Trans rights protesters disrupting Kathleen Stock debate in Oxford offered 'welfare rooms' for 'quiet escape'

31 May 2023, 08:27

Prof Stock's protest was disrupted by protesters
Prof Stock's protest was disrupted by protesters. Picture: @rizPossnett/Twitter/Alamy

By Kit Heren

Trans rights activists who protested a talk by gender-critical feminist Kathleen Stock at Oxford University on Tuesday evening were offered "welfare rooms" to rest away from the disruption.

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Ms Stock's appearance was controversial among some students, with one protester even gluing themselves to the floor of the Oxford Union, the venue for the talk.

Others leapt from the audience to disrupt the philosopher's talk, while hundreds of protesters gathered outside the union to protest.

An LGBTQ+ society rep told students that they had arranged two spaces for students who wanted some respite from the demonstration.

They said in an email: "We have set up welfare rooms at Brasenose college [...] If you can’t get to it, you can also go to the backup welfare room [...]!

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Ms Stock arriving for her talk
Ms Stock arriving for her talk. Picture: Alamy

"These are both open between 16:00 and 20:00, and will be operated by trained peer supporters and first aiders. 

"They can offer water bottles, energy bars, ear plugs, bust cards, storage space for your personal belongings (bags, ID, phone, etc.), and welfare support.

"These are quiet spaces which you can escape to if you need a moment away from the protest."

During the talk itself, a protester wearing a t-shirt saying "no more dead trans kids", glued themselves to the floor of the debating chamber in front of Prof Stock.

Two other protesters emerged from the audience waving rainbow flags and throwing leaflets before they were drowned out by shouting from the crowd and pulled out by security.

People protest at the event in Oxford
People protest at the event in Oxford. Picture: Alamy

An audience member addressed them, shouting, "we are here to listen" to [Prof Stock] whether you "like it or not".

Read more: Trans activists interrupt controversial Kathleen Stock talk as one person 'glues themselves to floor'

Read more: 'Humans cannot change their sex': Philosopher Kathleen Stock advocates female-only spaces for women's protection

Several audience members then began shouting for the professor to "carry on" in spite of the protester.

Four police officers spent around 10 minutes trying to remove one protester who had glued themselves to the floor while security walked up and down the hall and demanded that audience members not record or take pictures of the incident.

Police have confirmed the protester was arrested then de-arrested.

Prof Stock left her job at the University of Sussex in 2021 after protests against her by students following the release of her book Material Girls, which argues that trans people cannot expect all the rights afforded by biological sex.

People in favour of Prof Stock
People in favour of Prof Stock. Picture: Alamy

The university's LGBTQ+ Society, which organised the protest, had called the event part of campaign of hate against trans people.

But Prof stock rejects the accusation that her views could be classed as hate speech.

"It's not hate speech to say that males cannot be women," she said.

"You can believe what you like, and I'm not stopping anybody believing any different, but it's certainly not hate speech to say that and that's basically the most controversial thing, I think."

Speaking at the rally, Max Van Kleek, associate professor of human-computer interaction at Oxford, said trans students suffered "so much abuse" and were "losing rights around the world".

Outside the venue, Alexandra, a teacher who is trans, said it "hurt" that students were "debating on questions like whether my fundamental rights are worth protecting".

Protests over Kathleen Stock take place at Oxford University

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Prof Stock had only been speaking for around five minutes before the disruption began.

Her talk was paused for around half an hour before continuing.

After the talk resumed, Prof Stock said that those you think that trans people are not violent "should speak to a criminologist".

Arguing that trans women who were born male shouldn't be allowed to access female-only spaces, she said: "In changing rooms where women are, we are supposed to do stuff (to protect them) and when we took males out as we did before, it was on the assumption that some males are predators.

"We are not doing that as a society. We are supposed to care about women. It is a risk of a man saying he is a woman and going into a space and taking advantage of that".

Pressed on whether trans women represented a similar risk to biological men, she said that "if you think trans people aren't violent, you need to talk to some criminologists".

Kathleen Stock OBE says the group term LGBTQ+ is 'totally unhelpful'.

Prof Stock said trans women entering female-only spaces was "not fair on females", asking: "Why should females take this burden on?"

Taking audience questions after the protester was removed by police, Prof Stock said she "didn't mind" the protest, and that it "wasn't traumatic for me".

"But generally what I find more worrying is when institutions have listened to the protesters (...) and then basically become propaganda machines for a particular point of view," she added.

Ahead of planned protests Prime Minister Rishi Sunak backed the decision to invite her to speak, telling the Telegraph: “University should be an environment where debate is supported, not stifled. We mustn’t allow a small but vocal few to shut down discussion.

He added: "Kathleen Stock’s invitation to the Oxford Union should stand.”

While the university's vice chancellor, Professor Irene Tracey, said Prof Stock's appearance is a matter of "freedom of speech".