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Oxford Union invites Graham Linehan to debate ‘cancel culture’. LGBT+ students say it’s testament to a ‘culture of transphobia’

Emma Powys Maurice December 18, 2020
Graham Linehan

Disgraced comedy writer Graham Linehan (Creative Commons/re:publica from Germany)

Graham Linehan’s invitation to speak at the Oxford Union debate society highlights the “ongoing culture of transphobia” at University of Oxford, LGBT+ students say.

The disgraced comedy writer was offered an opportunity to speak on “cancel culture” at the historic society, which draws most of its members from the university but exists independently from it.

Writing to Linehan on 8 December, the Union president said it would be an “honour” and a “privilege” for him to join the debate and continue the society’s “fine tradition” of hosting renowned figures, including Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, Malcolm X, the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa.

“‘Cancel culture’ is the boycott of the 21st century,” the president said, expanding on the topic of the debate. “Does cancel culture really facilitate the redemption of people? Or does it simply encourage virtue signalling rather than enduring progress?

“If so, does it truly justify the destruction of the reputation and livelihoods of public figures?”

Linehan’s invitation was rescinded a week later as the Union said it was no longer able to accommodate him due to “logistical difficulties”. They did, however, indicate that they “very much hope to accommodate him in the future”.

The Oxford Student Union LBGTQ Campaign are appalled that Graham Linehan was ever invited in the first place, let alone welcomed for a future debate.

“These events are an inevitable result of the union’s commitment to causing controversy rather than encouraging debate,” a spokesperson for the campaign told Cherwell.

“The society has acted with poor judgement both in inviting Mr Linehan and in choosing to revoke that invitation, thereby opening themselves to the same accusations of ‘cancel culture’ they had originally sought to discuss.

“As a campaign, we are far more concerned by the original invitation as a testament to the very real and ongoing culture of transphobia at this university.”

The University of Oxford has been accused of “tacitly sanctioning” transphobia from two professors, Selina Todd and Senia Paseta, who were recently chosen to lead the Oxford Martin Programme on Women’s Equality and Inequality.

Their appointment was condemned in an open letter to the pro-vice-chancellor signed by more than 500 students, who said it “reflects a wider apathy towards the wellbeing of trans students at Oxford”.

According to the 2018 Trans Report from the Student Union, 98 per cent of trans students at Oxford reported mental health issues, with a further 65 per cent reporting that the university had had a negative impact on their mental health.

Sixty-three per cent had experienced discrimination from the University, which 35 per cent of respondents said had come directly from staff and administrators.

“While much of this discrimination is reported as being due to ignorance instead of bigotry, we do not think the university has responded in a manner that is proportionate to the problem,” the letter stated.

The students demanded to see their university take concrete steps to improve the welfare of trans students. “Only then will we be able to begin to make progress,” they said.

More: cancel culture, graham linehan, Oxford Union, transphobia, University of Oxford

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