Greer Union debate provokes protest

A protest took place last night in the Oxford Union debate chamber against the platforming of Germaine Greer and her views on trans issues, and of Peter Hitchens, labelled “deeply racist” by the small group of protesters.

A flyer was handed out for students to read from over the top of Greer during her speech, condemning the Union, saying it “thrives off controversy” and Greer and Hitchens’ views.

The Union closed the gallery for the debate for fear of objects and liquids being thrown down on the speakers.

The Oxford Union defended their invitation, offering Cherwell the following statement in advance of the debate and protest, “The Oxford Union exists to uphold freedom of speech, inviting people of all opinions to participate in our events. This commitment continues to this day; as such, the Oxford Union is happy that Germaine Greer was able to accept our invitation to speak on the subject of the state’s recognition of marriage. “We hope that many students will attend to support or challenge her in our historic debating chamber which itself was built to promote free speech.”

However, OUSU Trans Officer Elliot Parrott stated, “What many don’t understand about people like Germaine Greer is that her views aren’t just part of a purely intellectual debate that have little bearing on real life – her views cause genuine damage to trans people, and to trans women in particular.

“By inviting her to speak, the Union isn’t trying to promote actual discussion on marriage or gender politics, it’s just seeking out controversy for controversy’s sake and demonstrating yet again that it cares more about being edgy than about student welfare; it’s saying ‘publicity matters more to us that trans lives do’.”

The debate also featured Peter Hitchens, his second Union appearance in two academic years, a self-described Burkean conservative who is a vocal critic of same-sex marriage.

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Kiran Benipal, ex-Co-Chair of the Campaign for Racial Awareness and Equality, had written publicly on Facebook a few hours ahead of the debate, saying “Germaine Greer and Peter Hitchens are at the Union tonight. If you want to help shut this transphobic, racist shit down [get in touch]”.

Greer had said publicly last month, “Just because you lop off your penis and then wear a dress doesn’t make you a f*****g woman. I’ve asked my doctor to give me long ears and liver spots and I’m going to wear a brown coat but that won’t turn me into a f*****g cocker spaniel.”

Lucy Delaney, OUSU Vice President for Women, told Cherwell, “We should condemn and speak out on the Oxford Union’s decision to invite Greer and Hitchens, and it is unacceptable that the anger of students, and in particular the anger and energy of transgender students and students of colour, is being exploited. These speakers’ ideas are not ‘contentious’ – they are violent. Greer’s life-long and well-documented tirade against transgender people and her refusal to acknowledge their identities as valid contributes to their oppression and marginalization.

“The GIRES (Gender Identity Research and Education Society) survey conducted in 2012 states that ‘84 per cent of trans respondents had considered ending their lives, with 35 per cent having made one or more suicide attempts’ and it is reported that worldwide, 226 people were reported as being murdered between October 2013 and November 2014 as a direct result of being transgender.

“Hitchens has made numerous racist and in particular Islamophobic statements, claiming that ‘[Racism] is an expression which appears to mean one thing (racial bigotry) but actually means another (cultural and moral conservatism)’. “Greer’s and Hitchens’ ideas do not exist in a vacuum. The Union needs to understand that its events and its platforming of such people further marginalises and harms already marginalised groups. It is not simply ‘debate’. The Union does not represent me and it does not represent the views of students here.”