Mary Beard embroiled in no-platforming row

Image credit: Yukiko Matsuoka

Cambridge academic and fellow of Newnham College, Mary Beard, has come under fire after signing an open letter opposing the tactic of ‘no-platforming’ controversial speakers.

The letter, published in The Observer on Sunday, highlighted the recent campaign that criticised the decision to give feminist academic, Germaine Greer, a platform to speak in the Cambridge Union in light of her perceived transphobic views. Criticism was also levelled at the National Union of Students, for its policy of ‘no-platforming’ academic, Julie Bindel.

Reference was also made to condemnation of Cambridge Green Party candidate, Rupert Read, after The Cambridge Student reported accusations of transphobia when he appeared to question the use of the term ‘cis’, in a Twitter exchange. He has since apologised for those remarks.

Signed by other public figures, including LGBT+ rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell and feminist campaigner, Caroline Criado-Perez, the letter cites “a worrying pattern of intimidation and silencing of individuals whose views are deemed “transphobic” or “whorephobic.”

It also calls on universities to “stand up to attempts at intimidation and affirm their support for the basic principles of democratic political exchange.”

Commenting on her blog, Professor Beard wrote, “Last night I went to bed wanting to weep”, after she was subject to Twitter trolling and accusations of transphobia.

Rejecting this, Beard went on: “I was NOT signing up to an attack on the trans community. Nor was there any remote suggestion that I was.”

In a comment to PinkNews, campaigner Peter Tatchell issued a forceful rebuttal to accusations of transphobia: “I have a 40 year record of supporting trans people and rights, starting in the early 1970s when many people did not.”

He added: “I am now told that my support for the trans community is not wanted. These critics claim to represent the trans community but I doubt they do.”

CUSU LGBT+ trans and intersex rep, Robin Cummings, issued the following statement to TCS: “I agree that everyone has a right to freedom of speech; to express their opinions, which will sometimes be disagreeable to those hearing them. However, being given a platform from which to share those views more widely is more active than just allowing speech; thus being denied a platform does not equal censorship.”

He also added, “In the cases of Germaine Greer and Julie Bindel, these two women had previously expressed undeniably transmisogynistic views on multiple occasions – views which amount to denying that trans women are women and deserve acceptance as women and a place in women’s spaces.”

CUSU LGBT+ Trans campaign clarified their position to TCS, denying that actions taken against the invitation of Germaine Greer were “a case of straightforward no-platforming.”

They argued: “The event was not a debate involving Greer, it was simply her being invited to speak on an unspecified topic in the same venue as our event [LGBT+ drinks], which people understandably found threatening.”

No-platforming controversies have dominated Cambridge in recent months. The Cambridge Union's decision to invite the Israeli Ambassador to speak last term sparked a protest, and Nigel Farage had to cancel a speaker event after a similar threat. In Oxford, the invitation of Marine Le Pen to the Oxford Union also saw protests from anti-fascist campaigners.

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