The Sussex University professor targeted by trans activists for upholding the reality of biological sex has received support from both the head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.
Prof Kathleen Stock OBE was last week the subject of a hate campaign by activist group Anti Terf Sussex, which labelled her “one of this wretched island’s most prominent transphobes”, due to her view that a biological male who identifies as a woman is still a man.
The group erected banners bearing messages including “Kathleen Stock makes trans students unsafe, Sussex still pays her”, and “Stock Out”, but the University publicly denounced the group’s actions while backing the right to academic freedom.
In a letter to The Times, Baroness Falkner of Margravine, who chairs the EHRC, wrote: “The attacks on Professor Kathleen Stock and the campaign to have her fired are disgraceful. Sussex University is right to investigate these attacks and to defend academic freedom of speech.”
She added that “university is a place where we are exposed to ideas and learn to debate with each other”.
No one should be targeted and harassed simply for holding an opinion.
“It is not a place where people bully and harass professionals and berate institutions because they disagree with someone’s entirely lawful expert views. Other institutions faced with the same problems should follow Sussex University’s lead to stop these attacks on freedom of speech.”
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who is also the Minister for Women and Equalities, said she “fully supports” Lady Falkner’s letter, adding: “No one should be targeted and harassed simply for holding an opinion.”
Prof Stock told The Sunday Times that the threatening and abusive messages had been deeply damaging to her confidence and that she is unsure if she can remain in academia, or even feel safe walking around the area.
Revealing that the police had advised her to install cameras at home, she said: “They have given me advice about moving around. They have put a marker on my phone, if I phone 999 there is an automatic call-out to my house”.
She added: “I am vulnerable on campus. The police implied that I would need security guards accompanying me to go back on campus.”
Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said it is unacceptable that an academic is “having to be supported by the police due to threats to her physical safety”.
She said the Government’s Freedom of Speech Bill would ensure universities “continue to do more to not only protect academic freedom but also promote it and end the culture where some believe they can threaten, intimidate and harass those with whom they disagree to silence them”.
She added: “Dissent, disagreement, debate and peaceful protest are fundamental to any democratic society. Physical intimidation or threats against those with different views is always unacceptable and action must be taken against the perpetrators.”
In a letter to The Times, a group of transsexual people have also hit out at the way the professor has been treated.
They said: “we deplore the continuing attacks on Professor Kathleen Stock. We are appalled that trans rights — our rights — are being used to excuse an unprincipled campaign of harassment and abuse.
“Like any other group, trans people hold a range of opinions. Attacks on the freedom of expression are not progressive, and do nothing to fight against actual prejudice or win better services for trans people. If bullies manage to silence Kathleen Stock, they will not stop there.”
‘Defence of liberty’
In its leading article, The Times newspaper said: “Words can wound, but they are not a form of violence: they are how a free society operates. A society that enables the ruthless destruction of bad ideas is the alternative to tyranny. Where heterodoxy is punishable by sackings and suppression, dogma takes the place of science and reason.
“A free society justifiably imposes a regulatory framework on the expression of speech, such as disallowing genuine threats, and expecting dissent to be expressed with civility.”
It added: “A university has no obligation to shield impressionable minds from opinions they may find challenging and even offensive. On the contrary it has a duty to ensure that a full spectrum of views are aired without restraint.
“It is no hyperbole to say that the defence of Professor Stock, a cogent thinker and valiant voice for women’s rights, is now the defence of liberty itself.”
No union support
However, while Prof Stock has received widespread support, the University and College Union (UCU) has refused to back her.
While the UCU said it “did not endorse the call for any worker to be summarily sacked” and that it opposed bullying, harassment and intimidation of staff and students, it called for an investigation into “institutional transphobia” at Sussex University.
It also expressed its solidarity with “all trans and non-binary members of our community who now, more than ever, should receive the unequivocal support of the university and its management”, adding: “As a union, we strongly condemn all forms of transphobia”.
The professor shared the statement with her followers on social media, commenting: “My former union branch @sussexucu has just effectively ended my career at Sussex University.”