By Milan Perera, News Writer
A panel event organised by Women Talk Back, a University of Bristol based feminist society sparked widespread outrage and anger amongst various student groups who gathered near the Queen’s Building to voice their opposition to the event.
The panel event was scheduled to take place inside the Queen’s Building on Woodland Road on Friday, April 28 at 6.00pm. The event, ‘Feminist Lawyers Talk Back!’, was set to feature the lawyers Elizabeth McGolne, Alice de Coverly, Akua Reindorf KC and Amara Ahmed to discuss ‘advocating, litigating and protecting women’s rights.’
However, since the announcement of the event there had been a widespread opposition from various student bodies who raised concerns about, what they called, ‘the trans exclusionary’ nature of the event.
The protesters gathered outside the back entrance of Queen’s Building around 5.00pm and then moved to the front of the building facing Woodland Road carrying banners, placards, flags and megaphones.
The protest was led by the Trans Liberation Front (TLF) in collaboration with a wide range of student groups including the LGBTQ+ Society, Extinction Rebellion (XR) Youth, Socialist Worker Student Society and several student publications.
When Epigram asked the spokesperson for TLF the reasons behind the protest they pointed out that:
‘Women Talk Back are a trans hate group. As much they profess to care about women’s rights they actually only care about cis women’s perceived comfort. They don’t care about women’s rights. If they did, they’d care about the disproportionately high rates of assault that trans women face… We are here to say ‘we don’t agree with you. Trans rights are human rights!’
In a follow-up question when we asked whether they agree with the notion that a university should be a space for debate and discussion on various matters. To which they responded:
‘People's lives are not up for debate! People’s rights are being eroded consistently. Anti-trans hate is going up exponentially at the moment and that’s not a debate to be had!’
Speaking also to Epigram was the spokesperson for That’s What She Said (TWSS), the University of Bristol based feminist magazine, who pointed out that:
‘The presence of Women Talk Back has been going on for quite a while in our campus. I used to be part of the Intersectional Feminist Society last year. I just completely disagree with their ideology, and I don’t think they should be featured on the campus.’
They went on to describe the psychological damage trans students face on a day-to-day basis:
‘It’s a psychological harm to trans people who are some of the most marginalised groups in our campus. I don’t think they should be allowed to be here and be claiming the name of feminism!’
Charlie Gadd from the Socialist Worker Student Society who was also present at the protest pointed out that:
‘It’s so important that we oppose all attacks on trans people. We should not be having transphobic events on campus. They seek to demonise trans people by suggesting that they are a threat to women or feminism. It’s clear this just divides people and covers up the real threats to women’s safety.’
The protest featured speeches and music numbers with calls for solidarity against, what the speakers called, ‘years of transphobic rhetoric and violence.’
Leading up to the event, the authorities at the University of Bristol imposed several conditions given the controversy surrounding the panel event, including that it ‘be limited to staff and students only on the grounds of health and safety and the deterrence of public disorder.’
In a statement issued by Women Talk Back when approached by Epigram for comment pointed out that:
'Women Talk Back! is a feminist society at the University of Bristol, founded in 2018. Feminist Lawyers Talk Back! is a panel event with highly respected lawyers discussing women’s rights. Holding this event on campus should have been a straightforward process. We have successfully held half a dozen such events, open to the public, over the years.
We are taken aback by the opposition we faced from the University of Bristol. It imposed measures which meant our public event was no longer viable. Our event was only approved on the condition that we exclude the public while paying hundreds of pounds in security fees. No student society can afford hundreds of pounds for security fees on an event excluding the public. We challenged the restrictions and were told they were imposed because our fellow students might cause public disorder.'
On the Women Talk Back event, a spokesperson for the University of Bristol said:
‘We are firmly committed to upholding freedom of speech and welcome members of our community to invite a wide range of speakers onto our campus. We also have a duty to ensure events are carried out in a safe manner which doesn’t endanger others.’
The spokesperson further added that:
‘The event was approved but as related Women Talk Back events have previously attracted significant protest and disorder, we decided additional security was required and that admission should be restricted to staff and students only.’