Terf wars: protesting transphobia at Melbourne Uni

Over 100 students and staff at the University of Melbourne took part in a protest in early August against an event hosted by the so-called Victorian Women’s Guild (VWG), a new transphobic lobby group formed around opposition to the Andrews Government’s proposed gender recognition reforms.

The protest was led by the Student Union Queer Political Action Collective and addressed by student union office bearers, members of the university’s Pride in Action Network, and members of the National Tertiary Education Union and Retail and Fast Food Workers Union. Signs included “hate speech is not academic freedom” and “trans rights are human rights.” A further 1500 people signed an Equality Australia petition to Vice-Chancellor Duncan Maskell calling for the VWG event to be cancelled.

An NTEU organiser read out a statement of solidarity from the Melbourne University branch committee restating the union’s existing support for, “the rights of trans and gender diverse workers who experience particular oppression in the workplace.” This stance was all the more important given that disgracefully, the NTEU branch president at La Trobe chaired the VWG panel.

The campus rally forms part of a wider campaign for identity document changes in Victoria. Under the Andrews Government’s proposed reforms, trans and gender non-conforming people will be provided correct identification documents without needing to undergo gender reassignment surgery.

The Victorian Women’s Guild is a Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist (TERF) organisation. Terfs claim to be “critical” of gender as a social construct, but support a biologically-based sex essentialism. The VWG opposes gender neutral bathrooms and trans rights in sports by claiming they threaten the “sex-based” rights of women who are biologically female.

Despite its radical-sounding rhetoric, the VWG’s aims are indistinguishable from those of conservative culture warriors and opponents of Safe Schools. On the same day as its event, Mark Latham and One Nation launched a campaign to deliver transphobic propaganda packs to 600 schools in NSW. Scott Morrison has recently criticised Cricket Australia’s recognition of trans players. In providing “feminist” cover for the Victorian Liberals’ campaign against gender recognition, the Guild has been quoted favourably in The Australian as part of the paper’s anti-trans campaign.

This is a political alignment that Terfs are neither embarrassed nor ashamed of. The left should have no qualms about where it stands.


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