Trans Liberation Cambridge protests outside the Union during debate

‘This community believes in the right to resist’

On Thursday (17/11) Trans Liberation Cambridge protested outside of the Cambridge Union under the slogan “This community believes in the right to resist.”

The demonstration was in response to the Cambridge Union inviting Professor Kathleen Stock to speak as part of a debate entitled “This house believes in the right to offend.” Stock is an academic who resigned from Sussex University after being the subject of protests by the Anti Terf Sussex group. She has always denied claims that she is transphobic, but her invitation to the Union provoked critical reactions from both Trans Liberation Cambridge.

The debate also occurred during Transgender Awareness Week, a week of visibility and commemoration which leads up to the Transgender Day of Remembrance on the 20th of November, when victims of transphobic violence are memorialised.

Much like the previous Cambridge SU protest for trans rights on 25/10, the protest was well attended, although the organisers stressed in a tweet that they are “not a student group”, but rather a mixed group of “trans people working in solidarity across generations.”

(Image credit: Patrick Dolan)

The organisers described the aim of the protest as “protesting against bad faith actors who distort dialogues of oppression, weaponise white middle and upper class femininity, and aim to make trans lives socially impossible through legal attacks on our basic rights.”

The gathering started with organisers sharing the importance and context of the event, speaking about tragedies such as the reported death by suicide of a young gay couple in Armenia, and the importance of raising awareness of the significance of tolerance and respect in such matters.

As the Union event started at 8pm, the crowd began directing chants towards the Union building itself with phrases such as, “What do we want? Trans rights! When do we want it? Now!” and “We’re here, we’re queer, and we know that you can hear.” The noise appeared to catch the attention of some debate attendees, who were seen looking out from the chamber windows.

Members of the protest were also critical of the Union’s defence of free speech, saying: “It’s the least free speech I can think of to pay £150 to join the Union.”

Trans Liberation Cambridge subsequently tweeted out a message of gratitude to all of those who attended the event for two hours, despite the poor weather conditions.

The group pictured outside of the Union (Image credit: Patrick Dolan)

Inside the Union, the chamber was full. The debate was being filmed by Brook Lapping Productions as part of an upcoming Channel 4 documentary on gender and identity, and the video recording on the Cambridge Union’s YouTube has over 15,000 views, a high number compared to other uploads.

At the beginning of her speech, Professor Stock stated she would not be addressed previous claims that have been made against her, despite multiple speakers and members of the audience bringing them up. One student speaker on Stock’s own side went as far as to state that the Union had been wrong to invite the Professor to take part. Stock spoke in favour of the motion, describing offence as “a very cheap emotion” and arguing that undergraduates are now afraid to offend, even if they are unwilling to admit it.

(Image credit: Patrick Dolan)

The debate also featured Professor Arif Ahmed, who has also been the centre of recent controversy over the decision to invite speaker Helen Joyce to speak at Gonville and Caius College. The talk was the subject of widespread controversy due to the conflict between Joyce’s and students’ views on transgender issues. It was a non-college event that senior college staff described as “offensive, insulting, and hateful to members of our community”. Joyce responded with an open letter, in which she argued that it is the job of people such as the academics to “be brave” in holding open “a space for free speech”, criticised the pair for choosing to skip the talk and called for them to meet her to discuss her work and views.

Ahmed defended Stock as part of his speech, and said that he had “some knowledge” of the “treatment she suffered”, referencing his own experience of coming under criticism.

The proposition side won, with 247 votes in favour, 72 in opposition, and 140 abstentions. 

LGBTQ+ and Transgender flags were also held and mounted in pride. (Image credit: Patrick Dolan)

The Cambridge Union and Professor Kathleen Stock were both contacted for comment.

Professor Arif Ahmed was also contacted, and responded with the following: “Kathleen Stock has been victimized and misrepresented for years. Anyone who wants to know what she actually thinks should read her thoughtful and well-written book. She has made important contributions to a topic of great controversy and importance. It is disappointing that instead of debating with them, some students abuse or attempt to silence Kathleen Stock, Helen Joyce or others on one side of this debate. It is deeply regrettable when senior university staff see fit to join in.”

Featured image credits: Patrick Dolan