Professor Kathleen Stock: what did the University of Sussex lecturer say on Twitter - and why has she resigned?

Kathleen Stock announced that she would be resigning from University of Sussex

A Professor at University of Sussex has announced her resignation following backlash over “transphobic” statements and beliefs.

Kathleen Stock has denied being “transphobic”, however has previously said she is “at odds” with a large section of academics as she believes gender identity is not more important than facts about biological sex, “particularly when it comes to law and policy”.

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Who is Stock and what did she say?

Prior to her recent resignation, Stock was a Professor of Philosophy at University of Sussex and in her university biography said that her main research focuses at the moment were “philosophical questions about sex, gender, and sexual orientation”.

Stock is also a trustee of the LGB Alliance, a fact which was recently criticised by Shadow Equalities Minister Taiwo Owatemi, who said that she was “greatly concerned by [Stock’s] work as a trustee for the LGB Alliance group”.

Owatemi added that the group “should be rejected by all those who believe in equality” and that it “opposes LGBT+ inclusive education [and] believe that adolescents should not be able to access puberty blockers”.

While Stock has said in the past that she “asserts the rights of trans people to live their lives free from fear, violence, harassment or any discrimination”, she has called “many trans women still males with male genitilia” and agrued against trans inclusion in single-sex spaces.

In 2018, Stock also published a blog saying that cisgender women would be put at risk should legislation which proposed to allow gender self identification “will allow some duplicitous or badly motivated males to “change gender” fairly easily”.

She previously accused the Sussex branch of the University of College Union (USU) of “effectively” ending her career after it had called upon her employer to take a “strong stance” against transphobia.

The statement from the UCU Sussex Executive and Reps said: “Now is the time for our university leadership to uphold the institution’s stated values by ensuring that the dignity and respect of trans and nonbinary staff and students, and their allies, are enshrined at the core of the university’s culture, a commitment that was inexcusably absent from the vice-chancellor’s statement on Thursday October 7.”

Stock, who shared the UCU Sussex statement on Twitter, wrote: “My former union branch @sussexucu has just effectively ended my career at Sussex University. This just sent to all members.”

Who was campaigning for Stock to be fired?

Earlier in October, an anonymous group launched a campaign to have Stock fired due to her trans-exclusionary views, with posters reportedly calling for her dismissal put up near the campus.

The group set up an Instagram account under the handle “AntiTerfSussex”, which posted statements and pictures calling for Stock to be let go.

One picture featured a poster that read: “It’s not debate. It’s not feminism. It’s not philosophy. It’s just transphobia and it’s not on. Fire Kathleen Stock.”

Another read: “Kathleen Stock makes trans students unsafe. Sussex still pays her.”

“Academic freedom doesn’t include transphobia. Trans students have the right to protest Stock. It’s our safety on the line. Fire Kathleen Stock,” read another.

Additionally, at the start of this year more than 600 academics signed an open letter criticizing the decision to award Stock an OBE for services to higher education in the New Year honours list.

The letter said: “We are professional academic philosophers committed to the inclusion and acceptance of trans and gender non-conforming people, both in the public at large, and within philosophy in particular.

“We write to affirm our commitment to developing a more inclusive environment, disavowing the use of professional and cultural authority to further gendered oppression.”

It said that Stock was “a prominent critic of trans-inclusive stances and policies” and “is best known in recent years for her trans-exclusionary public and academic discourse on sex and gender, especially for opposition to [amendments to*] the UK Gender Recognition Act and the importance of self-identification to establish gender identity, and for advocating that trans women should be excluded from places like women’s locker rooms or shelters”.

The open letter added that Stock “used the occasion of her OBE award to post on Twitter, calling for UK universities to end their association with Stonewall, the prominent LGBTQ+ rights charity, describing its trans-inclusive stance as a threat to free speech”.

When did she resign?

Stock announced her resignation on Thursday 28 October.

In a thread on Twitter, she wrote: “1) Sad to announce I’m leaving @SussexUni. Here’s the University statement. This has been a very difficult few years, but the leadership’s approach more recently has been admirable and decent. I hope that other institutions in similar situations can learn from this.

“2) Am particularly glad to see University emphasising that bullying and harassment anyone for their legally held beliefs is unacceptable in their workplace. If you are Sussex staff or student experiencing this, you don’t have to put up with it.

“3) Am not commenting further til next week. In meantime, I thank every kind person who wrote, collated, signed petitions & letters, sent cards, flowers, booze, gifts, food, texts, emails, tweets. Thank you so, so much. You kept me going. I won’t forget it.”

What did the University of Sussex say?

Alongside Stock’s resignation, the University of Sussex put out a statement on behalf of the institution from its Vice-Chancellor Adam Tickell.

The statement was emailed to all staff and also posted online on the university website. 

It said: “I know you will be aware of the situation reported in the media this month regarding our Professor, Kathleen Stock and how the University of Sussex has vigorously and unequivocally defended her right to exercise her academic freedom and lawful freedom of speech, free from bullying and harassment of any kind.

“These freedoms and protections apply to and benefit us all, and we will defend them today and in the future. Rather than conflicting with our progress on equality, diversity and inclusion, these freedoms and protections are in place to support those with protected characteristics, particularly those who are under-represented or disadvantaged.

“Universities must remain places where everyone - staff or student - has the right to, and benefits from, lawful freedom of speech.

“The University has been consistent and clear that everyone in our community has the right to work and learn, free from bullying and harassment of any kind, which has not been the case for Professor Stock.

“We had hoped that Professor Stock would feel able to return to work, and we would have supported her to do so.

“She has decided that recent events have meant that this will not be possible, and we respect and understand that decision.  We will miss her many contributions, from which the University has benefited during her time here.”

In th statement, Tickell added that “it is unlawful to discriminate against someone on the grounds of sex and of philosophical belief” and that Stock’s departure is “a loss to us all”.

What did Anti Terf Sussex say after Stock announced her resignation?

Responding to the news that Stock would be leaving University of Sussex, the Anti Terf Sussex Instagram page posted a statement, with the caption “Sussex is TERF free!”

In the statement, the group said: “This is a monumental victory for trans and non-binary students, who have protested the ways that this university has enabled transphobia, abuse and discrimination.

“The full weight of a colonial institution, the national media circuit and government ministers, were no match for the unity and solidarity of the queer and trans communities at Sussex University.”

The group added that “the struggle isn’t over” and that “institutional transphobia lives on”.

“Trans liberation is possible in our lifetimes but we must stand strong together in the face of structures that support eliminationists and bigots,” they said.

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