Oxford college rows back on transgender discussion rules following outcry over free speech

Camilla Turner
Speakers at the Merton College event include Freddy McConnell - REX

An Oxford college has rowed back on its code of conduct for a transgender discussion following criticism that it was closing down free speech.  

 

Merton College advertised its upcoming “Equality Conversation” event which it says will explore “perspectives on trans intersectionality”.  

Yet in order to reserve a place at the event, attendees must sign up to a code of conduct which states they must “refrain from using language or putting forward views intended to undermine the validity of trans and gender diverse identities”.

Academics told The Telegraph earlier this week that Merton College was adopting a “draconian” stance towards free speech by “suppressing gender-critical thought”.  

Prof Selina Todd, a historian at Oxford University, had said she was “stunned” by the event’s rules, adding that it sets a “dangerous precedent”.

On Wednesday,  the College removed the code of conduct from the event page and replaced it with a statement in support of free speech.

It said: “The University and College prioritise the protection both of academic freedom and of their members from unlawful discrimination.  

“We seek to foster a culture of robust expression of opinion and debate that does not tolerate any form of harassment or victimisation.  

“We and the University are committed to fostering an inclusive, diverse environment and to ensuring that all our staff and students, including LGBTQ+ members of the community, are able to thrive and realise their potential.”  

The statement went on to say that the College wants to foster an “inclusive culture and a workplace” as well as a learning environment that “prizes academic freedom while being free from discrimination, harassment or victimisation”.

Prof Kathleen Stock, a philosopher from Sussex University, welcomed the move saying: “I’m really glad Oxford has responded so quickly to make sure the value of academic freedom is upheld, and legal duty complied with.  

“If I give a talk criticising the idea of an inner feeling of gender identity, I expect the audience to be able to disagree - the same should apply to academic events supportive of the idea of gender identity.”  

Speakers at the Merton College event include Freddy McConnell, a transgender man who attempted to create legal history by having his baby become the first to legally not have a mother.

He took the Government to court last year for refusing to let him register as the “father” on his child’s birth certificate, but lost.