University of Melbourne academics slam colleague’s transphobic website


university of melbourne transgender holly lawford-smith
Photo: University of Melbourne

University of Melbourne academics have called for the removal of a colleague’s website inviting anonymous submissions of encounters with transgender women.

Earlier this week, lecturer Holly Lawford-Smith created the website, NoConflictTheySaid.org.

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She wrote that the site is in response to birth certificate legislation around Australia benefiting trans people that “replaces sex with gender identity”.

The site called for women to anonymously contribute accounts of trans women “impacting their use of women-only spaces.”

“We’re worried about the impacts on women of men [sic] using women-only spaces,” the website reads.

“These include but not limited to: changing rooms, fitting rooms, bathrooms, shelters, rape and domestic violence refuges” and other areas.

Speaking to The Age, Lawford-Smith accused governments of ignoring purported negative impacts of the laws.

She said data is needed on “creepy things happening in women’s bathrooms or women’s changing rooms or rape support groups.”

However numerous University of Melbourne colleagues have denounced the website as transphobic and unethical.

Cultural studies lecturer Hannah McCann said the website promotes both harmful stereotypes and vilification of trans people.

She told The Age many of the published stories amount to little more than “fearmongering”.

“[I] was truly shocked that this could be something that exists in 2021,” she said.

“I’m dismayed, because it paints trans people as perpetrators of violence… There’s in fact a very long history of them being victims of it.”

University of Melbourne academics slam website

Over 100 academics have also signed an open letter titled “Stopping the promotion of transphobia at the University of Melbourne”.

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The letter argues the website’s published accounts use “well-rehearsed transphobic ideology” and “promote the harmful stereotype of trans people as predatory”.

“We strongly question the ethics of this website,” the academics write.

“It appears ripe for promoting misinformation about trans people that may lead to further trans vilification.

“By deliberately framing trans women as a threat to cis women, the website demonstrates poor research ethics, contrary to the ethos of the university.

“It deliberately pushes a harmful ideology not supported by scholarship or ethical research practice.”

As Lawford-Smith is a lecturer, the academics are also concerned the website is breaching research integrity guidelines.

“[We’re] concerned that this content is being actively taught to students at the University and presented as ‘scholarly,’” they said.

“We support academic freedom. However, academic freedom does not mean the freedom to spread misinformation and incite hatred.

“Conflating the two only undermines this important principle of scholarship.”

Holly Lawford-Smith believes gender identity is a ‘recent cultural invention’

A University of Melbourne spokesperson said the university encourages academics “to engage in public debate. The views they express are personal, not those of the university.”

“The university is committed to principles of academic freedom of expression, and to fostering a diverse, respectful and inclusive community,” the spokesperson said.

Holly Lawford-Smith has previously sparked backlash and also protests at the university for her views rejecting transgender identities.

In 2019, Twitter suspended her account for violating rules against “hateful conduct”.

Last year, she penned an opinion piece for the Herald Sun criticising Victoria’s ban on conversion practices against trans people.

In it, she said she believes “gender identities are not unchangeable facts about persons like sexual orientations are; they are ideological.”

“Sexual orientation and gender identity are not alike,” she said.

“Gender identity is a recent cultural invention, providing an umbrella for a diverse range of people who have in common, at best, nonconformity with some gender stereotypes.”

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2 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Lex
    27 February 2021
    Reply

    Why is it always the philosophers? Is philosophy even a science?? So stupid.

  2. Avatar
    Alan Johnson
    27 February 2021
    Reply

    People should judge for themselves by going to the website ‘No Conflict, They Said’ which is collecting women’s testimonies about the impact of the loss of their single sex spaces. Here is one of them.

    WOMEN’S FOOTBALL

    “…many women just left the team without saying anything. I didn’t bother joining another team in the hope that it remained women-only, because I know it will be the same everywhere, eventually. I loved being part of a women-only team…”

    I loved playing football on a women’s team. I had played mixed sports in the past but noticed that men always seem to take over, passing mostly to other men and generally playing aggressively towards women. Compared to this, an amateur women’s football team felt like a safe space where women could play sport with other women without fear of being bulldozed by men. My inner-north Melbourne football team was very welcoming of women of all skill levels and abilities, and was generally just a fun time. As a lesbian I felt like I fitted in because there were a lot of other lesbians who played footy. There were also a few women who identified as gender non-binary, which at first I didn’t see as a problem at all. However, it wasn’t long before one gender non-binary woman complained about the language used at the club, such as ‘woman’ and ‘girls’ (girls was sometimes used in reference to the group of players such as in the way that male footy players call each other ‘boys’). She very aggressively told the coach off for using ‘gendered language’ and insisted that instead of referring to anyone on the team as women or girls, we should say ‘players’ or other gender non-specific terms. She also insisted that instead of referring to each other as ‘she/her’ (as in ‘pass her the ball’ or ‘she kicked a goal’) we should all use ‘they/them’ for all players, regardless of a player’s gender identity. Thankfully, the coaches pushed back on the pronouns so we were still allowed to use she/her, unless of course someone had a personal preference for they/them. It wasn’t long before signs were posted up all over the club rooms reminding everyone of this. The next thing that happened was the promotion of a ‘gender-inclusive’ policy, that stated that anyone who identifies as a woman (though we can’t use this word) could play on our team. This meant that even people with fully intact male bodies could now play on our team and share our change rooms, if they said they were a woman. The culture of ‘inclusion’ meant that no one felt like they could speak against this policy, so many women just left the team without saying anything. I didn’t bother joining another team in the hope that it remained women-only, because I know it will be the same everywhere, eventually. I loved being part of a women-only team, there was something special about being around other women, without men, and I’m sad that it’s not possible anymore.

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