Following protests by students and staff over the past few months against a transphobic academic, University of Melbourne has said it is considering banning public speeches and events that attack trans persons and gender diversity. 

As reported by Star Observer, students have been protesting against the transphobic statements and actions of a faculty member Dr Holly Lawford Smith. The students had also launched a petition against a “harmful” second-year philosophy ‘Feminism’ course, taught by Dr Lawford-Smith. 

‘Need Immediate Action’

The University of Melbourne Student Union representatives have welcomed the vice-chancellor’ statement, but have sought immediate and concrete action.

“What we are demanding…is that the subject is suspended until it undergoes this formal review. One of the preliminary recommendations is to change the subject leadership. We don’t necessarily want the whole subject to be scrapped because it could be a good subject,” Amelia Bright, UMSU Queer Officer and a member of the Queer Political Action Collective told Star Observer

According to a report in The Sydney Morning Herald, Vice-Chancellor Duncan Maskell spoke to staff members about discussing gender identity in the University community. 

The report said that Maskell had cautioned staff that they could not write or say anything damaging to transgender people despite their right to academic freedom. 

Staff Cautioned Against Transphobia

University of Melbourne Students organised a Trans Pride Rally on March 3, 2021, to protest a transphobic website set up by a senior lecturer.

A draft proposal of the new ‘Gender Affirmation Policy’, seeks to ban public speeches and events considered to condemn gender diversity. If the policy is approved, it will change the University’s free speech policy and would bar academics from indulging in hate against the trans and gender diverse communities. 

“Where the university determines that an activity or event poses an unacceptable risk of harm to (transgender and gender-diverse) members of the university community, it may determine not to conduct or host the activity or event on those grounds (in accordance with the provisions of the Freedom of Speech Policy),” the draft policy reportedly says. 

Students Against Transphobia

In March this year, around 100-150 students had responded to a snap protest called by the University of Melbourne Student Union Queer Political Action Collective, alongside the National Union of Students and concerned staff members, against a transphobic website set up by Lawford-Smith. 

Lawford-Smith, Senior Lecturer, Political Philosophy, Faculty of Arts, had set up the website and called upon for cis women to detail their “negative experiences” especially with trans women. 

An open letter by the students had also flagged a winter course titled “Feminism” run by Lawford-Smith at the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies. They pointed out that the academic’s expertise was not in gender-related studies.

The Open Letter to Vice-Chancellor Duncan Maskell ‘Stopping the Promotion of Transphobia at the University of Melbourne’, said that Lawford-Smith had used non-peer-reviewed reading texts, which were a conflict with the Faculty commitment to diversity and inclusion.


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