On Wednesday, March 3, 2021, the University of Melbourne Student Union Queer Political Action Collective organised a snap protest, alongside the National Union of Students and concerned staff members, against a transphobic website set up by a Faculty of Arts staff member. The Trans Pride Rally was also a protest against transphobia on university campuses.
Around 150-200 staff and students marched all the way to the Dean’s office carrying Trans Pride flags.
The website NoConflictTheySaid.org set up by Dr Holly Lawford-Smith, Senior Lecturer, Political Philosophy, Faculty of Arts, calls for cis women to detail their “negative experiences” especially with trans women. The website mostly consists of anonymous posts by women who claimed they feel “violated” by trans people.
Websites like these promote discrimination and perpetrate hate crimes against queer people, the UMSU Queer Department said.
“Trans women are women and we have a right to use women’s spaces. When a staff member with a sizeable platform abuses their power to spread fear, they will inevitably legitimize violence against trans women. Just today, a transphobic message was posted onto the windows of a prominent building- and this only proves the point: when academics are allowed to indulge in transphobia, hate speech will grow and fester.”
Despite the university’s Freedom of Speech and Appropriate Workforce behaviour policies, University of Melbourne has refused to take action against the staff member, according to the students.
The press release mentions the rally demands which include a public opposition to the transphobic website, removal of transphobic content from courses and tutorials that is harmful to gender-diverse and transgender people, and selective application of Academic Freedom and Freedom of Speech policies.
An open letter by the students and staff of the University said that trans students and staff members should not be targeted, vilified or made to feel unsafe.
“Letting the actions of this staff member continue without intervention and public response from the University, tarnishes the reputation of the institution and those who work within it to promote a safe and inclusive space. The actions of this staff member contribute to an atmosphere of transphobia on campus and in wider society. By deliberately framing trans women as a threat to cis women, the website established by this staff member demonstrates poor research ethics, contrary to the research ethos of the university. It deliberately pushes a harmful ideology not supported by scholarship or ethical research practice,” the letter said.
The letter also pointed out that Lawford-Smith was running a winter course titled “Feminism” at the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, despite the fact that her expertise was not in gender-related studies.
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