Sarah Honeychurch, a Teaching Fellow at the University of Glasgow, is one of thirty UK academics calling for universities to cut ties with Stonewall in open protest against transgender inclusivity training.
In an open letter to the Editor of The Sunday Times, the thirty academics cited an “inappropriately close relationship between the LGBT charity Stonewall and UK universities”, and that the membership requirements of the Stonewall Diversity Champions programme were in “tension with academic freedom”.
Dr Kathleen Stock, the writer of the letter and a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sussex, took to Twitter to express “a real worry that University management structures have been ideologically captured by anti-scientific thinking on gender identity, instigating policies which seek to repress critical interrogation and dissent.” Stock stated that Stonewall “have no academic credibility whatsoever”.
The letter went on to claim that an “intimidating atmosphere” had been produced by Stonewall’s guidance.
Dr Stock claimed that Stonewall’s definition of transphobia including denial/refusal to accept gender identity “leaves academics unable to question the contested notion of ‘gender identity’ without fear of sanction”.
The letter also laments Stonewall’s guidance against inviting speakers to a university who would deny that trans people are the gender they identify with, calling this as an “unacceptable restriction” upon academic freedom.
It also raises issue with being “exhorted” to ask the pronouns of students.
When approached by The Glasgow Guardian, Honeychurch responded: “This letter has been widely misrepresented. It is not an attack on the transgender community. It is a defence of academic integrity and academic freedom. Of course, I always refer to anybody by their preferred pronouns.”
The letter has since been the subject of widespread controversy, prompting a counter-letter organised by the University of Sheffield’s Dr Caroline Dodds Pennock. The counter-letter has been signed by over 3,600 academics at the time of writing, including 28 from the University of Glasgow.
The counter-letter begins by stating that signees are “writing to register our support for policies and practices which are inclusive and supportive of our trans colleagues and students”.
It states that while critique of policies that promote inclusiveness, such as Stonewall’s, are not unwelcome, the “primary concern must be with the wellbeing of the people subject to those policies”.
The letter then goes on to emphasise the duty of care that educators have to students and colleagues: “The vulnerability of the LGBTQIA+ community, especially young people and those who are transgender or gender-diverse, is well documented.”
It continues: “It is inconceivable that this duty should be considered antithetical to ‘academic freedom’. Rather, ignoring or denying it precludes our fellow academics and colleagues – be they undergraduate students, postgraduate candidates, early career researchers, lecturers, professional-services staff or innumerable others – from experiencing a secure and supportive environment safely to pursue their own freedom.”
Recently elected UCU (University and College Union) General Secretary Dr Jo Grady is one of 3,600 names on the counter-letter. In a Twitter exchange with Honeychurch, Grady stated: “Transphobia has no place in our classrooms, offices, or libraries. Universities and colleges should be sanctuaries, not spaces where staff and students are exposed to oppressive attitudes from those charged to teach them.”
Honeychurch responded: “I signed the letter [the original] and am also a member of #ucu I would like you to confirm whether you think that I am transphobic and have oppressive attitudes, and where your evidence is for this.”
A spokesperson for the University of Glasgow said, “We respect the right of colleagues to express their opinions as individuals. As an organisation, the University is committed to creating an inclusive culture for both staff and students and support and value the contribution of our LGBT+ community and their allies.”
If you are a university professional that wishes to sign the counter-letter, you can still do so here.
Editors’ note: The Glasgow Guardian stands in full solidarity with the trans community and we reject the argument that fulfilling duty of care and showing basic respect somehow curtails academic freedom.