Last week the University hosted a meeting of Woman’s Place UK in Exam Schools, despite the group being frequently condemned as transphobic.
Trans Action Oxford organised a demonstration on the same day to show support for the trans community in the city.
Trans Action Oxford called for the University to review its policies on hosting groups like Woman’s Place saying: “In hosting A Woman’s Place UK, the University of Oxford tacitly endorsed its transphobia.”
In response to the WPUK meeting, hundreds of people including students, University staff and Oxford residents turned out to show their support for trans rights in a demonstration outside the Clarendon building.
The WPUK panel was described as a discussion on “academic freedom and the current issues being faced by women.”
It involved Oxford academic Selina Todd, who has been criticised by many members of students and staff for her connection with the organisation.
WPUK was established in 2017 to campaign against trans rights being legally enshrined in changes to the Gender Recognition Act.
They have been widely condemned in Oxford, with a previous statement from Trans Action Oxford being signed by over 120 groups and individuals including college JCRs, Oxford University Feminist Society, Oxford LGBTQ+ Society and the Oxford District Labour Party.
Trans Action Oxford have submitted a statement to the University criticising their decision to host WPUK.
They said: “Now, more than ever, the University needs to listen to the message of frustration, empathy and defiance sent by trans students and staff, as well as those who stood alongside us, at the demo.”
They added: “The University itself endorsed and protected a group which has shown time and time again its disdain for trans identities, and its desire to erode our rights.
“To welcome transphobes into the University is to show trans students and staff the door. It is to make them feel alienated, disrespected and lacking in institutional support.
“It is simply unacceptable that the University has facilitated the spread of transphobia within its own institutions. Any policies and procedures which allowed this to happen need a swift and radical reconsideration.
“By welcoming transphobic groups and employing transphobic members of staff, [the University] is actively and seriously harming its trans community.”
The demo involved a vigil for the victims of transphobia, acknowledging the violence which many trans individuals face.
There was also music and speeches from members of Trans Action Oxford and other participants in the demo.
Trans Action Oxford said: “We were deeply moved to see the people of Oxford show that transphobia of any kind is not welcome in our city. The extraordinary turnout and enthusiasm demonstrates beyond any doubt that students and residents of Oxford stand in solidarity with the trans community.”
The Trans Report 2018 found that 98% of trans students at the University had experienced mental health problems.
Trans Action Oxford emphasized their view that the University is not doing enough to support trans students. They said: “We demand, above all, that [the University] invest properly and meaningfully in improving the well-being of its trans students and staff, because right now, it is only furthering our suffering.”
Woman’s Place UK denied much of Trans Action UK’s statement. They disputed claims that they are transphobic, adding: “We are disappointed that Trans Action Oxford have not taken the opportunity to attend one of our meetings and hear what we are about, instead of making wildly inaccurate assumptions based on others’ misrepresentations.
“The claim that the University paid for security staff at our event is simply untrue.
“Woman’s Place UK booked and paid for the venue and all security staff. The University imposed several conditions of hire on the booking as a result of vicious protests at our previous meetings in Oxford and Brighton. We look forward to a time when people who oppose our opinions are able to do so in a wholly sensible manner thus enabling events to go ahead in a climate of open, democratic debate and without the need to hire security staff for the safety of attendees, speakers and venue staff.”
A spokesperson for the University said: “Oxford University prioritises protecting academic freedom and robust expression of opinion and debate, while not tolerating any form of unlawful discrimination, harassment or victimisation. The University is also committed to fostering an inclusive, diverse environment where students, staff and visitors, of all backgrounds feel protected, valued and respected. Ensuring that our LGBT+ staff and student community are able to thrive and realise their potential is a priority for the University. We equally aim to create an inclusive trans-friendly culture, workplace and learning environment, free from discrimination, harassment or victimisation, where trans staff and students are treated with dignity and respect.
“External, lawful organisations are free to apply to book University premises for meetings and events. In this case, the University took the view that the event could go ahead, given our commitment to academic freedom and to freedom of speech within the law. University members are entirely free to participate in events like this and, equally, to protest peacefully against them. There is absolutely no question of the University, as an employer, ever taking action against staff expressing their legitimate right to openly discuss and debate their views.”
The University confirmed that they had not paid for the security at the event – these costs were met by WPUK.