It wasn’t just the students spreading lies and hounding me… It was many of my academic colleagues too: KATHLEEN STOCK reveals what it’s really like to be vilified for your beliefs after being driven out of Sussex University by trans hate mob
One Wednesday about a month ago, I made my way to work as usual. I am – or at least I was – a professor at Sussex University, and that day I was teaching classes in feminist philosophy.
In the past, I’d been told my views on sex and gender identity were an embarrassment to Sussex.
Yet there was no sign of ‘embarrassment’ in the growing numbers of bright and curious students entering my classroom.
Kathleen Stock, recently resigned from her Professorship at Sussex University after controversy over her views on gender and trans issues
I got off the train and joined the crowd walking through a tunnel to the university entrance – to find the walls were plastered with posters, each one screaming my name in bold capitals.
‘KATHLEEN STOCK MAKES STUDENTS UNSAFE, SUSSEX STILL PAYS HER.’
‘WE’RE NOT PAYING £9,250 A YEAR FOR TRANSPHOBIA, FIRE KATHLEEN STOCK.’
Struggling to breathe, I ran back to the station where, seeing the state I was in, a railway worker offered me a bottle of water. Later that day, I saw an Instagram account titled ‘Kathleen Stock is a transphobe’. It showed balaclava-wearing figures brandishing flares and banners saying ‘Stock Out’.
The website called me a ‘spiteful bootlicker’ and urged its viewers to ‘get angry’. Until I was fired, said the anonymous authors, ‘you’ll be seeing us around’.
This is certainly not the Sussex University I joined as a junior lecturer in 2003. Back then, it was a struggle to get students to commit themselves to any firm moral opinions.
‘It’s all relative,’ they would insist.
There’s a lot more certainty now, which can be disconcerting in such young and inexperienced people.
My views would never have been thought controversial in the past. I simply believe we should be free to debate the trans lobby’s growing demands that we recognise a person’s ‘gender identity’ rather than their biological sex.
Discrimination against trans people is utterly abhorrent. They need protection from abuse.
But we must also look at the effects of these demands and consider, in particular, any costs to women and girls.
HATE MOB: Protesters let off flares during a trans campaign against university professor Kathleen Stock
Why should people born as men – who’ve never had a sex change operation – be given access to female changing rooms, for example? Or refuges from domestic violence or women’s prisons?
What about the health of children who say they wish to change gender but who, in doing so, might put themselves in line for irreversible medical treatment?
I am a lesbian with teenage children, so these topics are a matter of great personal interest. But I also care about truth and freedom of speech.
I believe we should discuss these issues and, three years ago, I started to say so. To my astonishment, I found that others, including some Sussex colleagues and students, disagreed.
There were protests at my talks. I had official complaints and disciplinary investigations. Student deputations to my bosses demanded that I stop teaching feminism.
I was ‘no-platformed’ – disinvited from speaking in public – after protests. And I was denounced in open letters by fellow academics, including when I was awarded an OBE in January last year.
That particular letter accused me of ‘transphobic fearmongering’, of helping to ‘restrict trans people’s access to life-saving medical treatment’ and of serving ‘to encourage the harassment of gender-nonconforming people’.
None of that is remotely true.
Concerned for my safety, the campus security manager advised me about the emergency phone system and arranged to have a spyhole put in my office door.
When my book Material Girls appeared in March, the campaign against me escalated further.
Even so, I could not have imagined the vicious rage of the past few weeks.
The offensive posters were taken down only to reappear the next day.
I spotted stickers on the walls and doors in my building talking about ‘the transphobic s*** that comes out of Kathleen Stock’s mouth’.
Demonstrations followed. The police warned me to step up my security at home.
A hundred masked figures disrupted a University Open Day.
The ringleaders made angry speeches, set off flares, wrote graffiti and held up placards urging me to quit.
A few days later, frightened, demoralised, and exhausted, that is exactly what I did.
It would be tempting to lay the blame on the students and, obviously, the ringleaders bear a lot of responsibility. But things are more complicated than that.
It emerged that few of those involved had any idea what my views really were.
They didn’t know, for instance, that I have repeatedly and sincerely stated my support for special legal protections for trans people.
What I was actually saying seemed to make no difference to people in the grip of what have been described as ‘luxury beliefs’.
