So, the petition that started this got an awful lot more attention that I initially expected. I must admit, it's overwhelming to get such a torrent of feedback all at once (a lot of it from men that was less than polite) and it got me to thinking.
At the beginning of this campaign, where it started between a group of well-meaning feminists and trans activists, we were really at the apex of ongoing conflict about the role of trans people in feminism. As an inclusive group, we consist of a mixture of different focuses, different levels of exposure, different generations, so heads will collide at points and our most heated conversations are often about sex work and trans people.
18 November is the date that Germaine Greer is due to give her talk on women and power as part of the Hayden Ellis Distinguished Lectures. As it happens, this is two days before the Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day to memorialise those who have been killed as a result of transphobia, or the hatred or fear of transgender and gender non-conforming people, and acts to bring attention to continued violence endured by the transgender community (which I was aware of at the beginning of this campaign). It also falls within Trans Awareness Week, when transgender advocates raise awareness of the transgender community through education and advocacy activities (which I only discovered yesterday, for the sake of clarity). I believe that given her history of discriminatory attitudes towards trans women and the university being heralded as a Stonewall Diversity Champion, the appropriateness of her giving a talk about Women and Power which will exclude trans women.
The petition came shortly after private conversations between the LGBT+ Association (among other students) and staff left no room for negotiation or debate on the matter. It was to be a show of solidarity, for support of trans voices which would hopefully open the lines of communication more between students, the administration and the wider community. After its creation, which was always our intention, we began planning trans awareness events for the week running up to the event, a protest on the date, culminating in a big event for the Transgender Day of Remembrance. (As a side note, if anyone knows of any trans performers or speakers in Cardiff area and beyond, please do send me a recommendation via Twitter. We would love to host them.)
Were this any other week and were she to be part of a debate or a collection of speakers, would I have protested? Perhaps I would have demonstrated outside the event but a call for Greer to be uninvited would have been unnecessary, even stifling to the debate.
Since this grassroots activism has gather some attention, with every new article the story moves further from the situation at hand, with assumptions being made about people who fall on either side on opinion on Germaine Greer, beliefs regarding trans people and the limitations of free speech.
Men are weighing in on either side, throwing misogyny and transphobia and ageism for good measure, which I found myself somewhat excusing when their points suited me (which I was rightfully pulled up on) as I'm sure many other have in this very emotive issue.
At its core, this has always been about consideration for trans lives, trans issues and trans voices. Despite the other conversations it has also sparked about the power of activism, the evolution of its methods with the rise of social media, the role of universities in preserving free speech and the boundaries and limitation of free expression, I am glad that we are able to have these debates about inclusivity but I really wish that more trans women were being given the opportunity to speak right now.
So, how do I feel about free speech? Very much the same as you, I imagine. This is a far more nuanced issue than anyone gives credit to and while I have my own beliefs, the jury's still out. I still feel that the initial event is inappropriate and I will still protest it, as is my right to free speech.
Now that Cardiff University has spoken to Germaine Greer once more and confirmed that the event is going ahead, I'm going to get on with arranging the events.