Feminist Kathleen Stock should be allowed to deliver a speech at Oxford University, the Prime Minister has said.
Rishi Sunak, whose intervention comes ahead of expected protests against Professor Stock’s address at an Oxford Union event, said that debate was a hallmark of a “tolerant society”.
The row has seen the Oxford University LGBTQ+ Society say it is standing up for its “right to protest and for trans rights” while the university’s vice-chancellor has defended Prof Stock’s appearance as a matter of “freedom of speech”.
“A free society requires free debate. We should all be encouraged to engage respectfully with the ideas of others,” Mr Sunak told the Telegraph newspaper.
“Agree or disagree with her, Professor Stock is an important figure in this argument. Students should be allowed to hear and debate her views.”
“A tolerant society is one which allows us to understand those we disagree with, and nowhere is that more important than within our great universities,” he said.
Prof Stock quit her job as a lecturer at the University of Sussex after being targeted by activists over her views on gender identity.
A coalition of Oxford organisations and activists is set to hold a Trans+ Pride event in the city centre on Tuesday, which will include a rally and march culminating outside the Oxford Union, where Prof Stock is due to speak at the 200-year-old debating society.
Some groups have called for her invitation to be rescinded.
Prof Stock’s talk comes days after a group of Oxford University academics and staff signed a letter supporting the right of transgender students to speak out against her.
Oxford academics and staff first wrote to The Daily Telegraph, condemning the approach of those who opposed Prof Stock’s views.
The BBC reported that the open letter, shared on Saturday by the university’s LGBTQ+ society and signed by 100 academics and staff, said: “We believe that trans students should not be made to debate their existence.”
The Oxford Union has announced it is to offer “welfare resources” to students attending a talk by Prof Stock, which is expected to cover “sensitive” topics.
The organisation, which describes itself as the “last bastion of free speech”, has said students will be able to “challenge” Prof Stock at the event.
Earlier this month Oxford University’s vice-chancellor Irene Tracey defended the right for Prof Stock to speak there as a matter of “freedom of speech”, saying she believes that part of the university’s role is to enable students to deal with differing viewpoints.
She told The Times newspaper: “Most students actually get it and are quite impassioned about the fact that people should have a range of views.”
In 2021, Prof Stock announced she would be leaving her job as a professor of philosophy at the University of Sussex after “a very difficult few years”.
The academic had faced calls to be sacked amid accusations of transphobia.
In a statement last month, the Oxford University LGBTQ+ society called for Prof Stock’s invitation to speak to be rescinded as it claimed she was “transphobic and trans-exclusionary”.
It also accused the Oxford Union of “disregarding” the welfare of the society’s members under the guise of free speech.
Prof Stock said on Twitter that the society’s statement contained “several falsehoods”, was “probably defamatory” and made it look “utterly ridiculous”.