Such frivolously held opinions can give the student protesters – often from privileged backgrounds – extra social status with their tribe.
In the past, Kathleen had been told her views on sex and gender identity were an embarrassment to Sussex
Never mind the costs to others who are less well-off.
One angry social media post showed a university workman removing a poster attacking me and asked this telling question: ‘Who do you serve, transphobes or students?’
Since when were workmen paid to serve students?
My persecutors neither knew nor cared that an increasing number of trans people agree with me that lobby groups such as Stonewall have gone too far.
When questioned by onlookers, some protesters could only say that I was ‘very transphobic’ and that they had read this ‘on social media’.
But they had also heard it in lectures.
At Sussex, as I have long known to my cost, there exists a group of academic colleagues – none of them to my knowledge trans themselves – who are hell-bent on disseminating false claims that I am ‘transphobic’, which is to say a hater of trans people.
Over the past three years, this slur on my character has been repeated by colleagues in classes, in department meetings and – of course – on social media.
When, in 2019, some students set up a public Facebook group to discuss ways to have me fired, academic colleagues posted on the page ‘in solidarity’.
One individual spent three years churning out tweets with the same monotonous message: ‘The views of Kathleen Stock make her a danger to every trans student at Sussex.’ This simply isn’t true, as the supportive emails I’ve had from trans students attest to.
As I write this, a former colleague, whose office was four doors from mine, is tweeting that there will never ‘be a full accounting of all the ways people within the institution aided and abetted her’.
‘Her’, of course, is me.
With supposedly responsible adults acting this badly in public, who can blame impressionable young people for following suit?
The effect of all this has been debilitating. At times I have struggled to get out of bed and carry on.
The fact I have managed to continue writing and talking throughout has been presented as proof that there is no real problem.
But no one should be forced to go through such an ordeal simply in order to say what they think out loud.
The debacle has sent a terrible message to lecturers and students at Sussex University who think as I do: remain silent or the same thing will happen to you.
Questions of sex and gender are central to many academic areas, so this is a catastrophe for the university.
Its public statements on my departure have strongly upheld the value of academic freedom, and that’s a decent start, but Sussex must now work hard to rectify the damage to its reputation and restore the confidence of staff and students.
The university must also reject the influence of Stonewall, which takes an intransigent line about gender identity, condemning debate let alone dissent.
Everyone, they insist, must be free to determine their own gender on the basis of nothing more than their own feelings on the matter.
PAINTED AS THE VILLAIN: Protests and graffiti by trans activists forced Sussex University professor Kathleen Stock, left, to resign
Along with a number of institutions and most other universities, Sussex actually pays Stonewall to be a ‘diversity champion’. Sussex has even stated its ambition to join the Stonewall Top 100 Employer Index by 2025.
This effectively means that, between now and then, the university will take instruction from a lobby group with extreme, un-evidenced and divisive views.
Freedom of Information requests made to Sussex illustrate the extent of this cosy relationship.
They show that Stonewall’s stance has been embedded in the institution. The university management has already adapted internal policies to ensure that references to biological sex are all but invisible. This is chilling to any staff or students who dissent.
It means I am said to be a ‘transphobe’ when I say that males who claim to be female on the basis of no more than their hidden inner feelings should be kept out of women’s prisons.
Or when I say that children should be given talking therapy not drugs should they announce they are ‘trapped in the wrong body’.
There are many academics out there with views like mine, frightened to express them. They need help. Whether through bullying or self-censorship, they are losing their freedom to speak and write.
‘Yes’ to argument and evidence. ‘No’ to witch-hunts and intimidation under the false guise of offering a ‘safe and inclusive environment’.
I can see it’s tempting to present campus life as a comforting cocoon – particularly when universities must compete for students. But the price of this can be ostracism for those who don’t fit.
Members of the awkward squad are existential threats to the social herd. And herds, it turns out, can be easily led. They can sometimes turn into mobs.
Many bad ideas once seemed attractive until they were debunked by contrarians, eccentrics, heretics, naysayers, difficult women – and even down-the-line traditionalists. They are all an important part of the intellectual community, and of life itself. They must not be silenced.
Don’t let the mob come for the rest of us, too.
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