Equalities minister Liz Truss has backed the feminist university professor at the centre of a row over her view on transgender rights – declaring ‘No one should be targeted and harassed simply for holding an opinion’.
Police have warned the University of Sussex’s Philosophy professor Kathleen Stock to stay away from campus and teach online over the storm.
Prof Stock has written in her academic work and also online that people cannot change their biological sex.
Her critics have accused her of being transphobic and tensions have continued to escalate in recent weeks with the return of university students.
Banners saying ‘Stock Out’ have been held alongside burning flares and scores of people have been criticising her under the Twitter hashtag #ShameOnSussexUni – although many others have been using it to support her.
But Prof Stock was last week supported by the head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Baroness Falkner of Margravine, who called the attacks disgraceful.
And she received a further boost over the weekend courtesy of Ms Truss who added her approval to Baroness Falkner’s thoughts.
The minister tweeted: ‘Fully support this letter from the chair of the equality and human rights commission – no one should be targeted and harassed simply for holding an opinion.’
Ms Truss tweeted ‘No one should be targeted and harassed simply for holding an opinion’
Kathleen Stock, a Philosophy professor at the University of Sussex, was targeted by mob
The Equalities Minister said people should not be hassled over holding an opinion
Online, Prof Stock has been targeted with abuse from users who say she is ‘on the wrong side of history’. One post shared a picture of a man with a gun captioned ‘Kathleen Stock rest your weary head.’
Police have become so concerned for her safety that the 48-year-old has been given access to a hotline to call.
Now, Stock, who was awarded an OBE earlier this year, says she ‘fears for the future’ and is questioning her career.
‘I feel very on edge and a bit mad,’ she told The Times. ‘I am not sleeping very well. It is surreal.
‘When I think about my future, I do not know how that looks. How can I walk around Sussex?
‘[The police] have advised me to have cameras on my front door. They have given me advice about moving around. They have put a marker on my phone, if I phone 999 there is an automatic call-out to my house.
Online, she has been targeted with abuse from users who say she is ‘on the wrong side of history’ while posters are put up around campus campaigning for her dismissal
Banners saying ‘Stock Out’ have been held alongside burning flares and scores of people have been criticising her under the Twitter hashtag #ShameOnSussexUni
In her own words: What does Kathleen Stock believe about gender and trans issues?
Kathleen Stock explained her views on trans issues in written evidence to Parliament in November 2020 here:
- Womanhood and manhood reflect biological sex, not gender or gender identity;
- The claim ‘transwomen are women’ is a fiction, not literally true
- Sexual orientation (being gay, being lesbian) is determined by same-sex attraction, not attraction to gender identity
- Spaces where women undress and sleep should remain genuinely single-sex, in order to protect them;
- Children with gender identity disorders should not be given puberty blockers as minors.
‘The police implied that I would need security guards accompanying me to go back on campus.’
It’s not the first time Ms Stock feels she has been in danger. When writing for MailOnline earlier this year, she revealed she has previously been advised to take measures to protect herself.
‘Two years ago, I was shocked when the campus security manager advised me about the emergency phone system and arranged to have a spyhole put in my door,’ she said.
‘When, at a later graduation event, I was taken aside by security and told the quickest way to get off the stage in an emergency, I was no longer shocked – the experience had become commonplace.’
Recently, she filed a complaint against the University because she believes it has failed to support her, uphold its duty of care and protect her academic freedom – claims that the university is said to be investigating.
In a groundbreaking and similar case earlier this year, Essex University was found to have failed to uphold free speech after two female professors, Jo Phoenix and Rosa Freedman, were dropped from speaking events.
The pair hold similar views to Ms Stock.
Earlier this year, the Government announced plans to crack down on issues around free speech at universities, launching the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill.
The university’s vice chancellor Professor Adam Tickell said today that if any students can be identified as being involved, then ‘we will certainly take investigations and disciplinary action as appropriate under our regulations’
Attention on her views has intensified since her book Material Girls came out in May
The Bill aims to end ‘no-platforming’ on campuses by giving a regulator the power to issue fines, giving the Office for Students (OfS) a mandate to promote the importance of ‘freedom of speech within the law’ and ‘academic freedom for academic staff’ at universities.
