In Support of Academic Freedom of Expression and Critical Thought
We believe in upholding the democratic values of freedom of speech, thought, and expression. We view Academic freedom of expression in universities as paramount to the process of higher education and empirically-grounded research. The suppression of opposing views stifles critical thought and debate, which are incredibly important parts of a university education and should be promoted and encouraged in both students and staff. We strongly oppose the idea that Academic Freedom should only apply in situations which are in line with popular opinion, as this is antithetical to the notion of free speech. Academic Freedom of Expression, and more broadly, Freedom of Speech, must apply extensively to differing thoughts and opinions in order to truly be democratic. This is the basis for robust debate and an important part of a diverse society.
We are concerned that academic freedom of expression and critical thought is under attack by those who wish to silence others with differing views, as in the case of the recent open letter calling for University of Melbourne to take punitive action against Dr Holly Lawford-Smith, including calls for removal of her as a lecturer due to her creation of a non-university website. These calls are stated in concern for "ensuring the safety and wellbeing of LGBTIQ+ students and staff via a supportive and welcoming intellectual environment". As Dr Lawford-Smith is a lesbian herself, we strongly oppose this vilification of her as we feel it is hypocritical to call for the removal of a lesbian from her teaching position to protect “LGBTIQ+ students and staff”, given Dr Lawford-Smith is actually part of this community. We feel that this is a case where the conflation of sexual orientation and gender identity is actually being used to harm a homosexual woman, given the petition fails to mention this fact, and instead implies that both same-sex attracted students and gender diverse students are somehow under threat from Dr Lawford-Smith, despite no evidence that would support this claim. We do not believe that criticising or questioning gender ideology (or any other subject matter) is hateful conduct, or that allowing women to tell their stories is calling for “trans villification”.
We strongly support the University of Melbourne in their stance that: “University of Melbourne academics are encouraged 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.”
This is in line with 4.2 of the University's Academic Freedom of Expression policy, which "recognises also that scholars are entitled to express their ideas and opinions even when doing so may cause offence". Further, this code also specifies that "Scholars may hold their own views and speak freely on all topics, even outside their expertise, and even identifying themselves as members of the University". As the University of Melbourne code makes clear, the university policy recognises the separation of staff and employees, allowing them to express opinions both as as individuals, as well as representatives for the university - however, the petition calling for Dr Lawford-Smith's removal seeks to suggest that she is in breach of the University's Academic Freedom of Expression code under 4.5, quoting "[university staff] should consider whether it is reasonable in the circumstances to link their comments to their association with the University" (despite this code also making clear that staff are free to publically represent the university when expressing personal views or opinions). As the petition is in relation to Dr Lawford-Smith's website 'No Conflict They Said', we note that Dr Lawford-Smith does not identify herself as a University employee on this website, with the website only stating that "This site is moderated out of Melbourne, Australia by Holly Lawford-Smith". As such, this website was not created in representation or association to the University of Melbourne.
The website in question can be found at: https://www.noconflicttheysaid.org/
The text on ‘No Conflict They Said’ states: "In Australia and around the world, legislation is being introduced that replaces sex with gender identity.. Advocates insist that there is no conflict of interests. But governments are not collecting data on the impacts of this legislative change. We're worried about the impacts on women of men using women-only spaces, including but not limited to: changing rooms, fitting rooms, bathrooms, shelters, rape and domestic violence refuges, gyms, spas, sports, schools, accommodations, shortlists, prizes, quotas, political groups, prisons, clubs, events, festivals, dating apps, and language. If we can't collect data, we can at least collect stories. Please tell us how your use of women-only spaces has been impacted. All stories will be published anonymously. If you know of other women who have been impacted, please encourage them to tell their stories too".
This website has been created in response to the gap in collecting data or monitoring the impact on women and girls that removal of single-sex spaces has had, in favour of more "inclusive" mixed-sex spaces such as "unisex" or "gender neutral" spaces, as well as self-identification by males into women-only spaces. This recognises that in many places around the world, a male can simply declare himself to identify as a woman, with no medical, surgical or legal intervention, and will then be socially welcomed to enter women-only spaces, or legally protected should he do so. In just a few days, the website has been flooded with stories from women around the world detailing the personal impact that trans-identified males (males who claim to have a feminine gender identity) has had on women’s sports, bathrooms, changing rooms, lesbian communities, women’s only meetings for substance use and trauma counselling, and sex-segregated psychiatry wards. We believe that research and statistics are needed to capture this, however as little research is being done on this impact, we believe the power of stories is imperative. Given the backlash of even just inviting women to tell their personal stories, with this being deemed "transphobic", we view this as a dismissal of material reality, women’s rights and academic curiosity, and understand why academics are hard-pressed to do official research in this area.
We believe that Dr Lawford-Smith should be listened to regarding the intention of this website, and believe a balanced approach is required: https://www.skynews.com.au/details/_6235535700001
We also feel that this targeting of Dr Lawford-Smith, a lesbian academic, is part of a broader trend regarding women - and especially lesbians - who face harassment, abuse, vilification and both professional and personal losses should they defend women's rights to single-sex spaces or question the concept of gender identity: https://terfisaslur.com
We were also appalled to see that the Sydney Morning Herald defended a convicted sex offender (who was mentioned in a story in ‘No Conflict They Said’ by a woman from the same community), dismissing the seriousness of the sex offence as it was “the lowest level of child exploitation material”. This same article reported on the ‘No Conflict They Said’ website as “transphobic”. We condemn any and all sex offences against children and do not believe because the male in question identifies as a woman, the severity of the convicted sex offence is lessened in any way. https://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/gender/transphobic-website-puts-melbourne-university-academics-at-odds-20210225-p575u4.html
We also believe that capturing the ways that gender ideology impacts on women and girls is desperately needed, given there is plenty of evidence from countries all over the world suggesting that there is indeed an impact, or as the site site name suggests, a conflict between the rights of males who claim a transgender identity and female-bodied people, and in particular lesbians:
As seen from the small sampling of above instances, with more examples readily available online, it is important that women are allowed to speak in defence of their sex-based rights on matters that affect them. ‘No Conflict They Said’ only further attests to this need for women to be empowered to have a voice in this debate, in which women, and in particular, lesbians, like Dr Lawford-Smith, are shunned, targeted or vilified for speaking out in defence of women and girls' rights. We also believe that academia relies on the freedom of thought and expression and diversity in academia requires contrasting opinions, as is the basis for critical thinking skills.
Add your signature in support of academic freedom of expression, and in recognition of the stance provided by University of Melbourne in line with their academic policy. These signatures will be submitted to Professor Duncan Maskell (Vice Chancellor) and Professor Russell Goulbourne (Dean of Arts) at the University of Melbourne in support of Dr Holly Lawford-Smith.
This petition has been created by LGB Alliance Australia and is available on our official twitter page.
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