A little over a week ago, 34 UK-based academics signed an open letter, printed in the Sunday Times, in which they argued (among other things) that respecting the identities of trans and gender-diverse students and colleagues, including their pronouns and names, constituted an intolerable restriction on “free speech” and “academic freedom.”
This is not the sort of claim that can be left standing, for two reasons. Firstly, this constitutes nothing short of an attack on trans and gender-diverse people’s rights to be included, and to be able to live and work in a safe and welcoming environment in higher education. Secondly, the authors of this letter seem to have taken it upon themselves to speak for what they assume is a ‘silent majority’ of academics, wanting to be critical of transgender identities but too afraid to speak up. This is nonsense.
In response, I had the honour of working on an open letter in response, which turned into a manifesto of inclusiveness for LGBTQIA+ colleagues across all levels of academia. Our manifesto was then picked up by The Independent. We opened it up to be signed by higher education professionals from all over the world and at any level, as long as they have or had been employed in a capacity by a university. This is because higher education is about much more than one or two professors, and these issues are global. Human rights are universal.
At the time that The Independent printed it, our letter had been signed more than 4,000 times. At the time that I am writing this entry, it has been signed by 6,587 people. To put this in perspective: for every one person who argued that trans rights impinge on their freedom of speech, 194 of their peers disagree.
The Independent very generously gave space to the first 1,000 signatories. But it didn’t stop there. It also commissioned us to write a piece on why this is important. I am proud to share the byline on this article. There is one major point that I want to stress, to quote from the article itself:
Trans, gender-diverse, and other queer people are not problems to be theorised and hypothesised. They are living, breathing human beings. And if we are to defend academic freedom, then it is their freedom – to live and work and research and teach and learn safely in our universities, without fear of being marginalised or denied – that must be respected, treasured, and protected.
I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to work on this campaign, and I would like to express my deepest thanks to my dear colleagues Dr. Caroline Dodds Pennock, Dr. Andy Kesson, Dr. Matthew M. Mesley, Dr. Sara Barker, Dr. Amy Fuller, and Dr. Matt Lodder, not to mention more than 6,500 more spread around the globe, for taking this stand. It is incumbent on all of us to make academia and the university the safe place that, for far too many of our colleagues, it is at present not. Diversity is our strength. Academia is open, and existence is non-negotiable.