University under fire for planned talk by anti-transgender feminist

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A group of University of Kent lecturers and students has launched a campaign to deplatform Oxford academic Selina Todd from giving an address on campus next month because of her opinions on gender.

Selina Todd, who has worked as Professor of Modern History at the University of Oxford since 2015, is due to speak at the University of Kent as part of a series of public lectures organised by the School of English. Her talk is set to take place in Grimond LT1 on 18 March 2020 entitled ‘Class’.

The series of talks, which have been underway since the beginning of the Easter Term, aims to spark public and academic discussions about crucial intellectual and political questions today.

Todd’s research focuses on the topics of women, feminism, and the working-class in modern Britain.

Recently, Todd has been at the centre of controversies surrounding her views on transgender rights.

She has previously suggested that “women who posed as men in the past were often lesbians seeking to protect themselves, or because they wanted to do jobs that were only available to men”.

She also recently appeared on BBC’s Politics Live calling Labour leadership contender Rebecca Long-Bailey’s pledge to expel members who express transphobic views as “very worrying… It suggests women should be defined as a gender, rather than as sex”.

Labelled a TERF (‘trans-exclusionary radical feminist’) by LGBTQ+ activists, her invitation to Kent has sparked debates surrounding freedom of speech.

An open letter has now circulated, signed by academics and students from Kent, demanding Todd’s invitation be withdrawn.

“We believe that the message that our hosting of Selina Todd sends to trans and non-binary students and staff in the university, our students who are trans and non-binary allies, and our trans and non-binary future applicants is that the school, and more broadly the university, believes that trans identity is ‘up for discussion’.”

The letter continues: “The English Keynote Lecture series is designed to represent and reflect the attitude, politics, and image of the School of English and, by extension, the university.

“The power dynamics of providing a platform to Selina Todd in the name of ‘academic free speech’ means putting trans and non-binary members of our community into the position of having to defend their right to exist.

“Her views refuse to acknowledge that trans women ARE women, that trans women’s rights ARE women’s rights.

The 44-year-old responded on Twitter saying the petition “offers no evidence of how my views or research are ‘transphobic’”.

Many academics have come out in support of Todd.

Frank Fruedi, emeritus professor of sociology, said: “Back in the 1970s, I chose to work in Kent because it had a reputation for open and free thought. I am horrified that intolerant zealotry has raised its ugly head and hope that academics with a sense of integrity would stand up to defend prof Selina Todd’s right to speak at the University.”

Spiked columnist and former director of the Centre for the Study of Higher Education, Joanna Williams, described the move as “shameful”.

“Why bother with a letter? It seems that a simple ‘BURN THE WITCH’ would serve their purpose.”

The School of English has upheld its decision to host the event.

Kent Union, the University’s student body, has reached out to the University and the School of English for more information regarding the event in question.

“Inclusivity is one of Kent Union’s values and we do not support events that enforce exclusionary behaviour, we encourage any events to be as inclusive and accessible to all.”

Todd, who has also been president of the Socialist Educational Association, recently had to be provided security protection due to alleged death threats from human rights activists.

Over the last two years, societies and schools have hosted controversial speakers that have sparked outrage within the community; including YouTuber Carl Benjamin and model Munroe Bergdorf.

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First published in 1965, InQuire is the University of Kent student newspaper.

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