Snap Rally on Campus to Condemn Transphobia at the University

4 March 2021

cw/ transphobia

 

Over 100 students and staff gathered at Parkville campus yesterday to protest against transphobic actions of University staff members.

 

The protesters gathered outside the Raymond Priestley building to listen to speeches by members of the University community before marching to Old Arts to speak to Faculty of Arts Dean Russell Goulbourne, where they were denied access by security. 

 

Multiple COVIDsafe officers oversaw the protest, handing out masks and sanitiser to attendees, as well as requiring them to sign in using a QR code.

The snap rally was organised by the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) Queer Department in conjunction with the National Union of Students and the National Tertiary Education Union, after the University failed to take action against a website set up by a senior lecturer that was widely condemned as transphobic.

 

The website, launched on February 23 by Associate Professor Holly Lawford-Smith, calls on cisgender women to share instances where they have felt “impacted” by transgender women.

 

“We’re worried about the impacts on women of men using women-only spaces,” the website says, despite countless sexual assault and domestic violence organisations debunking the myth that transgender women are dangerous or predatory towards cisgender women in women-only spaces.

 

UMSU Queer Office Bearer Amy Bright said, “Trans women are women and we have a right to use women’s spaces. When a staff member with a sizable platform abuses their power to spread fear, they will inevitably legitimise violence against trans students.”

 

Despite heavy criticism of the website from University students, staff, and the wider community, the University has elected not to publicly oppose the website, nor take disciplinary action against Lawford-Smith.

 

“Freedom of speech is part of the bedrock of the University of Melbourne and we have a strong policy to guide our obligations around freedom of expression to ensure that we remain respectful, fair and lawful at all times,” Vice-Chancellor Duncan Maskell said. 

 

Yet, Maskell claims that the University is committed to protecting transgender members of the community.

 

“One of our core values is that there must be a genuine and deep culture of respect for everyone at our university and of course this includes being completely respectful towards the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community,” he said.

 

Many have expressed deep dissatisfaction with the University’s response to the website.

 

“The University of Melbourne’s response to Dr. Lawford-Smith’s pattern of transphobic behaviour has been disappointing, but not surprising. They have again used the weak excuse of ‘academic freedom’ to protect her hateful rhetoric,” said Bright.

The website is not the first instance of transphobic behaviour by Lawford-Smith. Her personal website details her involvement with the group LGB Alliance, a group which excludes the transgender community from queer discourse.

 

Earlier this week, a transphobic slur was graffitied on one of the windows of Old Arts, sparking outrage from yesterday’s protesters.

 

 

Among the speakers at the rally were first year students who said they already felt unsafe at university.

 

This is my third day at Melbourne University. If this is what I’m doing on my third day there is something inherently fucked up about this institution.”

Other speakers assured the crowd that the fight is not yet over. “As long as the University refuses to take action we’re not done. We’ll be back,” Bright said.


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