Kathleen Stock dismisses protests at Oxford Union as ‘student shenanigans’
Kathleen Stock has dismissed the concerns of trans students and their protests against her views as “student shenanigans”.
The so-called gender-critical academic spoke at the Oxford Union, the University of Oxford’s debating society, on Tuesday (30 May), against a backdrop of protests from members of the student community.
Students expressed concern over Stock’s views: she has said that self-ID “threatens a secure understanding of the concept ‘lesbian'” and has spoken out against single-sex spaces being inclusive of trans women, saying: “Many trans women are still males with male genitalia, many are sexually attracted to females and they should not be in places where females undress or sleep, in a completely unrestricted way.”
Outside yesterday’s venue, a crowd waved Pride flags and chanted “LGB with the T”, while, inside the debating hall, Stock had only been speaking for five minutes when protesters jumped out of the audience and one student – Riz Possnet – glued their hand to the floor of the chamber.
Possnet wore a t-shirt with the words “no more dead trans kids” on it and was subsequently removed by police.
This evening I glued my hand to the floor of the Oxford Union debating chamber, wearing a t-shirt which said “NO MORE DEAD TRANS KIDS”, in front of Kathleen Stock during her talk at the Union. Here’s why I felt I had to take this action: pic.twitter.com/m4AC9AF8I9
— riz (they/them) (@rizpossnett) May 30, 2023
Speaking to BBC Radio Sussex this morning (31 May), the former University of Sussex philosophy professor labelled the demonstrations, and students’ concerns about their safety amid growing anti-trans rhetoric, “student shenanigans”.
She said: “It’s absolutely ridiculous anyone should say that they ‘fear for their lives’ for me saying things like 80 per cent of the population at least agree with me on.
“You cannot change your sex biologically, a man saying he is a woman doesn’t make him a woman. That’s not a hate speech. That’s just fact.
“‘I’m afraid’ and the hyperbole and rhetoric around it that I’m causing people to fear for their lives is just part of the show. It’s nonsense.”
Stock was referring to statements made by members of the LGBTQ+ community interviewed at the protest, who pointed out that her words are used by people as a justification to oppose trans rights and to harm trans people.
In one example, Amiad Haran Diman, the university’s LGBTQ+ society president, received a death threat in the wake of the row over Stock’s appearance.
Kathleen Stock laving the Oxford Union after her talk. (Eddie Keogh/Getty Images)
In response to questions about whether students have the right to freedom of speech, as much as she does, the academic agreed they do but “that doesn’t mean I have to agree with everything people say” – when, in her view, they have been “worked up” by groups such as Stonewall.
“I am very clear that trans people need legal protection under the law,” Stock said. “I want the Equality Act to stay as it is, I want them to be protected. I know trans people, I’ve taught trans people, the way that I am represented is ridiculous and that’s why they’re frightened.”
She went on to say people have not heard a “fair account” of her – despite the fact that she has been given a platform by almost every major news outlet – because they have not read her book.
Stock claimed that if people engaged with her work they would realise “we are probably closer together than they think”.
Protesters gather outside the Oxford Union during Kathleen Stock’s talk (Eddie Keogh/Getty Images)
When asked how she feels about the idea that universities are becoming free speech “battlegrounds” Stock replied that she was not the one making them so.
“Young people need to understand that they can be exposed to difficult, challenging ideas which they don’t have to agree with, no one is asking them to, but it won’t kill them,” she told the radio show.
“We need to talk a bit more about resilience and less about safe spaces and catering to people’s anxiety because sometimes when you cater to people’s anxiety, it makes the anxiety worse. People need to know they can face their fears and it will be OK.”
She dismissed concerns by students that debating their very existence with people who do not wish them to exist as “exhausting”, adding that one student who expressed fatigue at fighting for her rights should “get her iron levels checked”.
Prior to the event, prime minister Rishi Sunak came out in support of Stock, saying “university should be an environment where debate is supported, not stifled”.
The PM added: “We mustn’t allow a small but vocal few to shut down discussion. Kathleen Stock’s invitation to the Oxford Union should stand. Agree or disagree with her, [she] is an important figure in this argument. Students should be allowed to hear and debate her views.
“A tolerant society is one which allows us to understand those we disagree with, and nowhere is that more important than within our great universities.”
Activists during a protest in Oxford. (BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)
In the run-up to the divisive talk, several Oxford colleges passed motions condemning her appearance at the Oxford Union.
In response to the row, the Oxford University LGBTQ+ Society launched Oxford Trans+ Pride which offered contrasting perspectives to Stock’s talk, and gave a platform to trans, non-binary, gender-non-conforming and intersex speakers.
Following this, the event moved to Bonn Square in the city centre where protestors held a rally promoting trans rights.