Julie Bindel Julie Bindel

Stonewall and the silencing of feminist voices at universities

(Photo: Essex university)

This week a game-changer of a report released by Essex university led to its Vice Chancellor abjectly apologising for the university cancelling two feminist academics for their views on gender identity and sex.

Both professors Jo Phoenix and Rosa Freedman have views which accord with our current laws on gender identity, and yet they had a number of talks cancelled by Essex university and Freedman was potentially rejected from a job after they were labelled ‘transphobes’ by a mob of intolerant academics and students. Now Essex has been forced into issuing a humiliating apology and admitted that its treatment of the professors infringed on their freedom of speech.

So how did the university end up in such a mess? The answer clearly lies in the stranglehold that the campaigning organisation Stonewall has over 850 public and private institutions in the UK, via its much criticised ‘Diversity Champions’ programme, which has led to the silencing of feminist voices and a creeping McCarthyite culture in universities and workplaces over the issue of so-called ‘trans rights’.

The report makes it clear that the Stonewall Diversity Champions programme is in tension with academic freedom. Stonewall’s programme requires university members to ‘instigate specialist trans policies, in addition to general equality policies, which outlaw “transphobic” teaching and research material but offer no clear definition of what would count as such,’ points out the report.

‘If the university considers it appropriate to continue its relationship with Stonewall,’ the report concludes, it should devise a strategy for countering the drawbacks and potential illegalities’ of the programme.

Discussing the tensions between trans rights and sex-based rights is not hate speech

The chain of events that led to Phoenix and Freedman being de-platformed is a familiar one, including to me. In December 2019, Phoenix, professor of criminology at the Open University, was invited to speak on ‘Trans rights, imprisonment and the criminal justice system’.

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