Melbourne University’s New Gender Affirmation Policy a ‘Violation of Conscience’: Expert

By Nina Nguyen
Nina Nguyen
Nina Nguyen
June 20, 2021 Updated: June 20, 2021

The University of Melbourne is set to finalise its new “Gender Affirmation Policy,” which will ban speeches, behaviours, or activities suspected of posing “potential harm” to transgender people at the university.

The policy, which was introduced some months ago as part of the school’s Diversity and Inclusion policy and is now open for feedbacks, aims to promote and normalise the acceptance of gender identity and expression on campus.

When enacted, the draft will allow transgender members to choose any bathroom facilities that most closely align with the gender they identify with.

All university members will also be required to address transgender members in names or pronouns as affirmed by the transgender person.

Deliberately failing to do so (such as using ‘he’ instead of ‘she’), will be considered as committing “unlawful” behaviours. The same applies to disclosing someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity without permission.

Gender identity is defined as a person’s sense of having a particular gender, which may or may not correspond with their real biological sex.

Associate Professor of Political Philosophy at Melbourne University, Holly Lawford-Smith, condemned the rule as a “violation of conscience”.

“It’s overreaching a lot of incursions on free speech and academic freedom,” she told The Epoch Times.

“If you really reject that ideology, you might want to refrain from pronouns altogether, or you might want to be able to make a decision about how you handle that, and [now] the policy is mandating it.”

Epoch Times Photo
Professor Holly Lawford-Smith has gone under fire for creating a website to collect personal accounts to highlight the impact of Victoria’s gender identity law on women-only spaces, on June 18, 2021. (Holly Lawford-Smith)

Some months following the introduction of the plan, the university adjusted its Freedom of Speech policy to prevent the exercise of free speech that it deems “unacceptable”. This includes cancelling public events or public discourse believed to “be of some potential harm” to the transgender community.

“The University is committed to freedom of speech… but does not support the exercise of freedom of speech when the exercise undermines the capacity of individuals to participate fully in the University,” the draft Gender Affirmation policy stated.

Divided Opinions

Melbourne University student union president Jack Buksh welcomed the policy change.

He said students have the right “to feel safe and the transgender community to feel supported” after an incident in 2019 saw posters about transgender people found guilty of sexual abuse put up in female toilets, one of which said, “Coming soon to a toilet with you.”

“Those kinds of events [the event in 2019] we know can make transgender and gender-diverse students feel really unsafe so it’s good the university has finally stepped up to fill that gap,” Buksh told The Age.

But Lawford-Smith pointed out that it is difficult to draw the line between personal opinions and speeches that could have a likelihood of causing violence when the definition of harm is “vaguely worded” in the draft policy.

“Students or staff members can just claim to have hurt feelings because I denied their identity,” she explained, adding that this will allow transgender members to veto events they don’t approve of, including events staffs want to put on.

“There’s no policy that I know like that for any other minority groups, and it’s just excessive infringement on staff rights to pursue their activities in the name of social justice.”

transgender pride flag
A person holds a transgender pride flag in a file photograph. (Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images)

Controversy was also sparked at the university early this year when Lawford-Smith launched a website that encouraged women to anonymously submit their personal experiences of men using women-only spaces such as bathrooms, fitting rooms, prisons and domestic violence refuges.

The professor was then subjected to heavy criticism from trans activists and about 100 academics who held two protests against her action, calling her “transphobic” and demanding her punishment.

Melbourne University vice-chancellor Duncan Maskell said on Tuesday that “it is no secret that deep disagreements and widely divergent views amongst our community about questions concerning gender identity”.

“This has at times been perceived as a stand-off between the academic freedom of colleagues to pursue particular questions concerning transgender identity, versus the damage and harm that our transgender colleagues experience from those questions being pursued,” Maskell said.

He stated previously the university “is absolutely committed to diversity and inclusion,” as one of its core values is to foster a “deep culture of respect for everyone” including members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

“Respect for diversity means…respect for people with whose views we might strongly disagree, and it even means respect for people we might dislike,” Maskell added.

But whether Lawford-Smith independent research into trans rights is also offered similar respect is still up for debate.

Lawford-Smith said labelling people as “anti-trans” or “transphobic” is often used as a tool to dismiss any reasonable discussion around the topics of trans rights.

“I have no problem with trans people,” she said.

“I have a problem with the ideology that has sprung up around the discourse of trans rights. I have a problem with this whole concept of gender identity which I think doesn’t make any sense, and I have a problem with all the legal changes that have been introduced without consultation to entrench this ideology.”

“It is a really serious undermining of the university’s core purposes,” Lawford-Smith said.

Nina Nguyen
Nina Nguyen