A Professor of Criminology has been ‘hounded out’ of her Open University job and likened to a ‘racist uncle at a Christmas dinner table’ after saying ‘male-bodied’ trans women should not be in female prisons.
Professor Jo Phoenix has crowdfunded more than £80,000 to fight her former employers for not protecting her from a bullying campaign after she expressed views about the silencing of academic debate on transgender issues.
She claims the Open University, who she began working for in 2016, ‘shattered’ her dreams and made her feel ‘like a pariah’.
Professor Phoenix also said her view that male-bodied prisoners should not be allowed in female prisons resulted in public vilification that has seen her labelled transphobic and racist.
By bringing the Open University to an employment tribunal, she hopes to protect female academics from ‘the vicious bullying perpetrated by those who disagree with our beliefs on sex and gender’.
The Government’s policy to house transgender women in female prisons was ruled lawful by the High Court in July earlier this year amid claims from an inmate it raised the risk of sex attacks.
In 2018, Karen White – who was born a man but was placed in women’s prison HMP New Hall after telling authorities of his identification as a woman – sexually assaulted two female inmates.
Professor Jo Phoenix said the Open UIniversity made her feel ‘like a pariah’ when she began expressing views about the silencing of academic debate on transgender issues
Criminology professor Jo Phoenix has raised more than £80,000 to fund her battle with the Open University and protect female academics from ‘the vicious bullying perpetrated by those who disagree with our beliefs on sex and gender’
‘Predator’ Karen White used a ‘transgender persona’ to attack vulnerable women, a court has heard. He is pictured during his time in a women’s prison
Prosecutors questioned whether White really wanted to transition to become a woman, or just used it as a ruse to target other women. He is now being housed in a male prison. He is pictured in 2016, before his arrest, when he was known to cross-dress, but had not begun gender reassignment
Prosecutors claimed White – who had a history of sex attacks – used a ‘transgender persona’ to gain access to vulnerable females. White was ordered to serve a life sentence in a male prison for the jail sex attacks.
The High Court heard that trans women make up around one per cent of the female incarcerated population, but are responsible for around six per cent of sexual assaults in women’s prisons.
In 2020, official figures showed that transgender prisoners carried out seven sex attacks on women in jail.
The Ministry of Justice policy allows prisoners to be housed according to their gender identity ‘irrespective of whether they have taken any legal or medical steps to acquire that gender’.
Professor Phoenix has also faced a backlash for openly criticising the influence of controversial LGBT charity Stonewall’s in the UK.
The charity runs a programme, Diversity Champions, where companies sign up and pay for advice from Stonewall on how to create an inclusive environment for LGBT workers.
However, a raft of organisations including Ofcom, Channel 4, the Cabinet Office and the Equality and Human Rights Commission left the initiative following criticism of its hard-line policies and widespread outrage after its boss said believing a person’s sex cannot be changed is as bad as anti-Semitism.
The BBC is also understood to have dropped the scheme after it emerged the broadcaster showed staff a controversial ‘genderbread person’ graphic in equality training using material from Stonewall.
An investigation by Nolan Investigates, a podcast run by 5 Live presenter Stephen Nolan, found that the image was presented to employees as part of an internal BBC course set up in conjunction with the lobby group.
The ‘genderbread person’ graphic depicts sex as a spectrum and defines gender identity as ‘how you think about yourself’.
It was apparently shown to BBC staff with no alternative explanations despite these ideas being contested.
The ‘genderbread person’ graphic shown to employees at the BBC earlier this year. The broadcaster is understood to have dropped the charity’s scheme
Professor Phoenix was caught up in controversy with another university in 2019 following ‘transphobe’ accusations.
The University of Essex had to apologise to to her after a planned seminar was called off due to protestors.
The seminar was cancelled partly due to security concerns, but an investigation later found that the decision ‘amounted to a breach of Professor Phoenix’s right to freedom of expression’.
It follows the resignation of Professor Kathleen Stock, 48, from her position at the University of Sussex last month for her views on transgender people.
Professor Kathleen Stock resigned from the University of Sussex after facing a campaign of ‘bullying and harassment’ for her views
The philosophy professor was at the centre of a blazing row – and a student-led protest – at the university after saying she believes gender identity does not outweigh biological sex ‘when it comes to law and policy’.
She also said that people cannot change their biological sex, sparking anger from protesters who accused her of ‘transphobia’.
The professor said she was stepping down from her job after facing a campaign of ‘bullying and harassment’.
Professor Phoenix, meanwhile, says she has been researching sex, gender and justice for two decades and is ‘known around the world’.
She said things ‘started to go horribly wrong’ when she began speaking out regarding her views.
Listing examples of alleged abuse she has faced, she claimed to have been told she is ‘like a racist uncle at the Christmas dinner table’ by a senior manager.
She added that more than 360 colleagues at the university signed a public letter condemning the Gender Critical Research Network she founded and called for her employers to remove all support and funding.
The professor also said that she was instructed not to speak about her research in departmental meetings.
As a result of the ordeal, she now claims to have been diagnosed with PTSD and has been ‘too unwell to work for months’.
Professor Phoenix said: ‘My hope is that this case will force universities to protect female academics from the vicious bullying perpetrated by those who disagree with our beliefs on sex and gender; bullying that is designed to silence us and our research.
The Open University. Professor Phoenix plans to bring the university to an employment tribunal
‘We desperately need to show that this type of treatment is unlawful harassment relating to protected gender critical beliefs.
‘These issues of sex and gender are so important, and we need to be able to talk about and research them without fear of being hounded out of our jobs.
‘Above all, I am taking this case to protect academic freedom and freedom of expression.’
The Open University and Stonewall UK have been contacted for a statement.
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