Vindication: a UK tribunal pours cold water on trans hysteria

There’s seldom good news in the gender space, but this story about  a UK tribunal ruling about transgender bullying comes as a breath of fresh air.

Professor Jo Phoenix, 59,  is a criminologist who landed her dream job at Open University in 2016. It wasn’t long before she ran into trouble with her colleagues.

Professor Phoenix is a lesbian from a very tough background. As a schoolgirl in Texas she was raped as a 15-year-old and endured the shame of preparing for a rape trial. She ran away from home and lived rough for a while. Adult education, which OU specialised in, saved her. She pulled her life together and ended up with a PhD and a world reputation.

She has strong and clear views on transgender issues: women are women; men are men. She was dismayed by the silencing of academic debate and she criticised the influence of Stonewall, the UK’s leading LGBTQI+ lobby group. She even had the temerity to argue that males should not be incarcerated with females. As a good academic, she set up a group called the Open University Gender Critical Research Network which studied the consequences of gender self-ID. 

As a reward for her audacity, she was treated like a leper. The vilification and harassment she endured made her literally ill. One night, she recalled, “I was reading all these tweets that were either threatening violence or saying I was transphobic. Each time I shut my eyes, I saw guns coming after me. It was terror.”

She compares the hostility and shaming she endured to her rape case. “The tactics are the same,” she told The Telegraph. “The character assassination, your word against theirs, the idea that you are making it up and it’s not as bad as you claim. At times, I did break down and cry.”

At one point, she was told by a senior manager that she was “like the racist uncle at the Christmas dinner table.” She was told to keep silent about her research in departmental meetings. Over 360 of her colleagues signed an open letter condemning her Gender Critical Research Network alleging that gender-critical feminism is “fundamentally hostile to the rights of trans people”. The Equality, Diversity and Inclusion apparatchik in her faculty posted insulting tweets about her work. She was labelled a transphobe and a TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist).

Naturally, Professor Phoenix complained about the harassment, but the university let her twist in the wind. It did nothing to remove what she calls “discriminatory and hate-filled statements” on the university websites.

It was all too much, and she resigned in December 2021. But she also sued the OU for unfair dismissal. She took up another post at the University of Reading.


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In a judgment released this week, an employment tribunal upheld 20 of her 22 claims and found that the University had harassed and vilified her and discriminated against her. It was scathing. Most of the witnesses, it said, were academics “trained in the methodology of research and presentation of fact and analysis producing argument”. However, they failed to live up to their reputation. One was rebuked, for instance, for claiming that Professor Phoenix’s network was “putting human lives at stake”. “Somewhat hyperbolic”, scoffed the tribunal.

“We expected a certain basic level of rigour in presenting the evidence,” it declared. “There were some witnesses … who did not meet this standard.”

Professor Phoenix told Times Higher Education after the judgement was handed down: “From my perspective, the big headline is that academics, students and people in universities cannot go round calling people who are gender critical or come from that perspective transphobes and TERFS without it being both an insult but also opening the possibility of it being an act of harassment to do so …

“The judgment was very, very clear that those kinds of statements are used as an insult and to create a hostile working environment – i.e., to stop people talking … Words like ‘transphobe’ are in the same realm as ‘racist’, ‘homophobe’ and ‘sexist’ – all people and ideas that are beyond the pale – and they have an effect; they destroy careers.” 

The vice-chancellor of Open University ate humble pie and confessed that it had to “find a path that encourages diversity of thought and views in the inclusive environment we all want to see at the OU”. 

Michael Cook is editor of Mercator

Image: Jo Phoenix’s CrowdJustice page  


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