On 19th April, Oxford activists held a protest against the government’s recent decision to exclude trans people from bans on conversion therapy, Freya Jones reports.
Bonn Square, 6pm
The afternoon rain has stopped and it’s a clear spring evening as I hurry down the high street towards Bonn Square.
A crowd has already gathered outside Westgate for the protest organised by Oxford Against Conversion Therapy. It’s a large turnout, bringing together students from Oxford Brookes and Oxford University, along with Oxford residents and other supporters of the LGBTQ+ community.
I immediately regret wearing my Barbour, as three people promptly tell me I look like a Tory – most of the protestors have brought transgender pride flags and rainbow banners in solidarity with the movement.
The Oxford SU also organised a sign-making event before the protest, and statements calling for a total ban on conversion therapy fill the square.
The demonstration opens with chants of “What do we want? TRANS RIGHTS. When do we want them? NOW.” Then the speeches begin, with activists condemning the Conservatives for revoking their promise to end conversion therapy by excluding trans people from protective legislation.
Isabella Simpson, a representative from Oxford University Labour Club (OULC), comes over after her speech. “This is all about sending a clear message to the government,” she says. “So they know that, when it comes to LGBT rights, an attack on one is an attack on all.”
Next to speak is Jayne Ozanne, a prominent LBGTQ+ campaigner and author, who calls the government’s legislation “an April fool” and says Boris Johnson is attempting to split the community. “It’s great that there’s some ban on conversion therapy, but we will not stop protesting until this includes trans people.” Then a new chant of “No LGB without the T” begins as Jayne hands over the microphone.
“I’m very impressed by the turnout tonight,” she says, when I ask if she might comment for The Blue. “Giving trans people a platform to expose the horror they’ve been through is essential for creating change.” Jayne adds that the volume of students in attendance gives her hope, especially as it’s Week 0 and many have just returned from the vacation.
This closely echoes the words of Beau Batesa, a student at Lincoln College, who spoke to The Blue earlier in the day: “Protesting just before term starts is our final chance to exert fire and passion before retiring ourselves to essay crises,” they say, adding, “I’m grateful that Oxford students are actively resisting government policy – as the youth, it is within our onus to protect ourselves, but more specifically the most oppressed members of our community in any capacity we can.”
The protest continues for an hour and more allies join the crowd. Other speeches are made by the author Grace Lavery, the Oxford Against Conversion Therapy organiser Alana Stewart, and former Oxford Union president Molly Mantle.
I lose my Barbour and speak to more students about the ongoing fight for a change in legislation, before the protest closes with another chant: “Trans Rights are Human Rights.”