The OfS has the power to fine institutions and student unions for breaching new duties designed to foster ‘a culture of open and robust intellectual debate’.
People who believe their freedom of speech has been impinged also have the power to go to court to seek financial compensation.
Ms Stock has repeatedly insisted in the past that she is not a transphobe, but attention on her views has intensified since her book Material Girls came out in May.
She has written and spoken extensively about sex and gender identity – arguing that womanhood and manhood reflect biological sex, not gender or gender identity.
Ms Stock also claims trans women are not women; and sexual orientation is determined by same-sex attraction, not attraction to gender identity.
And she wants a ban on transgender women in women’s changing rooms, saying in 2018 that ‘many trans women are still males with male genitalia’.
The first waves of criticism about her views on gender first emerged in 2018, from some students and some of Ms Stock’s colleagues at the university.
For the past three years, Ms Stock has argued that men cannot become women by surgery, and that it is important to protect women-only spaces in places such as prisons and refuges.
Writing for MailOnline earlier this year, Ms Stock said: ‘From placing trans women – some of them sex offenders – in female prisons, to the rise of ‘gender-neutral’ toilets and changing rooms, to trans women being placed on shortlists for women’s prizes and a rethink of women’s sport, the alterations have been rapid and seismic.
‘The Stonewall campaign group has been particularly influential with its simple and powerful message – that trans people are an intensely vulnerable minority and that to help them, we must recognise individuals’ ‘gender identity’, not biological sex, wherever possible.
‘Government departments, the judiciary, media organisations, schools and – most significantly for me – universities have embraced this message. I abhor discrimination against trans people but I also believe we should be free to examine the effects of changes, including any costs to women and the rights of gay people, and to the health of children wishing to change gender.
‘As a lesbian with teenage children, these topics are close to my heart. As an academic philosopher whose job it is to investigate truth, they are even closer. I believe we should be free to discuss these things in public.’
Earlier this week, Sussex University’s vice-chancellor Professor Adam Tickell stood up in support of Ms Stock, telling the BBC Radio 4 that staff have ‘an untrammelled right to say and believe what they think’.
‘I have to say I am really concerned that we have masked protesters, putting up posters, calling for the sacking of somebody for exercising her rights to articulate her views, and it is a matter of real concern,’ he said.
When asked what will happen if those protesting are students, he said: ‘If they’re students, and we can identify them, we will certainly take investigations and disciplinary action, as appropriate under our regulations.
‘I think we have to be really careful in universities and in society in general to ensure that we do everything to make sure that where we have very, very complicated and different views that we find the space to allow people to articulate those views,’ he added.
‘I think what we have to do is we have to listen to people. We have very strong policies both on freedom of speech and on inclusion. And I think the trouble we’ve got is that people aren’t prepared to stop and think and listen, rather than to just shout.’
Ms Stock, who has also been backed by Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch, praised him for speaking out in support of her ‘academic freedom.’
Ms Stock isn’t the first person in the public eye to be condemned for her views.
In June 2020, author JK Rowling was accused of being ‘transphobic’ after insisting only women experience menstruation
In June 2020, author JK Rowling was accused of being ‘transphobic’ after insisting only women experience menstruation. She had challenged an article entitled: ‘Opinion: Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate.’
Taking issue with the phrasing, she copied a link to the article and posted above it on Twitter: ‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?’
Amid the backlash she later posted: ‘I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. It isn’t hate to speak the truth.’
It also comes after medical journal The Lancet was accused of using the phrase ‘bodies with vaginas’ in lieu of the word ‘female’, which later saw editor Richard Horton apologise for conveying the impression that ‘we have de-humanised and marginalised women’.
Earlier this week, students at Sussex University criticised the professor’s views.
Speaking to the Times, Rees, 20, a student with a transgender girlfriend, said: ‘I do not think she should be working at the university. Trans people are a marginalised group in society and institutions simply do not care about trans people. People I love very much are trans and are clearly upset by Professor Stock.
‘There is the matter of academic freedom but these things should have limits. If someone wanted to espouse racist rhetoric in a lecture hall, should they be allowed to because of academic freedom?’
Despite the backlash, Ms Stock has stuck by her words.
‘I do not regret doing this,’ she said. ‘I admire everyone taking risks to speak out.’