Philosophy professor at the University of Sussex, Kathleen Stock, has resigned after students successfully campaigned against transphobic comments made by her. Students at the university’s Brighton campus protested three weeks ago against Stock, which follows an open letter penned by numerous fellow philosophy academics in January this year criticising the fact that she was awarded an OBE, as they disagreed with her transphobic remarks.
Stock has expressed her views on trans issues, saying she believes that gender identity does not outweigh biological sex “when it comes to law and policy” and has acted on these views by opposing amendments to the Gender Recognition Act which would have allowed trans people to self-identify, even appearing as a witness to criticise it, referring to transgender people as “transsexuals” and saying that she is worried about having trans women in women’s spaces.
Stock has not been pressured by the University of Sussex to resign, with the university’s vice-chancellor Adam Tickell even expressing in an email to staff that “we had hoped that Prof Stock would feel able to return to work, and we would have supported her to do so.” Instead, the decision to resign was Stock’s own, with Tickell’s email adding: “She has decided that recent events have meant that this will not be possible, and we respect and understand that decision.”
Stock said that she was sad to leave the university and that this had “been a very difficult few years” but said that the university’s treatment of her had “been admirable and decent.” A university spokesperson said: “Over the past several weeks, the University of Sussex has vigorously and unequivocally defended Prof Kathleen Stock’s right to exercise her academic freedom and lawful freedom of speech, free from bullying and harassment of any kind.”
The spokesperson defended the university’s allowance for Stock’s transphobic comments, claiming that, “rather than conflicting with our progress on equality, diversity and inclusion, these freedoms and protections are in place to support those with protected characteristics, particularly those who are under-represented or disadvantaged.”
The open letter penned to question Stock being awarded with an OBE discussed the debate between protecting freedom of speech and protecting trans people’s human rights. It reads: “We do not say Stock should not be permitted to say the things she does. We believe in the principles of academic freedom, and note that objecting to someone being lauded or honoured for their speech simply does not conflict with those principles. Academic freedom comes with responsibility; we should not use that freedom to harm people, particularly the more vulnerable members of our community. Conflating concern about the harms of Stock’s work with threats to academic freedom obfuscates important issues.”
The letter also explored how Stock’s comments can cause harm, saying: “Trans people are already deeply marginalized in society, facing well-documented discrimination, ranging from government policy to physical violence. Discourse like that Stock is producing and amplifying contributes to these harms, serving to restrict trans people’s access to life-saving medical treatments, encourage the harassment of gender-non-conforming people, and otherwise reinforce the patriarchal status quo. We are dismayed that the British government has chosen to honour her for this harmful rhetoric.”
Sussex University’s student union also acknowledged the harm caused to trans people, saying in a statement: “We have been in conversation with our trans and non-binary students, who are also extremely concerned about the lack of support and their safety — including when online, following social media abuse. A trans and non-binary peer-support group met today and there are plans to continue this from next week.
“Students have a right to protest when their rights are being questioned, or when there are discriminatory narratives about them being shared. Such narratives contribute to a national culture war which ignores the disproportionate discrimination experienced by trans and non-binary people in the UK.”
Labour’s equalities minister Taiwo Owatemi has also expressed concern over Stock’s views, in particular her role as a trustee with LGB Alliance, a notoriously transphobic campaign group. The group have caused controversy most recently after a trans woman was verbally harassed and the victim of transphobic comments at one of their conferences.
The student group who campaigned against Stock and her transphobia expressed on Instagram that they were pleased to hear the news of Stock’s resignation, saying, “This is a monumental victory for trans and non-binary students, who have protested the ways that this university has enabled transphobia, abuse and discrimination. The full weight of a colonial institution, the national media circuit and government ministers, were no match for the unity and solidarity of the queer and trans communities at Sussex University.”
They expressed that there was still more work to be done to protect trans rights, saying, “But the struggle isn't over. Institutional transphobia lives on, it runs deeper than Stock or Tickell or Sussex or any university. Trans liberation is possible in our lifetimes but we must stand strong together in the face of structures that support eliminationists and bigots.
“This has been an occasion of coming together when we needed to, and looking out for each other's safety and autonomy in ways that nobody else has. We acted as a community built on solidarity and love. And that's fucking powerful.
“You can do it too. You don't need permission or authority granted upon you from any group or individual to be able to resist, to claim your autonomy, to look after each other, to build a better world for the people you care about. Trans resistance will always overcome. United, never to be defeated.”