary speaker, and the Union should be ashamed that it is using its platform to promote and legitimise these hateful views. The rights of any minority group should never be up for debate.
Stock has actively worked against trans rights, including supporting conversion therapy, has portrayed trans women as dangerous and predatory, is a trustee of trans-exclusionary LGB alliance and signee of the WHRC declaration, which has been described by many as extremist in its anti-trans positioning.
We believe that the right to free speech should not be used to actively harm marginalised groups, this is in fact hate speech.Trans people are statistically more likely to face abuse, victimisation and violent attacks and platforming these views doesn’t act to protect our Trans siblings. The right to free speech does not equate to the right to a platform, especially one this exclusive, where the right to challenge these views costs up to £350.
Those that have already spoken out against this invitation have faced horrific and vitriolic attacks. We stand strongly in supporting those who are facing abuse for speaking out, and will offer support for those who need it.
It is not only atrocious that this invite has been extended by the Union, but also that the harm and hurt experienced by University members speaking out has gone completely unacknowledged.
Thus, we call for the Union to reconsider and rescind this invite, as well as for current committee members to act in solidarity with the trans community, especially as the matter has become a touching stone for transphobes to weaponise their hate online. We have seen first hand the harm this invitation has caused through the speech itself and to those speaking out against it. We are not surprised by this action as it is one they have done countless times before and call for the union to understand and take accountability for the controversy and harm they know will result from invitations like this. We demand that this will never be repeated, and call for the Union to stop platforming hate.
Campaign has stated that they would like to speak freely on our views around this subject but one of the consequences of the interpretations of this new “freedom of speech” act, perversely, they are not able to. We will join them in condemning this ‘bastion of freedom of free speech’ not standing up for our own and implore them to actually be that bastion. Platform trans voices and activism, actually show opinions that the media often shoot down and trivialise, let Trans voices be heard, beyond a context where we have to fight for our right to exist.
We stand in solidarity, as a community, despite the hurt caused by this act. We are here for support, and we stand in solidarity with those who will be there to protest.
We implore our Trans siblings to stay safe and know you are not alone. We ask our Trans allies to show up and check in on those around them.
Luca Di Bona
Image Credit: Cornelia Chen
Image Description: A picture of the Sheldonian Theatre