Selina Todd’s invitation to lecture at the University of Kent should be withdrawn, because she campaigns against trans people’s rights. Many academics agree, and have signed an open letter to the University.
As colleagues and students at the University of Kent, we would like to register our opposition to this event. Selina Todd is a self-proclaimed gender-critical feminist who has been widely criticised for her arguments against trans people’s- particularly trans women’s- right to self-identify. We believe that the message that our hosting of Selina Todd sends to trans and nonbinary students and staff in the university, our students who are trans and nonbinary allies, and our trans and nonbinary future applicants, is that the School, and more broadly the University, believes that trans identity is “up for discussion”.
They say there has been no proper consultation, that trans and NB people have to defend their right to exist. As Sara Ahmed says, there cannot be a dialogue when some at the table are, in effect or intent, arguing for the elimination of others at the table. Todd’s ideas encourage trans excluders, contribute to a wider climate of intolerance, and justify transphobic violence. Todd has many platforms to spout her views, arising from her privilege which trans and NB people may lack. Transphobic speech is hate speech putting trans and NB students and staff at risk.
What kind of thing does Todd say? She complains that she has been misrepresented, the poor thing, then starts with a misrepresentation. I believe that UK law should remain as it is, with sex a protected characteristic under the 2010 Equality Act, against the claim of some trans activists that people should be able to define themselves as men or as women simply by describing themselves as such. Gender recognition reform will not affect the Equality Act, which already protects those who have decided to transition in their true gender. She implies transition is a silly whim rather than a terrifying but necessary striving for freedom to be ourselves. She goes on to claim that trans rights are “highly socially conservative”. She should tell that to her social conservative allies. Her page headed My Feminism currently only mentions trans issues, as if equal pay, VAWG or reproductive rights do not matter to her. Not everything she writes is harmful: I found her essay on refusing to be overworked interesting.
The public lecture comes under Colonial and Postcolonial Studies. In October, David Olusoga and Razia Iqbal spoke on Empire. Todd’s title is Women and Social Class. The University has put out a statement that Her visit is in conformity with the University’s Code of Practice concerning Freedom of Speech, External Speakers and Events. They link to their Student trans support policy, which specifically includes those who do not seek medical treatment, and nonbinary people. It recognises people might transition at University: The University recognises that the period of transition can be very complex and difficult for the student, and wishes to act in a supportive and sensitive way to ease any transition period. It’s a 37 page policy. As Sara Ahmed says, having a good policy document can be an end in itself- asserted to be proof that they are trans-accepting rather than a pledge to take useful action.
The Universities and College Union election candidates have made a joint statement on Academic Freedom and Trans Inclusion. The right of transgender, non-binary, and gender diverse people to self-identify in no way threatens academic freedom. Claims to the contrary not only undermine the dignity of our colleagues and students but also divert attention from those forces which are increasingly undermining academic freedom in the United Kingdom. They show that media stories do not show the real threats to academic freedom, from the ways academics are managed, but made up threats in a way that undermines the dignity and threatens the safety of transgender, non-binary and gender-diverse people.
29 February: Todd was kicked off the platform of the Women’s Liberation Conference in Oxford, because feminist trans allies threatened to boycott the event. Lola Olufemi, not a trans woman, said, I have seen first-hand how middle-class white women with social capital have used their gatekeeping power to harass trans people, threaten them with defamation, actively work to curtail their rights, refused to extend solidarity, and then claim victimhood… Resist this imposed culture war, and practise a feminism that recognises that trans liberation is central to our collective liberation. Todd made a statement, claiming single-sex spaces are enshrined in law, but “her opponents believe the law should be changed”. It is difficult to believe Dr Todd does not understand the current law on self-declaration, so she is deliberately lying.
16 February 2021: Todd was on Radio 4 complaining about Free Speech again. She’s left the University and College Union, and supports the Tories’ free speech law. Every other academic sees how it will chill debate in universities.