‘Transphobic’ Organisation to hold conference at UCL sparks student outrage

The controversial organisation Woman’s Place UK (WPUK) is set to hold a day-long event at the Institute of Education, UCL on 01/02/2020.

The organisation has been characterized as a “transphobic hate group” and has frequently found itself the object of protest and condemnation.

Announcement of the conference has stirred considerable outrage at UCL, an institution already scandalized after allowing a eugenics conference to be hosted on its campus.

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One post on the Facebook page ‘UCLove’ criticized the news as “disgusting and disheartening”, whilst the UCL Students’ Union released a statement strongly critical of the University’s decision.

 “Students’ Union UCL strongly objects to the upcoming ‘Women’s Liberation Conference’ organised by A Woman’s Place UK (WPUK) which is due to take place on our campus on Saturday 1 February.”

It continued to affirm that “UCL should be an open, accessible and safe space for trans people. WPUK is wholly at odds with the values of our institution and is not welcomed by our Union, our elected officers or our members and we have no tolerance for people who contribute to developing a hostile environment for the trans community.”

Finally, the Union’s statement noted that the date set for the conference, the first of February, marks the beginning of LGBTQ History month, “an inclusive month of reflection and celebration of the LGBTQ community and (an opportunity to) reaffirm our commitment to ensuring UCL is a welcoming and safe place for the trans community.”

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The IOE at UCL, source: UCL website

The Union also announced a day-long demonstration meeting at the IOE Bar running from 8.30am to 9.30pm – the duration of the conference. The demonstration will be followed by a workshop on ‘How to recognize Trans-exclusionary Feminist Ideology’, also at the IOE Bar. 

An open letter to the provost signed by a number of members of staff and students is available here. It warns that allowing the conference to go ahead will “cause considerable reputational damage to the university.”

One non-binary trans student at UCL told the London Student that: 

“The fact that (UCL) feel capable of defending hosting a hate speech group is emblematic of the prevailing attitude amongst UCL management; that they will pay lip service to inclusion but when they are called to act as allies they couldn’t care less about marginalised communities.” 

“(WPUK) speak about trans people in ways which are deeply hateful and contribute to the culture of hostility towards trans people which is festering on the right and in right-wing feminism in the UK. This has real impacts on our quality of life, by emboldening transphobic behaviour against us.”

Transphobic hate crimes across England rose by 37% last year and have nearly quadrupled over the last five years, representing the largest increase in the recent surge of reported hate crimes. In 2018 a UCL student bar was struck by a series of homophobic and transphobic incidents, including one in which it was claimed that “‘the Jews were pushing ‘the trans agenda'”.

When a similar WPUK event was held at the University of Oxford last November, it was met by significant resistance and an organised protest. 

 WPUK also advocate the further criminalization of sex work, which critics worry will lead to less regulation, health care and protection for sex workers; when asked about ‘whore-phobia’, the organisation referred only to working with “survivors of the sex trade” rather than sex workers.

In their response to London Student, WPUK asserted they are “dedicated to fighting for women’s rights. We are not anti-trans. Trans women have spoken from the platform at several of our meetings and trans people have participated in discussions as members of the audience.”

The upcoming conference will “address the multiple oppressions women face, as well as celebrating the achievements that the women’s movement has made and honouring the women who have dedicated their lives to… fighting sexism in all its forms.”

They further commended UCL for “its commitment to facilitating academic debate.”

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