Oxford Brookes University cancelled a talk by British conceptual artist Rachel Ara on Monday, following allegations of transphobia.
The cancellation came after the Oxford Brookes LGBTQ Society sent a letter to the University’s Pro-Vice Chancellor, Anne-Marie Kilday, claiming that Ara was a trans-exclusionary radical feminist (TERF).
In the letter, the society said Ara had “openly showed support for the ‘LGB Alliance’ which is openly transphobic and seeks to isolate trans people within the LGBTQ+ movement.
Responding to the allegations, Ara told Cherwell her crime was “liking and retweeting a few tweets that someone did not agree with.”
She said: “This is an issue partly about freedom of speech – but not totally. Whilst I believe that people should have freedom of speech, they should not be hurtful. I have been accused by an anonymous twitter account of being transphobic and I think a fascist. With the freedom of speech argument, it implies that I have been these, and should be allowed to be. But I do not believe I have been either.”
Ara, who identifies as gay, described herself as: “a long-standing activist in the LGBT community (35 years) and rather left leaning.“
She said: “To be called transphobic and fascist is very at odds with my beliefs. What the focus should be on is who is calling me that and why. Who is behind this account and why are they hiding behind it – what do they have to hide?”
Oxford Brookes subsequentlyconfirmed the talk was “post- poned” as it had not been booked through the correct process, but Ara contested these claims, say- ing: “This does not add up. I have the email trail proving this. The university obviously postponed or cancelled my talk due to the pres- sure from the LGBT group.
“What was heartening is that the majority of students supported me. A few contacted me via email, and some on twitter to say they were ashamed and disappointed about what happened. The students are now organising an event to happen outside the university. They want to hear about my work – the tech and feminist aspects – there was never anything controversial.”
The cancelliation of Ara’s talkis not the first such instancein Oxford. In November 2018, journalist and broadcaster Jenni Murray pulled out of a scheduled talk at Oxford University following claims by students that she too was transphobic.
The incident comes just weeks after a slew of transphobic stickers were posted around Oxford city centre, bearing slogans of the TERF movement.
Attempts by the city’s trans community to create an open dialogue with the posters of the stickers were rejected and positive stickers placed over the transphobic ones were subsequently defaced.