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Academia Or Transphobia?
LGBT+ students fire passionate response to the controversial statement by 54 academics
Did you know that 53% of trans people, aged 18 to 24 in the UK have experienced some form of hate crime? The report by Stonewall and YouGov published earlier this year, also found that 36% of trans students have been subject to transphobic abuse from university staff.
In an open letter published by The Guardian on 16th October 2018, 54 academics from the country’s leading universities expressed their concern regarding what they believe to be a “suppression of proper academic analysis and discussion of the social phenomenon of transgenderism”.
In a reply penned by eight LGBT+ society President’s and seven Student Union representative officers, they explain that they believe that the letter legitimises the harassment and discrimination trans students experience on campus and in the classroom. “It is a strategic attack on the rights of trans students which aims to give legitimacy to transphobic attitudes and ideas,” they said.
The academics from universities, including University College London and Exeter University state “that it is not transphobic to investigate and analyse this area from a range of critical academic perspectives.”
One of the signatories on the student response, 24-year-old Georgie Spearing of King’s College London, said they were angry at the audacity of the academics involved, who they believe were claiming that their freedom speech was being impeded. “For us, freedom speech is the cornerstone of liberation movements and the thing that we need most. And then they’re saying from their position of power that they don’t have this, whereas they’ve had it all along.”
Georgie, who is the university’s LGBT+ society President, explained that despite misgendering students and ignoring relevant issues that academics consider to be taboo, no action is taken against them. “Whenever we complain about trans rights at uni, we’re the ones that face expulsion,” she said. Outlining the current plight of trans student in higher education, Georgie highlighted the lack of facilities and healthcare available but stressed the most concerning issue is the lack of respect from university staff and lecturers.
One of the academics listed on the Guardian’s open letter, Dr Paul Sagar is a lecturer in Political Theory at Kings College London. Georgie spoke of her embarrassment when she discovered a faculty member from her university signed the statement. “Like we are supposed to be progressive and this is such a regressive view,” she said. “And for him to say this, it just shows that he doesn’t truly understand the problem and the right way to approach it.”
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minster for Women) at the Home Office, Victoria Atkins said at a Westminster Hall event in November that “we hope to have a government response to the consultation ready in spring next year.” Trans students and their allies will be hoping the government ignore the concerns of the academics trying to stand in the way of reform. Instead they’d like to see changes to the Gender Recognition Act that will hopefully make the process easier and less bureaucratic.
Words by Daniel Taylor