Over 200 academics call out ‘trans activist bullies’ in letter of support for feminist professor 

Over 200 academics from some of the UK’s top universities have signed an open letter calling out alleged abuse from ‘trans activist bullies’.

The letter to the Sunday Times, signed by figures including Cambridge economist Sir Partha Dasgupta and physicist Sir Michael Pepper, follows months of heated debate about gender on university campuses, including a protest urging one professor to resign.

Under the heading ‘We will not bow to trans activist bullies on campus’, the letter stated: ‘This is not just an issue of freedom of expression. It is also an issue of harassment and discrimination. 

‘Universities are creating an intimidating and hostile environment for staff and students who recognise that sex matters. 

‘Most of the victims are female, and many are gay, lesbian or bisexual.’

Students who are demonstrating to demand the resignation of lecturer Kathleen Stock (pictured) have defended their decision to remain mostly anonymous 

Dr Shereen Benjamin is a senior lecturer in primary education at the University of Edinburgh, says she has been compared to a eugenicist and white supremacist for her views of gender.

During a panel debate she organised, a speaker was attacked by a protester and Dr Benjamin herself says she has been shunned by students and staff, the Sunday Times reports.

Dr Benjamin said: ‘The time leading up to that panel discussion was the most difficult four weeks of my working life. I had been called a bigot. I had no right of reply.’

Yesterday, a masked mob staged a protest at the University of Sussex, demanding the resignation of Professor Kathleen Stock.

Stock, who works as a philosophy professor at the university, has been subjected to a student-led campaign over her views on trans rights.  

Prof Stock, a trustee with activist group LGB Alliance – who have also been accused of ‘anti-trans’ policies – has been advised by police not to visit campus, and teach her lectures online due to concerns for her safety.

She has faced a torrent of online abuse, and been branded a ‘terf’ for writing that she disgreed with the ‘transwomen are women’ mantra, and calling for female safe spaces.

The term ‘terf’, which stands for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist, was levelled at JK Rowling after she disagreed with an online article describing ‘people who menstruate’.

The organisation Sex Matters claims that 80 similar incidents of ‘bullying, harassment and no-platforming’ have occurred among academics over the past five years. 

The allegations include prestigious universities such as Cambridge, Bristol, Durham and University College London. 

Outside of higher education, other professionals have faced losing their jobs after expressing gender critical views. Tax expert Maya Forstater, who lost her job after tweeting ‘men cannot become women’, won an employment tribunal in July against her dismissal.

It is believed the campaign is being led by a group of 15 students, who have previously been seen posing in balaclavas and holding up a sign reading 'Stock out'. Pictured: Members of Anti Terf Sussex hide their faces in a picture of their protest on social media

It is believed the campaign is being led by a group of 15 students, who have previously been seen posing in balaclavas and holding up a sign reading ‘Stock out’. Pictured: Members of Anti Terf Sussex hide their faces in a picture of their protest on social media

Now, the academics want the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to undertake a review of policies at universities ‘that impose a radical gender orthodoxy and discriminate against those who recognise that sex matters’.

The letter adds: ‘It is now clear that many university leaders lack the courage or capacity to tackle the problem. Almost all universities remain members of the Stonewall Champions scheme, which promulgates misleading information about the Equality Act.

In her own words: What does Kathleen Stock believe about gender and trans issues? 

Kathleen Stock explained her views on trans issues in written evidence to Parliament in November 2020 here:

  • Womanhood and manhood reflect biological sex, not gender or gender identity;
  • The claim ‘transwomen are women’ is a fiction, not literally true
  • Sexual orientation (being gay, being lesbian) is determined by same-sex attraction, not attraction to gender identity
  • Spaces where women undress and sleep should remain genuinely single-sex, in order to protect them;
  • Children with gender identity disorders should not be given puberty blockers as minors.

‘The employment appeal tribunal ruling in the case of Maya Forstater established that gender-critical beliefs are protected under the Equality Act, but universities have shown that they will continue to discriminate against gender-critical academics and students.’

Another of the signatories, Selina Todd, professor of modern history at Oxford, stated she has faced ‘harassment and intimidation’ since 2018 after she suggested that the heightened interest in becoming transgender was a modern phenomenon. 

She was even termed ‘transphobic’ by academics and students ahead of a planned lecture. She said: ‘It’s deeply unpleasant having one’s reputation and research constantly smeared and undermined and knowing that one cannot expect full and vocal support from one’s employer and colleagues.

‘When a professor of philosophy cannot go to work and do her job, the situation is beyond critical. It is an emergency. I don’t say that lightly.’ 

Dasgupta, an emeritus professor of economics at Cambridge, added: ‘When I entered academic life [in the early 1970s] the thought never crossed my mind that certain topics were out of bounds. 

‘There is today in UK universities even an attempt to regulate thought, not just speech and the written word. And we criticise authoritarian regimes elsewhere for suppressing thought. Robust discourse is at the heart of academic life.’  

Oxford University said it was committed to freedom of speech. Bristol University said it was ‘committed to freedom of speech and to the rights of students and staff to discuss difficult and sensitive topics’, while Edinburgh stated it was committed to ‘facilitating an environment where all are able to inquire, study and debate’.

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