A group of academics have criticised the decision to award an OBE to a prominent philosophy professor who advocates that women should not be made to share toilets and changing rooms with transgender women.
Dr Kathleen Stock, 49, a professor of philosophy at the University of Sussex, has been outspoken on gender identity issues and claims many UK universities are becoming ‘trans activist institutions’ where free academic debate is censored and suppressed.
Professor Stock has also publicly criticised LGBTQ charity Stonewall’s close relationship with academic institutions, saying the group’s influence means dissenting views or criticism from academics who think differently are not allowed.
In an open
Her fellow academics claim that while the OBE ostensibly recognised Professor Stock’s services to higher education, it is also a show of support for what they describe as her ‘harmful rhetoric’ and ‘transphobic views’.
Supporters and colleagues have since spoken out to defend Professor Stock, claiming the academics behind the letter are leading a ‘witch hunt’ and sexist ‘campaign of harassment’ against a gay woman.
Dr Kathleen Stock, a professor of philosophy at the University of Sussex, has been outspoken on gender identity issues and argues an individual should not simply be able to ‘choose’ their legal gender. She was given an OBE for services to higher education in the New Year Honours
In an open letter, 600 of her peers from institutions including the LSE and MIT criticised the decision to recognise her services to higher education in the 2021 New Year’s Honours, saying they are ‘dismayed’ the British government chose to ‘honour her for this harmful rhetoric’
The letter reads: ‘Stock is best-known in recent years for her trans-exclusionary public and academic discourse on sex and gender, especially for opposition to [amendments to] the UK Gender Recognition Act and the importance of self-identification to establish gender identity, and for advocating that trans women should be excluded from places like women’s locker rooms or shelters.’
It continues: ‘Trans people are already deeply marginalised in society, facing well-documented discrimination, ranging from government policy to physical violence.
‘Discourse like that Stock is producing and amplifying contributes to these harms, serving to restrict trans people’s access to life-saving medical treatments, encourage the harassment of gender-non-conforming people, and otherwise reinforce the patriarchal status quo.
‘We are dismayed that the British government has chosen to honour her for this harmful rhetoric.’
Signatories agreed academics should be free to ask ‘important questions about sex and gender’ but argued Professor Stock’s contribution to the discourse has been ‘transphobic fearmongering’ rather than ‘valuable scholarship’.
Professor Stock, pictured on GMB in June 2020, has voiced concerns over the suppression of academic debate and censorship on issues of gender identity
Colleagues are rallying around Professor Stock and calling for an open letter of support, accusing her critics of sexism
In a tweet shared in response to the open letter, Professor Stock hit back at the idea that open discourse is being encouraged, writing: ‘Many colleagues in Philosophy apparently don’t believe there is a problem with academic freedom around sex and gender identity in UK Universities.’
Who is Professor Kathleen Stock?
Professor Stock was educated at a comprehensive school in Scotland before studying for a degree in French and Philosophy at Oxford.
She went onto obtain a M.Litt. in Philosophy at the University of St Andrews, and a PhD in Philosophy at the University of Leeds.
Professor Stock spent two years teaching at the University of Lancaster and the University of East Anglia respectively, before being appointed by Sussex in 2003.
The professor’s current main research is ‘philosophical questions about sex, gender, and sexual orientation’, according to her profile on the University of Sussex website.
In 2018 she made headlines with a piece published on The Conversation in which she argued against proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act 2004.
In 2019 she co-ordinated an open letter signed by more than 20 academics that accused Stonewall of censoring debate on gender identity and suppressing academic freedom.
Professor Stock publishes her writing on gender identity, sex and sexual orientation for free on a website and frequently writes about the issue on Twitter.
She claims that in 2019, Oxford University Press dropped a book about female philopsophers in its Philosophy at 3am series because her inclusion was too controversial.
The tweet directed followers towards a recent Mumsnet thread in which students and academics bemoaned the ‘no debate culture’ fostered by universities on gender identity issues in anonymous posts.
Academics and supporters have taken to Twitter to defend Professor Stock in the wake of the letter and are rallying to publish an open letter in her defence.
Alice Sullivan, a Professor of Sociology at UCL, tweeted: ‘This public denunciation is the latest salvo in a campaign of harassment directed at Kathleen Stock because she is a woman (lesbian) philosopher who talks about women’s rights and boundaries. Genuine question: why is the discipline of philosophy so sexist?’
