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It has come to our attention that a letter was published in The Guardian newspaper on the 16th of October notifying the public about the formation of a network of academics who claim to be “concerned about the suppression of proper academic analysis and discussion of the social phenomenon of transgenderism” and about the Gender Recognition Act reforms. We are aware that it was signed by academics from the London School of Economics, University College London, Kings College London, Birkbeck, University of East London, Royal Holloway, Goldsmiths and Roehampton. As LGBT+ representatives from these universities we felt that it was imperative we make a statement about this.

We are collectively concerned by the precedent set by the publication of the open letter aforementioned and we want to use this as an opportunity to clarify the position we hold in relation to it.

The proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act seek to change what is currently an invasive, expensive, dehumanising, and overly bureaucratic process for trans people in the UK.

The reforms pose no threat whatsoever to the rights of other protected characteristics and do not concern access to single sex spaces, as statements from some of the attached academics would lead you to believe. We want to emphasise that the rights of cisgender women and the rights of transgender people are not at conflict with one another. We believe that the way this has been constructed in the media is a gross misuse of the struggle of women for equality as a means by which to suppress the effort for the liberation of trans people. We recognise the tactics employed here that are seeking to pit one marginalised group against another and act to serve the liberation of neither. We also assert that trans women are women and that you cannot separate the rights of women and trans people because these categories intersect.

It is incredibly concerning that the letter attempts to define transphobia without considering the input of those who actually experience it. Its analysis of trans rights as “ideological” misses the point that the experience of transphobia is something which has far reaching consequences on the lives of trans people within our universities. To refer to “transgenderism” wrongly identifies the experiences of trans people as a kind of social or political movement. Trans people are as diverse as any other minority group, with differing backgrounds, political views and opinions. Thus, the premises on which their arguments are formed are inherently reductive and inaccurate.

As students from a range of backgrounds and disciplines, we understand the value and importance of academic debate, discussion and analysis. We also recognise, however, that debate for the sake of debate, where there are no productive outcomes and where the repercussions are markedly dangerous for marginalised people, is a profoundly unethical endeavour which makes little academic sense. We have just witnessed the ways where such discussions, which have been influenced by academics, have led to the proposition to fully remove legal protections for trans people in the United States. Our debates do not exist in a vacuum, but rather have very profound and tangible implications on people’s lives and have the capacity to do very real harm. This is why we believe that any debate questioning a trans person’s legal rights, or the validity of their identity, is fundamentally unethical. We maintain that trans students should be always treated with dignity and have their identity and lived experience respected.

The release of this letter in the final weeks of the government’s consultation on GRA reforms is not incidental.

It is a strategic attack on the rights of trans students which aims to give legitimacy to transphobic attitudes and ideas.

We have already witnessed overt transphobia on a stall outside the Student’s Union at the London School of Economics, and transphobic hate speech appearing in the women’s bathrooms both there and at Imperial College London. Trans students have faced and continue to face harassment and discrimination across London universities. Examples of these are abundant and yet most of our universities lack the infrastructure to adequately process allegations, and we see an ongoing situation whereby many trans students fear their academic careers may be jeopardised by formally complaining. A report published by Stonewall and YouGov in 2018 found that over the course of 2017 alone, 53% of trans people aged between 18 and 24 experienced hate crimes, and our university campuses are not exempt from being spaces where this takes place. The report found that 36% of trans students had experienced transphobic harassment from staff alone, and that one in seven trans students had considered dropping out as a result of harassment and discrimination. The difference that this letter makes is that this kind of behaviour is being legitimised by academics in positions of authority and this will undoubtedly embolden those with malicious intentions.

We stand collectively in solidarity with trans students and staff in our respective institutions and urge the University of London as a whole to take transphobia on campus seriously.

Source for the statistics quoted: 

https://www.stonewall.org.uk/sites/default/files/lgbt-in-britain-trans.pdf

Signed: 

LGBT+ Students’ Network 

If you have experienced an instance of transphobia please use our Hate Crime Reporting centre for students.