In response to the UK Government’s announcement of excluding transgender people from its ban on conversion therapy, a protest, Oxford Against Conversion Therapy (OACT), is to take place next Tuesday, the 19th of April. Its organisers, Alana Stewart and Clay Nash, are interviewed by Ellee Su.
When did you decide to organise the protest?
Alana: Last Friday, we spent the weekend putting it together. Because of the one in London, we thought it would be important to do something in Oxford given the fact that we have such a strong queer community, and yet Oxford Uni, which is so tied to the political establishment, is becoming an emblem of transphobia. We thought that something that happens here would be really impactful, and would show solidarity with the trans community in Oxford.
Could you elaborate on your point about the University of Oxford becoming an emblem of transphobia and being tied to the political establishment?
Alana: It’s basically a pipeline for Downing Street, it’s very important in our culture and our politics. It’s a central part of British culture and British society. Things that happen here, they have a wide impact. Things that you think aren’t that significant are in national news all the time, which doesn’t happen for other universities. For a uni that’s so culturally significant and which leads so many national conversations, for it to be so openly transphobic is something that bleeds into national society and changes national conversation.
Oxford Uni funds transphobia within its institution, there are transphobic academics who are blatantly transphobic or gender-critical; all of that goes on at the same time as they claim to support and validate trans students. Those two things aren’t compatible. So I think it’s really important that this protest happens here.
What are your personal thoughts on the government excluding trans people from the conversion therapy ban?
Alana: Obviously I think it’s abhorrent. To try and create this loophole in the ban that doesn’t include trans people and to expect that there wouldn’t be a reaction from the rest of the queer community, they’ve just completely got that wrong. The amount of support that the wider community has shown is completely unexpected to them. A ban that doesn’t protect all members of the community is completely insufficient. The government is saying it’s fine to torture the most vulnerable. In the National LGBT Survey Research Report of 2018, under Theresa May, they said that trans people are the most vulnerable members of the community and that conversion therapy is a practice that can lead directly to suicide. It’s basically a message from the government saying that “We don’t care that trans people are harmed by these practices, we don’t care about their lives”.
Clay: Something needs to be done in Oxford, and the bill affects so many people. We can’t sit by and let it go on. It’s an issue that affects everyone who’s LGBTQ+, not just students.
What are the key points that you’ll focus on sharing at the protest?
Alana: A big part of it is solidarity from the wider queer community. OACT brings together students and non-students, such an array of people joining together is important. We have a range of people speaking, including people who have been affected by these practices. It’s really important for people to hear, because I’m sure a lot of people haven’t met people who have been through that, people need to know how dangerous and destructive it is. The fact that they’re happy to give this protection to everyone but trans people just isn’t satisfactory. It’s not a win at all, not progress. The government thought it would placate us but it’s just not going to happen.
Clay: The general protest point is that there is not a ban if it does not include trans people. If there’s an exclusion, it’s not a ban. It’s 2022; they’re doing the opposite of what they said in 2018, and endangering people’s lives. It’s not therapy, it’s been disproven on every scale of healthcare professionals. There is absolutely no backing of any kind for it, so to not have a full ban for everyone is ridiculous. Why do my trans friends deserve to go through abuse if I as a lesbian don’t? One core issue is that the 2018 government’s own research in the National LGBT Survey showed that trans people were twice as likely to be submitted to conversion therapy, so this is just leaving the most vulnerable people out.
Who will be speaking at the protest?
Alana: Jayne Ozanne, who is a gay evangelical Christian. She’s an activist who works for LGBT inclusion in faith; she’s been affected by these practices and will talk about these experiences. Also Chris Jarvis, leader of the Green Group of Oxford City Council. There will be a couple of councillors, and a representative from TransActual, which is a big charity. Local people and members of the university will be there too.
We got support from the church on Bonn Square, they’re going to provide refreshments. It shows that they’re with us on this issue. It’s nice to see support from people who know that a lot of these practices are done in their name, and they won’t be tarnished.
Was it difficult to organise this protest?
Alana: It was a quick turnaround, people are really passionate about it. We assembled whoever was keen to help, and it’s been a learning experience because I didn’t know how to run a protest. Everyone has been really helpful; I mean, Stonewall retweeted us yesterday. It’s very worthwhile just to see the amount of people who are behind this, like people who are willing to print 100 posters and go around Oxford.
Clay: A lot of people are wanting to help, whether that be through first aid or providing refreshments. It’s been a lot easier because there are so many people willing to get involved. It’s very easy to look at what’s going on and think that the world is a hostile place, but the support combats that, and having churches reach out has been special; they saw the poster online and said, ‘Oh, that’s near us, would you like refreshments?’.
Is there anything you’d like to say to the readers of this article?
Alana: Just that, one thing I’ve said to a couple of people is that overturning conversion therapy should be a low bar. It’s outright admittance that you can “cure” being queer in a country that claims to be willing to celebrate queer people. That it’s a level of hypocrisy. They [the government] will celebrate queer visibility, but they won’t keep us safe from harm.
Clay: I think the main thing I would like to say is that over the recent years, we’ve seen the rights of trans people crumble. The government refusing to ban conversion therapy, failing to reform the Gender Recognition Act, failing to provide the non-binary identity and excluding trans people shows comtempt both for trans people and the government’s own promises. I’m tired; trans rights are human rights, our existence is not up for debate. The government needs to follow through and it needs to listen. It’s not enough anymore, it never has been enough.
Make your voices and anger heard, allies come and show solidarity with us.
The University of Oxford has been contacted for a response. Their response, attributable to a University spokesperson, is as follows:
The University prioritises the protection both of academic freedom and of its members from unlawful discrimination. We seek to foster a culture of robust expression of opinion and debate that does not tolerate any form of harassment or victimisation.
The University is also committed to fostering an inclusive, diverse environment. It is vital that students, staff and visitors of all backgrounds are protected, valued and respected. Ensuring that our LGBT+ staff and student community can thrive and realise their potential is a priority for the University.
We equally aim to create an inclusive trans-friendly culture. A workplace and learning environment that prizes academic freedom should also be free from discrimination, harassment or victimisation. All trans staff and students should be treated with dignity and respect.
The protest will be held in Bonn Square, Oxford, on Tuesday the 19th April, 6pm, run by @oxfordagainstct on all platforms.
If you are able to, you may wish to donate to GALOP to fund their conversion therapy helpline: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/p/help-fund-national-conversion-therapy-helpline