A Labour shadow minister has accused the Sussex University vice-chancellor of failing to stand up for transgender students, as the party wades into the feminist academic row.
Earlier this week, Professor Kathleen Stock, who is at the centre of a furore over her views on gender identity, accused the lecturers’ union of "effectively ending" her career after the union called on her university to offer "unequivocal support" to trans students.
Professor Stock has faced calls to be removed from her role
Credit: Andrew Crowley
The philosophy professor has faced calls from students to be removed from her post amid accusations of "transphobia". Last week, students erected posters around campus, calling on the university to fire her.
Taiwo Owatemi MP, the shadow minister for women and equalities, praised the lecturers’ union for making a “strong and principled” request for the university to adhere to its own trans equality statement.
But she added that this commitment was “sadly absent” from a statement made by Prof Adam Tickell, the vice-chancellor, on the treatment of Prof Stock.
Concern at activities of LGB Alliance group
Ms Owatemi said that she was “greatly concerned” about Prof Stock’s work as a trustee of the LGB Alliance group, adding that she shared the concerns of her predecessor as shadow equalities minister, who was “highly critical” of the group’s activities.
In a letter to a constituent, Ms Owatemi went on to say that the LGB Alliance – which campaigns for the rights of lesbians, gay men and bisexuals – should be “rejected by all those who believe in equality”.
She said: “They oppose reform of the Gender Recognition Act, which has long been the position of my party and to which we remain committed.”
Ms Owatemi went on to say that a number of the group’s stances – which include the view that adolescents should not be able to access puberty blockers – are “diametrically opposed” to her beliefs and the position of Labour.
However, she added: “I was clear in this letter that I was not passing judgment on Prof Stock’s academic work, and did not call for action to be taken against her.”
Police protection for professor after death threats
Prof Stock, an expert in analytic philosophy, recently published a book questioning the idea that gender identity is more "socially significant" than biological sex.
She has also previously questioned the idea that men who feel like women should have automatic access to women-only facilities such as changing rooms, or be allowed to appear on women-only shortlists or sports teams. She denies claims that she is a transphobe.
A group calling itself "Anti Terf Sussex" describes Prof Stock online as "one of this wretched island’s most prominent transphobes".
Terf (which stands for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist) is generally used as a derogatory term to describe those who believe that "identifying" as a woman is not the same as being born a woman. It can also be used to refer to people who are deemed to hold "transphobic" views.
Prof Stock, who has received death threats from pro-transgender activists, has been advised by the police to have CCTV at her front door. The police have put a marker on her phone so that if she dials 999, there is an automatic call-out to her house.
She said she felt "vulnerable", adding that the police implied she would need security guards to accompany her around the university campus.
On Tuesday, the University and College Union’s Sussex branch issued a statement which said: "In the light of recent events on campus and ensuing public response on social media, we extend our solidarity to all trans and nonbinary members of our community who, now more than ever, should receive the unequivocal support of the university and its management.”
Michelle Donelan, the Universities Minister, has said it is "unacceptable" that Prof Stock is having to be supported by the police following threats to her physical safety.
"Dissent, disagreement, debate and peaceful protest are fundamental to any democratic society," Ms Donelan said on Twitter. "Physical intimidation or threats against those with different views is always unacceptable and action must be taken against the perpetrators."