The team behind philosophy magazine The Electric Agora tweeted: ‘By now, everyone has seen the targeted attack on our colleague, Kathleen Stock signed by scores of people in our discipline.
‘A number of them are notorious repeat offenders with regard to this sort of unprofessional, uncivil behavior.’
Others described the move as a ‘witch hunt’.
Professor Stock was an outspoken critic of the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act 2004, which pushed to allow people to change the gender on their birth certificate without medical diagnosis.
Launching a consultation on the Act in 2018, Prime Minister Theresa May said she wanted to make the process of acquiring a Gender Recognition Certificate more ‘streamlined and de-medicalised’.
Professor Stock was among those who disagreed with the idea that self-identification should form the basis for establishing legal gender identity and warned it could put women at risk.
Professor Stock claimed that removing protections for women such as single-sex changing rooms would put them at an even greater disadvantage.
‘There’s no reason why females should – as a sexist society regularly expects them to – be the only group to sacrifice their interests in favour of others,’ she added.
More recently Professor Stock has accused leading gay rights charity Stonewall of censoring debate on gender identity and suppressing academic freedom.
Pictured, a selection of Tweets from Stock in which she drew attention to the relationship between universities and LGBTQ charity Stonewall, branding UK universities ‘trans activist institutions’
She was one of 20 professors, researchers and lecturers who signed a letter in 2019 criticising the charity for providing UK universities with a template on transgender issues.
According to the letter, this template does not allow dissenting views or criticism from academics who think differently.
The academics also claim that questioning Stonewall’s policies opens them up to harassment from students. The charity’s policies go far beyond equality law, critics say.
Sarah Honeychurch, a fellow at the University of Glasgow, was sacked as editor of the academic journal Hybrid Pedagogyfor signing the letter.
Professor Stock returned to the issue in a series of tweets shared in the wake of her OBE being announced.
She wrote: ‘Honoured to have been given OBE for services to higher education.
‘I want to use this opportunity to draw further attention to suppression of critical thought about gender identity ideology and trans activism in UK Universities.
She went on: ‘And yet academics and students in Universities urgently need to be able to discuss the social importance of biological sex, and to criticise gender identity ideology and trans activism.’
Open Letter Concerning Transphobia in Philosophy: The letter against Kathleen Stock in full
We are professional academic philosophers committed to the inclusion and acceptance of trans and gender non-conforming people, both in the public at large, and within philosophy in particular. We write to affirm our commitment to developing a more inclusive environment, disavowing the use of professional and cultural authority to further gendered oppression.
Last week the UK’s Conservative government designated Kathleen Stock, a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sussex, and a prominent critic of trans-inclusive stances and policies, an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. This award was ostensibly given for services to higher education. Stock is best-known in recent years for her trans-exclusionary public and academic discourse on sex and gender, especially for opposition to the UK Gender Recognition Act and the importance of self-identification to establish gender identity, and for advocating that trans women should be excluded from places like women’s locker rooms or shelters. She used the occasion of her OBE award to post on Twitter, calling for UK universities to end their association with Stonewall, the prominent LGBTQ+ rights charity, describing its trans-inclusive stance as a threat to free speech.
Trans people are already deeply marginalized in society, facing well-documented discrimination, ranging from government policy to physical violence. Discourse like that Stock is producing and amplifying contributes to these harms, serving to restrict trans people’s access to life-saving medical treatments, encourage the harassment of gender-non-conforming people, and otherwise reinforce the patriarchal status quo. We are dismayed that the British government has chosen to honour her for this harmful rhetoric.
We do not say Stock should not be permitted to say the things she does. We believe in the principles of academic freedom, and note that objecting to someone being lauded or honoured for their speech simply does not conflict with those principles. Academic freedom comes with responsibility; we should not use that freedom to harm people, particularly the more vulnerable members of our community. Conflating concern about the harms of Stock’s work with threats to academic freedom obfuscates important issues.
By no means are we suggesting that there aren’t deep and important questions about sex and gender, or that philosophers should not pursue them. Indeed, an open letter from 2019, written and signed by feminist philosophers who have worked on these questions, has made this very point. Rather, our concern is that some — apparently including the British government — have a tendency to mistake transphobic fearmongering for valuable scholarship, and attacks on already marginalized people for courageous exercises of free speech.
We stand against prominent members of our profession using their academic status to further gender oppression. We denounce transphobia in all its forms, and hereby publicly commit to working to create a more inclusive culture, in which people of all gender presentations and identities are able to thrive and be respected for who they are.