Conference axed after threats from transgender activists

The Open University cancels prison reform conference after pressure from militant feminist groups over organiser’s advice on transgender prisoners

March 20, 2019
Person with transgender flag
Source: Getty

Threats by transgender rights activists to disrupt an academic conference on prison reform over the organiser’s allegedly “transphobic” views on how inmates should be segregated have led to its cancellation.

More than 300 people were expected to attend a two-day conference on prison abolition in the UK at the Open University’s campus in Milton Keynes at the end of May, but delegates have been notified that the event has been called off.

The organisers, the Centre of Crime and Justice Studies (CCJS), an educational charity, did not explain the exact reason for the sudden cancellation to delegates, but Times Higher Education has learned that it was scrapped after activists vowed to target the event over the group’s policy that transgender prisoners should be incarcerated separately from cis-gender female offenders.

Its advice, published in February, follows the case of transgender prisoner Karen White, who was jailed in October 2018 for sexually assaulting inmates in a women’s prison while on remand for rape charges.

However, campaigners have claimed that the centre’s recommendations support “state-sanctioned murder”, given the suicides of several transgender prisoners in male prisons.

A leaflet distributed by the Trans Liberation Assembly – a collective of militant feminist groups – describes the “abhorrent transphobia [of] so-called respectable academics at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies” as a “sinister factor in this increasingly violent treatment enacted against trans women who are victims of the prison estate”.

That literature, which criticised “measures [that] demonise trans women as posing an inherent threat to ‘real’ women”, was handed out as 50 protesters occupied the Ministry of Justice on International Women’s Day on 8 March.

With reports that the same protesters intended to target the OU event in May, organisers emailed delegates on 6 March to say that the conference had been cancelled after one of its partners [the OU] had been “subjected to concerted pressure by those intent on disrupting the conference”.

In a statement, the Open University suggested, however, that it had cancelled the event over “concerns that discussion around this conference was moving away from its main, originally intended, focus – to debate the past, present and future of prison abolition”.

The event’s cancellation is the latest in a series of flashpoints over academics’ views on gender self-identification and whether transgender women should have access to areas, such as prisons, where vulnerable women are housed. In December, Rosa Freedman, professor of law, conflict and global development at the University of Readingtold how her office door had been covered in urine and how she had received threatening anonymous phone calls after debating proposed gender law changes.

One activist group, the Incarcerated Workers Organising Committee, has claimed that the CCJS’ director Richard Garside, a senior visiting research fellow at the OU, is guilty of propagating “sustained transmisogynist pressure” in the media by supporting “transphobic measures to segregate incarcerated trans women”.

Kathleen Stock, professor of philosophy at the University of Sussex, who has faced hostility from students over her views on gender identification, said that the cancellation was the latest example of how pressure from transgender campaigners was having a “chilling effect on the richness of discussion” in this area.

“Richard Garside’s views on this are incredibly moderate and well-considered, so if you can’t make statements like these, then something is really up,” said Professor Stock.

“People have stuck things to my office saying I am not welcome on campus and students have held placards on campus saying that I am transphobic,” Professor Stock added. “I think the worry about no platforming can be exaggerated, but it is happening in this area.”

jack.grove@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (6)

Talk about biased reporting! There are plenty of gender studies, sexuality studies, social science academics, as well as trans academics, who also recognise the transphobic comments, tweets, and presentations by the academics you have presented here as 'victims' of the 'militant' trans activists. Your article also shows a breathtaking lack of awareness and nuance not just to the structural power differentials between most trans people and academics, but It also completely ignores any of the academic discussions on ideas like free speech. Have you even read any of the things the academics have said or written about trans people? Have you look at the academic critiques of their positions? Your article reminds me of the kind of pseudo-intellectual reporting that went on in the 80's and 90's about gay people. Biased, supporting the status quo of the social acceptability of insulting and denigrating people who are different, and artificially polarising the situation by comparing different social constructs (militant transgender activist vs academic cisgender female) that direct the reader towards instinctively positioning themselves on the side of the academics. Your use of the words Axed and Threat in the title was also particularly mendacious. Shameful and shoddy journalism that does little more than serve to turn societal views ever further against trans people. I suppose I should be unsurprised though. This is The Times after all. There is a long history of denigrating trans people, and invariably paints trans people in a negative light.
It's very worrying to see this attack on freedom of speech. It's not accurate, however, to describe the Trans Liberation Assembly as a "collective of militant feminist groups". On the contrary, feminist campaigns such as A Woman's Place UK and Fair Play for Women firmly support segregating prisoners by sex, not gender identity. It would be good to know which groups make up the Trans Liberation Assembly. There doesn't seem to be any reference to them on the web outside this article.
This is what happens whenever people get so convinced of the correctness of their opinions that they become unable to even entertain the possibility that anyone could possibly hold a view that is different. Shrill screeches replace reasoned debate, and the sad thing is, it's self-defeating. The antics of the intolerant are unlikely to get anyone to change their opinion.
Leaving aside any 'bias' in the article itself or the fact we don't know for sure why the OU cancelled the event, surely the fact remains that we should not be living in a society where threats of violence should be used to prevent a grown up debate from occuring. Especially so when there are clearly good arguments on both sides, each of which is only seeking to protect the safety of a group of people. This has degenerated into splitting and projection to such an extent - a zero sum game where there are only apparent 'winners' or 'losers' - that increasingly it is impossible to salvage some shared peaceable principles. Take a look for a moment outside your own narcissism. Look for example at how N.Ireland has moved from the troubles to a far more stable compact. Learn.
So these Trans Activists are now "Militant Feminists"! Seems that there are a lot of rather over entitled narcissists within and leading the Genderist Movement! Thankfully though, the last 15yrs of Genderists targeting Academics is finally seeing the light of day and the public are becoming increasingly more aware of the mindset of this very militant misogynistic movement! When you feed a delusionary mind, it has to constantly seek validation, any challenge to the delusion more often that not leads to increasingly erratic behaviour....this is what we are seeing unfold in real time, there will be violence as the deluded come up against more and more barriers to their demands. This movement will eat itself in the long run, the saddest part is that a lot of innocent casualties are being left in its wake! Oh and Women = Adult Human Females, will win out in the end, they are the reality, the delusion will eventually go too far even for the politically vacuous leading our countries and buying into the delusion. I am disgusted thought at how stupid the Psychs have been in going along with full affirmation of a fiction....
People who change their sex by way of choice through surgery nevertheless have had years to build bone and muscle as a male. They are 6 feet tall, have receding hair lines and behave as a man in womens clothing. Suddenly we are all supposed to buy into this idea without question. We are supposed to call this person a she when the obvious behavioural traits are those of a man. Also all of a sudden we are then called haters. No stop there. Who decides to put such words in our mouths and why? Women have a right to protect themselves from this set of circumstances that arises when men have surgery/chemicals but already have enough physical strength, height advantages to overwhelm them. Who would try to silence women in such circumstances, who? The right to protect ourselves does not become hate it becomes the right to protect ourselves.

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