Writing in The Telegraph, James Kirkup said her case was “so troubling” because it wasn’t “a reaction to something she said on Twitter,” but because of her academic research:
Selina Todd, a professor of Modern History at Oxford, has had to be provided with security in her lectures due to threats from transgender activists.
Todd, who teaches at St Hilda’s College, Oxford, was accused of “transphobia” by the transgender activists for her previous work in women’s rights advocacy.
“My research suggests that women who posed as men in the past were often lesbians seeking to protect themselves, or because they want to do jobs that were only available to men,” Todd explained to The Telegraph. “The first complaint that was made against me was to say that I was transphobic because it would be impossible for a transgender student to be taught by me.”
Two students later approached her and told them they were aware of threats made against her on an email network that they were a part of. “The university investigated the threats and came back to me to say their intelligence on them is such that they are providing me security for all of my lecturers for the rest of this year. They said ‘you’re having two men in the rest of your lectures’,” Todd said.
Some students turned up to her lecture at Oxford in pro-transgender t-shirts, but the “two burly guys” most likely put them off from doing anything. Todd’s department now receives daily complaints against her from students.
She hit back on social media against people who were criticising the security being given to her, but said she would rather not wait and “get hit in the face”:
I understand those sceptical abt how serious threats made towards me were/are. As a historian, I like robust evidence. But on basis of limited info me and my employer could get, we decided not to wait and see if I'd get hit in the face like @bindelj before taking action.
— Selina Todd (@selina_todd) January 25, 2020
Todd spoke on BBC Radio 4’s flagship “Today” programme about the controversy, and said that her position showed just how important the right to speak and think freely is. “In the world today, democracy is under threat, and that therefore we all have to defend the right for all people to have freedom of speech, and freedom of debate,” she argued:
Within a democracy, arguments about rights are always current. As a historian, I know that it’s absolutely not the case that you can just say “trans people’s rights matter more than women’s rights, you’ve all got to shut up.” That’s not how democracies work, it’s always the case that groups needs and interests can conflict with other completely legitimate groups… There is also a wider debate here as to what universities are for, and to my mind they’re for modelling respectful, democratic debate, and that’s what we should be allowed to do… This may sound like a storm in a teacup and something that’s just about student activists, but students become graduates and Oxford students tend to become graduates who go into things like politics and the media and the civil service, so if they are learning that no debate is the way to run a society, we should all be worried.
Work like Todd’s isn’t abstract intellectual diversion. It is essential to understanding one of the biggest social questions of the day. Yet some people are threatening to harm her for it, and she is not alone in that. The trans issue desperately needs better research and evidence, not least for the sake of trans people themselves. Yet a toxic combination of aggressive activism and political neglect has created a vacuum of evidence that risks being filled with propaganda. Free speech for Selina Todd and others like her is anything but academic.
A spokesman for Oxford said that they couldn’t comment on individual arrangements, but that “when staff raise concerns with us, the university will always review the circumstances and offer appropriate support to ensure their safety and their freedom of expression.”
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