Over 1,400 uni students and academic staff from around Australia have signed an open letter against transphobia at the University of Melbourne, days after a professor launched a website where people could anonymously submit stories about how trans women in women’s-only spaces supposedly “impacted” them.
The website, NoConflictTheySaid, was set up by Dr Holly Lawford-Smith to collect anonymous, unverified stories about trans women in places like bathrooms, gyms, political groups and even on dating apps.
“We strongly question the ethics of this website which appears ripe for promoting misinformation about trans people that may lead to further tans vilification,” the open letter, addressed to Vice-Chancellor Duncan Maskell and Dean of Arts Russell Goulbourne, read.
It added that “the website contributes to well-rehearsed transphobic ideology, including published comments that invoke the rise of ‘transgenderism’, refer to ‘transgender identified males, deny the legitimacy of trans women, and promote the harmful stereotype of trans people as predatory.”
The letter claimed that having a senior academic put out content like this is completely at odds with the University of Melbourne’s commitment to a fostering a safe learning environment for all students, including trans students.
“We do not believe that a safe and productive environment for trans students and staff can exist while senior staff create content that promotes harmful stereotypes about trans people or running subjects that deny the existence and legitimacy of trans people,” the letter continued.
“The actions of this staff member contribute to an atmosphere of transphobia on campus and in wider society.
So a senior academic at my university has launched this website where you can "anonymously" send in stories of trans women harming cis women (she refers to trans women as men throughout). How can we stop this nonsense ???? https://t.co/0y8AkrON1P— Hannah McCann (@binarythis) February 24, 2021
Lawford-Smith has a history of making comments against trans women and was even banned from Twitter and Medium for hate speech.
Her website was also slammed for general lack of usefulness outside of promoting negative stereotypes about trans women.
Many of the anecdotes submitted to the site lack important context and are largely unverifiable. While users are given the option to include their contact details, Lawford-Smith previously told PEDESTRIAN.TV that only around one fifth of submissions included an email address or phone number.
The open letter also noted that there was apparently no ethics approval sought from the uni, as would be expected of literally any other data-gathering project run by an academic.
“By deliberately framing trans women as a threat to cis women, the website established by this staff member demonstrates poor research ethics, contrary to the research ethos of the university,” the letter continued.
“It deliberately pushes a harmful ideology not supported by scholarship or ethical research practice.”
You can read the full letter here, and add your own name here.
Two days after the site went life, the University of Melbourne Student Union Queer Officers Amelia Bright and Laura Ehrensperger also issued a statement against Lawford-Smith.
“You may have heard of a website that has been launched by a University of Melbourne Senior Lecturer, collecting stories of trans women ‘invading’ cis women’s spaces. This rhetoric is repulsive, fundamentally misinformed, and poses tangible danger to transgender people at UniMelb and in the wider LGBTQIA+ community,” they said.
“To all trans and non-binary students and staff at the University of Melbourne reading this: keep being yourselves, keep expressing your transness, your identity, who you are, however you can, whenever you can, wherever you can.
“In a learning environment where some are trying to debate you out of existence, the most radical and powerful thing we can do is keep existing, keep surviving, keep thriving, in spite of it all.”
Meanwhile, writer/muso Vigilantonie – who is also a student at the University of Melbourne and was enrolled feminism subject coordinated by Lawford-Smith – has set up an alternative website where everyone’s invited to share their wholesome experiences with trans people and their negative encounters with TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists).
You can peep that website for some decidedly trans-friendly content here.
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