Watch: ‘We’re very confused about this… progressively it’s got into this argument that people will now accuse me of being transphobic’‘I will get hate mail now’: Lord Robert Winston backs professor in trans row saying ‘you can’t change sex’
Lord Robert Winston has said he fears he will be inundated with hate mail after backing a professor in the eye of a trans storm by saying people “can’t change sex”.
The biologist, who is professor of science and society at Imperial College London, warned Question Time host Fiona Bruce that producers would need to edit the program after he aired his views.
During a debate about universities’ ability to simultaneously promote free speech and protect their diverse student body, the discussion inevitably swung to Kathleen Stock – a professor of philosophy at the University of Sussex who has faced calls to be removed from her position amid accusations of transphobia.
Backing her academic colleague, Lord Winston said: “I’m about to say something that will mean you’ll probably want to edit the programme when I’ve finished.
“I will say this categorically – that you cannot change your sex, your sex actually is there in every single cell in the body you have a chromosomal sex you have genetic sex you have hormonal sex, you have all sorts of psychological brain sex, they’re all different.
“And we are very confused about this, unfortunately. And progressively it’s gotten into this argument that people will now accuse me of being transphobic.”
Challenged that others say people can change sex, the former Vice Chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University doubled down on his views.
He went on: “Well, unfortunately, you can’t say this publicly, but this is one of the big problems.
“People saying this on this programme undoubtedly will resolve in me getting a huge amount of hate mail – it always does.
“But I do think it’s a big issue about the attitudes.
“There are of course issues, which are important, about young people who are confused about their sex.
“We won’t go down that route here, but it does affect a whole lot of issues in schools and elsewhere in our society. Of course we should accept people as they are.
“Overall I think it’s a very sad thing that we can’t discuss this biological science without actually getting completely caught up emotionally with something which is really completely wrong.”
Before moving on, host Bruce said: “There are many people who would vehemently disagree with you, so I’m just going to make that clear.”
Last week, the University of Sussex vice-chancellor said the institution would not tolerate threats to “academic freedoms”, adding that everyone at the university has the right to be free from “harassment and intimidation”.
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In a statement, the Sussex branch of the University and College Union (UCU) has said all trans and nonbinary members “now more than ever should receive the unequivocal support” of the University of Sussex.
It added: “We urge our management to take a clear and strong stance against transphobia at Sussex.”
The statement comes after an anonymous group, reportedly set up by students, launched a campaign to get Prof Stock sacked over her views on gender identification.
Posters calling for Prof Stock to be fired were reportedly put up near the campus, and an image emerged on social media of a campaigner holding a banner saying: “Stock Out”.
Prof Stock, who shared the UCU Sussex statement on Twitter on Tuesday, said: “My former union branch UCU Sussex has just effectively ended my career at Sussex University. This just sent to all members.”
The UCU said members of the Sussex branch executive are now receiving “personal threats” which the union is raising with university leaders.
How did Prof Stock become the eye of the storm?
Prof Stock has previously said she is “at odds” with a large section of academics as she believes gender identity is not more important than facts about biological sex, “particularly when it comes to law and policy”.
In January, hundreds of academics criticised the decision to make Prof Stock an OBE for services to higher education in the New Year Honours.
In the open letter, the philosophers condemned academics who use their status to “further gender oppression” and said they denounced “transphobia in all its forms”.
A statement shared by the University of Sussex Students’ Union on Friday said: “We stand in solidarity with our trans and nonbinary student community – a community that has not been mentioned in the statements made by the university and Adam Tickell, the vice-chancellor.”
It added: “Peaceful protest, which is all that the protest group has done, is not censorship. It has a basic democratic function; those involved are exercising their civil liberties.”
A University of Sussex spokesman said: “We have acted – and will continue to act – firmly and promptly to tackle bullying and harassment, to defend the fundamental principle of academic freedom, to support our community and continue to progress our work on equality, diversity and inclusion. We care deeply about getting this balance right.
“There are a range of very strong views and opinions held across the university on a whole variety of issues and topics, including how we support our trans and non-binary community particularly at this time.
“As a community, we need to come together and talk about what is happening at the moment and to look at the way forward.
“We will be doing this in the coming weeks and this will be led by our newly appointed pro-vice chancellor for Culture, Equality and Inclusion.”