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Royal Academy art students accuse gallery of giving ‘legitimacy to transphobia’ after apology to Jess de Wahls

Lily Wakefield June 26, 2021
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RA Royal Academy building in Piccadilly

Royal Academy Schools students accused the said they were "angered and disheartened" by the gallery's decision. (In Pictures via Getty/ Mike Kemp)

Students at Royal Academy Schools, the London gallery’s art school, have accused gallery of giving “legitimacy to transphobia”.

This month, the Royal Academy of Arts pulled its stock of embroidered patches designed by de Wahls from its shop after it was alerted by social media users to her history of anti-trans comments.

But this week, following a barrage of criticism from so-called “gender critical feminists” and the news that de Wahls was considering legal action, the gallery backtracked and apologised to the artist in a statement insisting that the “complex issue” of trans rights should be open to “debate”.

Now, students at Royal Academy Schools, which offers postgraduate courses to a select number of early career artists, have issued a statement alleging that the gallery was giving “legitimacy to transphobia”.

Posted to Instagram, the statement read: “Students at the Royal Academy Schools are angered and disheartened that the Royal Academy has chosen to give legitimacy to transphobia.

“We do not condone transphobia in any form. Trans rights are human rights and are not a debate.

“Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from the consequences of our actions. Freedom of speech does not mean hate speech.

“There is a degrading double standard in play here with the RA using the Pride flag on its logo while buckling under pressure from conspiratorial TERF viewpoints.”

The students added that when the Royal Academy made “statements made about committing to becoming an anti-racist organisation last summer”, they had “all hoped to see some genuine change and self-reflection”. But, they said: “This does not appear to have had any meaningful impact on the institution beyond a performative level.”

The statement concluded: “Trans rights are not in conflict with women’s rights. Trans liberation is an endeavour of global importance that addresses classism, racial justice and healthcare reform.”

The Royal Academy initially pulled de Wahls’ work from its gift shop when it was alerted by social media users to a blog post the artist had written in 2019.

In the post, she de Wahls described trans women as “biological males that choose to live as a woman, or believe they actually are women” and compared affirming a trans person’s identity to “facilitating the suicide” of someone with severe depression.

She also said trans kids come out because of a “social incentive”, that affirming them and providing necessary healthcare was akin to “neglecting safeguarding duties”, and even said that “proponents of the doctrine” of trans rights were “predominantly groups of biological males threatening actual violence against women, with weapons”.

In response, the artist doubled down by tweeting a link to the blog post, and writing: “Time to re-share my views. I stand by everything I wrote.”

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