A large protest in support of transgender rights was held outside the Radcliffe Camera on Wednesday evening, in response to the ‘TERF’ group Women’s Place holding a talk in Oxford.
The 120-person group gathered at 6pm to display signs and hold speeches from activists criticising Women’s Place for depicting trans people as “monsters”, outing them, and fostering hate speech.
Protesters condemned Women’s Place through the evening as TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists) as opposed to inter-sectional and inclusive campaigners for equal rights.
Ribbons, in the colours of the transgender pride flag, were tied to the railings of the Rad Cam to “honour” trans people who have “experienced violence from TERFs and thousands who have committed suicide or experienced transmisogyny and transphobia”.
The Oxford SU’s LGBTQ+ campaign and the university LGBTQ+ society issued a statement on Tuesday evening condemning the meeting.
The join statement described Women’s Place as “one of several groups dedicated to challenging trans people’s existing rights in the UK” and claimed they have “profil[ed] trans women as male sexual predators and vilif[ied] trans activists as violent oppressors of free speech”.
A statement released by Women’s Place on Wednesday says this statement “defames” Woman’s Place and its members and “contains many inaccuracies”.
The talk held by Women’s Place concerned proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA), which would include allowing trans people to self-identify their gender and align their legal sex with their gender identity on documentation.
Under the current law, trans people must receive a formal diagnosis of gender dysphoria – the state of identifying with a gender other than the one assigned at birth, which requires lengthy assessments by medical doctors and psychologists. Additionally, they must have lived in their “acquired gender” for two years.
Trans people argue that the GRA needs to be reformed, as the current lengthy process means that trans people can’t determine their own personal identity.
Women’s Place was founded in 2017 to discuss the impact of changes to the Gender Recognition act and for “women’s voices to be heard”.
They campaign for “women’s only spaces to be upheld” and express fear that “the provision of single sex services, such as those provided by rape crisis centres” could be affected by changes to legislation.
The organisation’s statement on Wednesday denounced efforts by Oxford students to “shut down” their meeting, and called on politicians to “protect free speech”.
The statement also denied claims that Women’s Place was a transphobic organisation.
“Trans people are welcome at all [our] meetings, and [Women’s Place UK] have already had two trans speakers on the platform who share the concerns.”
One of the organisers of the protest, Jack Doyle, told Cherwell: “There are fears from trans exclusive feminists that men would be coming into women’s spaces. However, there is no evidence to suggest that that would happen.”
Doyle said that “[the Women’s Place talk] is not a free and open discussion by any means. The venue has been kept secret, and no trans people were invited to speak on the panel.”
Characterising the opinions of those who were to speak as “hate speech”, Doyle went on to say, “I don’t think it would be productive to engage with those people, so instead we are having a visible demonstration where people can see us and hopefully disagree” with Women’s Place.
A member of the trans community who spoke at the protest, Clara Barker, was invited to attend the talk but told the crowd that they didn’t think it was an equal or fair panel. They felt that the event would have negative impacts on their physical and mental health, as well as fearing possible altercations.
Nicola Williams, who represented the “Fair Play for Women” group and was one of the panellists at the Women’s Place talk, told Cherwell that she would be talking about laws and how that “at the moment trans rights and women’s rights are balanced”.
Williams said that “it is fine to have trans women in women’s spaces in many occasions” but that “sometimes when sex matters, such as in a women’s refuge, it is important to have a distinction”.
She stressed that “it is just a debate to talk about the law so people know what is happening and get some feedback”.
Regarding the lack of Trans people on the panel Williams told Cherwell: “it is difficult as there aren’t that many trans people who would want to speak.”
Williams mentioned that it was a “shame” that Barker declined an invitation to attend.
She said they “would be very welcome to come.”
Christine, a trans woman attending the event who did not provide her surname, told Cherwell that she thought the Women’s Place campaign was “very positive” as “women do have genuine concerns and they are not being heard by the political elite”.
She described the phrase ‘TERF’ as a slur, saying that she feared that “there are many more women who fear to speak up” and that she wanted dialogue and debate so that an understanding could be reached.
“I am not saying that there isn’t transphobia on this side of the argument. I think at times there is but I don’t think that fundamentally women are motivated by transphobia.”
Hannah Clark, another protestor, told Cherwell that the proposed changes to the GRA were “seemingly progressive” but that she was concerned about the way that service providers could interpret the law, claiming that “women’s spaces, women’s refuges, women’s hospital wards” could be impacted negatively.
Clark is a representative of the ‘Man Friday’ campaign which encourages women to self-identify as men every Friday to protest possible changes to the Gender Recognition Act. When questioned about the protesters’ accusations of transphobia she said that she thought this was “incredibly lazy” and that the event was an “inclusive place”.
Clark told Cherwell: “We are not saying that trans people don’t exist or trans people shouldn’t exist, we are saying if you are going to change the law you need to insure that everyone’s voices are heard…there is not a hierarchy of rights.”
One of the few men attending, who did not wish to be identified, told Cherwell: “Postmodernism has gone a bit crazy, and we are losing definitions.”
“We need to restore balance to our culture and say that a woman is actually a woman, a man cannot become a woman.”
After finishing their protest at the Rad Cam the group of activists marched to the Women’s Place meeting. Members of the group described themselves as an autonomous students who came together from both Oxford and Brookes Universities.
They received endorsement from Oxford’s racial, gender, and LGBTQ+ equality campaigns. Members included trangendered people, a women’s representative from the National Union of Students, and LGBTQ+ community members and allies.