Education

University of Reading accused of ‘failing trans students’ by hosting ‘dangerous’ anti-trans lecture

Lily Wakefield April 28, 2022
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University of Reading protest

Protesters gathered outside while Dr Holly Lawford-Smith gave a lecture on conversion therapy. (Reading Trans Movement)

Activists and students have accused the University of Reading of platforming a “dangerous culture war” after hosting a lecture on keeping trans conversion therapy legal.

On Monday (25 April), Dr Holly Lawford-Smith gave a lecture, organised by the university’s school of law, titled “who put the ‘GI’ in ‘SOGI’?”, in which she argued that conversion therapy bans around the world should only cover conversion therapy which attempts to change sexual orientation, not gender identity.

Lawford-Smith is a political philosophy lecturer at the University of Melbourne, who believes conversion therapy for trans kids will “ensure minors don’t make mistakes they may regret deeply as adults”, is a regular contributor to the LGB Alliance Australia YouTube channel, has been banned from both Twitter and Medium for “hateful conduct”, and has literally written the book on “gender critical feminism”.

On the poster advertising her lecture, which was hosted by Reading law professor and so-called “gender critical feminist” Rosa Freedman, Lawford-Smith said that there was “little available evidence on either efficacy or harmfulness when it comes to conversion therapy for gender identity” and that there was no “satisfactory” reason to cover both gender identity and sexual orientation in conversion therapy bans.

Ahead of the lecture, LGBT+ charities Reading Pride, Club FOD and Support U LGBT+ released an open letter opposing the event, in which they said that the university had “failed in its duty of care to support its trans students by allowing this lecture to take place”.

“Conversion therapy is a practice which is meant to target someone’s identity and erase it,” they wrote.

“It is a practice medical professionals agree causes harm and long term psychological damage.

“It is not therapy – it’s a treatment and one motivated by the needs of the person giving it and not the needs of the person receiving it.

“It has a pre-determined outcome – to fix what is perceived as broken. But we in the LGBT+ community are not broken. There is nothing to fix – except this dangerous culture war which sets out to divide us and which is being given a platform at the University of Reading.”

However, the university refused to back down, and the lecture went ahead.

(Reading Trans Movement)

During the event, protesters gathered outside with placards that read “conversion therapy is torture”, and “protect trans kids”.

Reading Trans Movement, the student group that organised the protest, told PinkNews: “The lecture given by Dr Lawford-Smith was ‘debating’ the efficacy and doubting the harmfulness of conversion therapy in the context of gender.

“Claiming ‘little evidence’ as a basis for excluding gender identity/expression from the ban on conversion therapy, despite the overwhelming evidence of conversion therapy being harmful to all those subjected to it.

“First and foremost the protest was peaceful. Not just with regards to the manner in which the protest took form, but also with regards to the environment; there were snacks and drinks laid out free for anyone to have, picnic blankets and some face paint. The atmosphere was calm and friendly, very welcoming too.

“A few people who did not know of the event or our reasons for being there even approached and discussed with us what it was we were protesting.

“[Given] that we drew attention of those who didn’t know what was happening, that we were very hard to miss in central campus, and that our numbers spanned more than 100 throughout the day, we would say that we were effective in making our point. We stood and held our signs as those within the lecture left, they couldn’t miss us.”

(Reading Trans Movement)

According to Reading Trans Movement, just two students attended the lecture, and those who did disagreed with Lawford-Smith’s views.

The group added: “That the vigil was supported by staff, students, alumni, local charities, and Reading University Student Union alike made it very effective.”

A University of Reading spokesperson told PinkNews: “The event was an internal academic seminar, organised by the school of law, focused on the development of new laws on the use of conversion therapy for sexual orientation and gender identity in Australia and the UK.

“As is common in academic research seminars, there was one speaker, with time then given for discussion in which ideas raised could be questioned and challenged. It was advertised to members of the school of law and attended by academic staff and students.

“The event was reviewed against our external speaker policy, and those speaking agreed to abide by our code of conduct.”

They added: “The seminar went well, and led to some thought-provoking discussion between many of those who attended.

“Some students and others chose to protest about the event outside the building, as is their right, and made their points clearly but with great consideration and thought for others. This is what universities are for.”

More: conversion therapy, Trans Conversion Therapy, University of Reading

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