Open University professor ‘shunned’ for ‘transphobic’ views set to take legal action

·3 min read
Prof Jo Phoenix said that she was branded a ‘transphobe’ after signing two open letters criticising the LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall’s influence in universities - Sam Frost/Guardian/eyevine
Prof Jo Phoenix said that she was branded a ‘transphobe’ after signing two open letters criticising the LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall’s influence in universities - Sam Frost/Guardian/eyevine

A professor who was labelled a “transphobe” by her colleagues for her gender-critical views is preparing to launch a tribunal against the Open University.

Prof Jo Phoenix, who is the university’s chairman in criminology, claimed she had been made to feel like a “pariah” by colleagues and had been subjected to a campaign of harassment for two years that had made her life “unbearable”.

She says she hopes the case will force universities to protect female academics from the “vicious bullying perpetrated by those who disagree with our beliefs on sex and gender”.

Prof Phoenix, who is an expert in sex, gender and justice, said that things started to go “horribly wrong” at the Open University when she spoke up about “the silencing of academic debate on trans issues” two years ago.

In 2019, she signed two open letters which criticised the LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall’s influence in universities, and she gave a talk about the challenges of housing transgender women in the women’s prisons.

Scholar named on a ‘Terf list’

Prof Phoenix said that she was subsequently branded a “transphobe” and put on a “Terf list” which was circulated online.

Terf, which stands for trans exclusionary radical feminist, is generally used as a derogatory term to describe those who believe that “identifying” as a woman is not the same as being born a woman. It can also be used to refer to people who are deemed to hold “transphobic” views.

She claimed that she had been “publicly vilified” by her colleagues and had been “silenced and shunned” within her department.

Open letter to cut support and funding

Earlier this year, more than 360 of her colleagues signed a public letter criticising the Gender Critical Research Network – which she founded – and demanding that the Open University removes all support and funding from the network.

The open letter claimed that gender-critical feminism is “fundamentally hostile to the rights of trans people”.

“I have been made to feel like a pariah and have become very ill as a result,” Prof Phoenix said.

“The Open University failed to protect me from harassing colleagues who compared me to a racist, and peddled negative stereotypes of gender-critical academics as transphobic to defame me and create a hostile workplace.”

Crowdfunding campaign

Prof Phoenix, who intends to take the Open University to tribunal for harassment and discrimination, has launched a crowdfunding campaign which has so far attracted more than £55,000 in donations.

She intends to claim that she has been discriminated against owing to her gender-critical views, which were deemed by a tribunal earlier this year to be a “protected characteristic” under the Equality Act 2010.

A spokesman for the Open University said that the institution is “a place of open debate where differing and difficult views can be brought forward, listened to and challenged appropriately”.

They added: “How we have these debates is governed by clear rules that define our rights and reciprocal obligations to each other, including those under the Equality Act. It is open to any member of our community to raise concerns under our internal processes and these will be investigated in line with our procedures.”

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting