X Close

Cambridge students protest Stonewall co-founder’s talk

LGBT activist and author Simon Fanshawe. Credit: Anna Moffat

May 7, 2023 - 10:30am

Cambridge

An address from Stonewall founder Simon Fanshawe on Friday evening is the latest in a series of contested free speech talks hosted by Gonville and Caius College at the University of Cambridge. In October, college fellow Prof. Arif Ahmed hosted feminist writer Helen Joyce to discuss gender ideology and free speech; the event met with significant backlash and protest. 

Friday night’s event opened with an introduction from presiding chair Prof. David Runciman, who encouraged those with opposing perspectives to make themselves heard, extolling the virtues of “the expression of divergent points of view”. Then, as Fanshawe took the floor, a significant number of audience members walked out, each draped in a transgender flag and waving a sign. They joined the large crowd of students protesting outside, who were rattling the doors to the auditorium, banging drums, and shouting “No TERFs on Our Turf”. Their walkout prevented many students on the event’s waiting list from attending. 

Having founded Stonewall in 1989, Fanshawe is no stranger to criticism, opposition and abuse. Though he marched against the infamous Section 28, his fiercest opponents now come from within the LGBT community that he has spent much of his life advocating for. In 2019, Fanshawe was one of 20 activists who co-signed an open letter expressing concern over Stonewall’s transgender policies, alarmed by the charity’s encouragement of primary school children to “review their gender identity”. 

Since speaking out, Fanshawe has been largely unable to attend events like this without experiencing extremely threatening, sometimes dangerous, backlash. On Friday, he told the audience about a young woman he had encountered outside the auditorium. When he gestured to the protest and asked her, “What’s this all about?”, she responded, “Apparently, they’ve invited some awful transphobe to come and speak.” Twice, Fanshawe had to be talked out of leaving the room to engage with the dissidents outside. He noted that students are loaned £9,000 a year to attend the University, expressing regret that this opportunity was being squandered as students attempt to “protect” their peers from divergent opinions. 

In his address Fanshawe argued that the development of LGBT ideology over the last decade represents a completely “narcissistic” worldview. Central to the beliefs of certain activists, he observed, is the “idea of the individual as indomitable”. As such, Fanshawe suggested, we live in a world where demands have become rights: phrases like “Trans Rights are Human Rights” are used with little regard for their actual implications. Do these chants represent the simple idea that trans people deserve basic human rights, or do they, in fact, form part of an argument for a “right” to transition, or maybe even to self-identify to enter women’s spaces or compete in their sports? Representatives of this perspective refused, however, to engage constructively with the event, preferring to disrupt than debate.  

Stonewall’s problem is one born out of its success. I asked Fanshawe about the legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2014, one of the charity’s most prominent victories. However, with this came an identity crisis and the need for the organisation to pick its next battle. While Fanshawe would have liked to see the charity devolve, supporting local councils to build grassroots alliances, it instead decided to “begin a path to trans inclusion”. The group has now changed so radically that Fanshawe has been told by a former chair that he has put himself “outside of Stonewall”. 

In 2020, Cambridge issued a statement on freedom of speech which supports the right to “express new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions within the law, without fear of intolerance or discrimination”. The University has since failed to live up to this principle. 

In October, the master of Gonville and Caius emailed students in response to Helen Joyce’s event at the college, announcing that “[Caius does] not condone or endorse views that Helen Joyce has expressed on transgender people, which we consider offensive, insulting and hateful to members of our community who live and work here. […] We will not be attending the event.” When professors at a world-leading university display this sort of intellectual cowardice, it should not surprise us that students follow suit. 

Despite this bleak picture, Cambridge still boasts many academics who consistently champion free speech. Ahmed has been consistently vocal on the subject, while Runciman, the host of the event, worked hard to foster debate from all sides. However, if a university degree is to mean anything, far more must be done to protect intellectual inquiry and academic freedom.


Lara Brown is a student at the University of Cambridge and a former president of the Cambridge Union.

lara_e_brown

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

28 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Zenobia Storah
Zenobia Storah
1 year ago

It is indeed depressing that supposedly bright young people at one the world’s most prestigious academic institutions are so afraid of engaging with ideas that they not only refuse to listen, but seek to prevent others from hearing them too. Simon Fanshawe is a thoughtful, interesting and very entertaining speaker on these matters. What a shame so many students missed out. The University of Cambridge should discipline students who interfere with open discussion and free speech. A place at the university should be conditional on the signing of an agreement of support for free speech and the promise not to engage in activity that compromises it.

For those unherd readers who have not heard Simon Fanshawe speak, this recent Spectator interview makes for good listening – a taste of what these blinkered students at Cambridge missed out on.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=a5diJiIFKZE

Last edited 1 year ago by Zenobia Storah
Aphrodite Rises
Aphrodite Rises
1 year ago
Reply to  Zenobia Storah

One wonders how they managed to attain a place at Cambridge given they object to reasoned debate.

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
1 year ago

It seems to me that they may have got in because of these views rather than in spite of them – Cambridge still holds interviews for places as far as I am aware. It has no excuse for not weeding these types out.

Aphrodite Rises
Aphrodite Rises
1 year ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

That is my suspicion too. It doesn’t apply to maths based subjects which use the (incredibly hard) STEP exam to identify potential candidates, to eliminate mathematically weaker candidates – not identify woke students.

Last edited 1 year ago by Aphrodite Rises
Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

Students who refuse to acknowledge differing views are not students anymore.

Aphrodite Rises
Aphrodite Rises
1 year ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

That is my suspicion too. It doesn’t apply to maths based subjects which use the (incredibly hard) STEP exam to identify potential candidates, to eliminate mathematically weaker candidates – not identify woke students.

Last edited 1 year ago by Aphrodite Rises
Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

Students who refuse to acknowledge differing views are not students anymore.

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
1 year ago

It seems to me that they may have got in because of these views rather than in spite of them – Cambridge still holds interviews for places as far as I am aware. It has no excuse for not weeding these types out.

Aphrodite Rises
Aphrodite Rises
1 year ago
Reply to  Zenobia Storah

One wonders how they managed to attain a place at Cambridge given they object to reasoned debate.

Zenobia Storah
Zenobia Storah
1 year ago

It is indeed depressing that supposedly bright young people at one the world’s most prestigious academic institutions are so afraid of engaging with ideas that they not only refuse to listen, but seek to prevent others from hearing them too. Simon Fanshawe is a thoughtful, interesting and very entertaining speaker on these matters. What a shame so many students missed out. The University of Cambridge should discipline students who interfere with open discussion and free speech. A place at the university should be conditional on the signing of an agreement of support for free speech and the promise not to engage in activity that compromises it.

For those unherd readers who have not heard Simon Fanshawe speak, this recent Spectator interview makes for good listening – a taste of what these blinkered students at Cambridge missed out on.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=a5diJiIFKZE

Last edited 1 year ago by Zenobia Storah
Malcolm Knott
Malcolm Knott
1 year ago

Students who protest against free speech should be sent down, with no refund of tuition fees.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
1 year ago
Reply to  Malcolm Knott

Likewise, academics who do the same.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
1 year ago
Reply to  Malcolm Knott

Likewise, academics who do the same.

Malcolm Knott
Malcolm Knott
1 year ago

Students who protest against free speech should be sent down, with no refund of tuition fees.

N Satori
N Satori
1 year ago

The Trans debate seems stuck in the rut of who is cancelling whom and whose right to justice is in jeopardy.
If you are weary of the relentless yes-and-no, for-and-against you could try this YouTube video discussing some of the powerful influencers working behind the scenes:

Jennifer Bilek | Who is Behind the TRANS AGENDA?

Or this piece from New York Post, April 7th 2023:

Inside the CEI system pushing brands to endorse celebs like Dylan Mulvaney

Clearly, it will take much more than genteel debate or a few well publicised setbacks to halt the Trans juggernaut.

Last edited 1 year ago by N Satori
Nik Jewell
Nik Jewell
1 year ago
Reply to  N Satori

Thanks for those links. Straight talking from Bilek
It was the trans agenda that finally red-pilled me. I looked around with incomprehension about how this nonsense could take hold of everything in ~8 years and that people actually go along with it and I concluded ‘this isn’t right, there has to be more to this’.
It’s a vast psy-op being driven by the usual actors. It’s a short step from there to figuring out the truth about the tech-media-pharma complex (as Thomas Fazi calls it), Covid and the climate ‘crisis’.
Vivek Ramaswamy’s ‘Woke, Inc’ is a good guide to how the ESG agenda works.

Last edited 1 year ago by Nik Jewell
N Satori
N Satori
1 year ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

Yes indeed. Yet much of the media seems stuck with the narrative of an indignant (and intolerant) fringe minority clammering for recognition and justice.

Joann Robertson
Joann Robertson
1 year ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

I am shocked by the number of gay men I know who are now in their 70’s, fought for the rights they now have, and who have totally fallen into support for the trans movement. They will not recognize that children who may well be same sex attracted, which is who they were, are now being medically changed into not being homosexual, but to fulfil male and female stereotypical gender roles. Which is another form of conversion therapy.
I don’t understand their celebration of the trans movement and I have lost at least one good long term gay friend because of our differences on this issue.

N Satori
N Satori
1 year ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

Yes indeed. Yet much of the media seems stuck with the narrative of an indignant (and intolerant) fringe minority clammering for recognition and justice.

Joann Robertson
Joann Robertson
1 year ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

I am shocked by the number of gay men I know who are now in their 70’s, fought for the rights they now have, and who have totally fallen into support for the trans movement. They will not recognize that children who may well be same sex attracted, which is who they were, are now being medically changed into not being homosexual, but to fulfil male and female stereotypical gender roles. Which is another form of conversion therapy.
I don’t understand their celebration of the trans movement and I have lost at least one good long term gay friend because of our differences on this issue.

Joann Robertson
Joann Robertson
1 year ago
Reply to  N Satori

Those are excellent resources and I encourage everyone to check them out.
I submitted a comment about gay support for the trans movement but it was not allowed. I am very disappointed by UnHerd.

Nik Jewell
Nik Jewell
1 year ago
Reply to  N Satori

Thanks for those links. Straight talking from Bilek
It was the trans agenda that finally red-pilled me. I looked around with incomprehension about how this nonsense could take hold of everything in ~8 years and that people actually go along with it and I concluded ‘this isn’t right, there has to be more to this’.
It’s a vast psy-op being driven by the usual actors. It’s a short step from there to figuring out the truth about the tech-media-pharma complex (as Thomas Fazi calls it), Covid and the climate ‘crisis’.
Vivek Ramaswamy’s ‘Woke, Inc’ is a good guide to how the ESG agenda works.

Last edited 1 year ago by Nik Jewell
Joann Robertson
Joann Robertson
1 year ago
Reply to  N Satori

Those are excellent resources and I encourage everyone to check them out.
I submitted a comment about gay support for the trans movement but it was not allowed. I am very disappointed by UnHerd.

N Satori
N Satori
1 year ago

The Trans debate seems stuck in the rut of who is cancelling whom and whose right to justice is in jeopardy.
If you are weary of the relentless yes-and-no, for-and-against you could try this YouTube video discussing some of the powerful influencers working behind the scenes:

Jennifer Bilek | Who is Behind the TRANS AGENDA?

Or this piece from New York Post, April 7th 2023:

Inside the CEI system pushing brands to endorse celebs like Dylan Mulvaney

Clearly, it will take much more than genteel debate or a few well publicised setbacks to halt the Trans juggernaut.

Last edited 1 year ago by N Satori
Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
1 year ago

You realise this will all be a hundred times worse if/when Starmer wins the next election.

S Wilkinson
S Wilkinson
1 year ago

And especially if he has to depend on Lib Dem support to do it.
In Scotland, mad though Sturgeon is, she probably wouldn’t have gone so far on the Gender Recognition Reform Bill if the truly bonkers Greens hadn’t made it part of their price for propping up the SNP.
Many people seem to think of the Lib Dems as wishy washy centrists and a ‘neutral’ voting option; in reality they are totally committed to the Queer transgenderism cause.

S Wilkinson
S Wilkinson
1 year ago

And especially if he has to depend on Lib Dem support to do it.
In Scotland, mad though Sturgeon is, she probably wouldn’t have gone so far on the Gender Recognition Reform Bill if the truly bonkers Greens hadn’t made it part of their price for propping up the SNP.
Many people seem to think of the Lib Dems as wishy washy centrists and a ‘neutral’ voting option; in reality they are totally committed to the Queer transgenderism cause.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
1 year ago

You realise this will all be a hundred times worse if/when Starmer wins the next election.

R Wright
R Wright
1 year ago

Cambridge alumni and donors are the ones being exposed for the cowards they are. If they threatened to pull funding this could all be rolled back.

Richard Powell
Richard Powell
1 year ago
Reply to  R Wright

It depends which college one is an alumnus of. If I were an alumnus of Caius, my donations would certainly have ceased by now, and the college authorities would know exactly why. But my own college has not said or done anything reprehensible and so I am happy to continue my donations there. I don’t see anything cowardly about that. If I’d donated to the University those donations would have come to an end during Prof Stephen Toope’s incumbency.

Richard Powell
Richard Powell
1 year ago
Reply to  R Wright

It depends which college one is an alumnus of. If I were an alumnus of Caius, my donations would certainly have ceased by now, and the college authorities would know exactly why. But my own college has not said or done anything reprehensible and so I am happy to continue my donations there. I don’t see anything cowardly about that. If I’d donated to the University those donations would have come to an end during Prof Stephen Toope’s incumbency.

R Wright
R Wright
1 year ago

Cambridge alumni and donors are the ones being exposed for the cowards they are. If they threatened to pull funding this could all be rolled back.

Jill Mans
Jill Mans
1 year ago

To digress slightly – I remember Section 28 being repealed, and wondered at the time how long it would be before gay activists took over our schools. If it were still in place there would be none of this transgender nonsense which has ruined so many young lives, nor would we have drag queens thrusting their nether regions into the faces of small children. Yet Section 28 is still being called ‘infamous’ as in this essay.

Last edited 1 year ago by Jill Mans
N Satori
N Satori
1 year ago
Reply to  Jill Mans

Exactly. What is so great about same-sex relationships anyway? Why are we benighted heterosexuals urged to genuflect before their sacred sexual deviancy – and never utter a word of criticism.

Wilma Fraser
Wilma Fraser
1 year ago
Reply to  N Satori

I’m sorry but, as a lifelong feminist and a lesbian I find this discussion taking a very unpleasant turn. To call for a return to the bitter days of Section 28, and to refer to same-sex relationships as ‘deviancy’, reflect a totally misguided and hugely homophobic response to the very stance that Fanshawe was trying to elucidate at Cambridge. Gays are not Trans-equivalents (although some young activists have been seduced by the trans lobby) and the struggle for gay liberation has nothing to do with the darkness attending the trans movement. The former sought equality and respect, the latter seeks the annihilation of women-only spaces and the erasure of biological difference; with the nonsensical, dangerous and misogynistic twisting of statistics and data to ‘show’ ‘women’ raping women

Please do not confuse the hard-won (and still fragile) progress achieved over decades by gay activists with the violence and silencing thundering from the trans-lobby.
Dr Wilma Fraser

N Satori
N Satori
1 year ago
Reply to  Wilma Fraser

OK Doc, If same sex relationships are not a form of deviancy from the natural purpose of sex (a repurposing if you will) what are they? [Please spare me an awareness-raising lecture on what is and isn’t natural]
You reinforce my point about criticism being forbidden by resorting as you do to the tired old trope of homophobia. As for gays seeking equality and respect that boat sailed long ago. We now see demands deference, celebration and (all but compulsory) inclusiveness.
Let’s not forget the growing influence of Queer theory which, unless I’m very much mistaken, denigrates “compulsory heterosexuality” aspiring as it does to a full blown cultural revolution in which natural procreative sex is just one option among many for achieving that never questioned goal of self-fulfillment. I’m not sure but Is Queer theory making stealthy inroads into the education system?

Wilma Fraser
Wilma Fraser
1 year ago
Reply to  N Satori

Well, well, well. This is saddening. If the ‘boat’ as you put it, ‘had sailed long ago’, you wouldn’t be asking me to spare you an ‘ awareness-raising lecture’. I’m not quite sure why you feel such a strong need to drive a wedge between us when the debate was about the growing power of the trans-lobby. And I’m no fan of queer theory, in the academy or elsewhere, when it resists critique and rejoinder.
You ask ‘what is so great about same-sex relationships anyway?’ Might I respectfully suggest that you try and find out before uttering your many words of criticism.

N Satori
N Satori
1 year ago
Reply to  Wilma Fraser

If the ‘boat’ as you put it, ‘had sailed long ago’, you wouldn’t be asking me to spare you an ‘ awareness-raising lecture’. 

Bit of a non sequitur don’t you think?
My point was that gays (in the West at least) have found plenty of equality and respect – and then some! They have become a protected species who ‘straights’ criticise at their peril.

Last edited 1 year ago by N Satori
N Satori
N Satori
1 year ago
Reply to  Wilma Fraser

If the ‘boat’ as you put it, ‘had sailed long ago’, you wouldn’t be asking me to spare you an ‘ awareness-raising lecture’. 

Bit of a non sequitur don’t you think?
My point was that gays (in the West at least) have found plenty of equality and respect – and then some! They have become a protected species who ‘straights’ criticise at their peril.

Last edited 1 year ago by N Satori
Wilma Fraser
Wilma Fraser
1 year ago
Reply to  N Satori

Well, well, well. This is saddening. If the ‘boat’ as you put it, ‘had sailed long ago’, you wouldn’t be asking me to spare you an ‘ awareness-raising lecture’. I’m not quite sure why you feel such a strong need to drive a wedge between us when the debate was about the growing power of the trans-lobby. And I’m no fan of queer theory, in the academy or elsewhere, when it resists critique and rejoinder.
You ask ‘what is so great about same-sex relationships anyway?’ Might I respectfully suggest that you try and find out before uttering your many words of criticism.

Rob N
Rob N
1 year ago
Reply to  Wilma Fraser

I don’t really remember s28 but Wikipedia says it prohibited the “promotion of homosexuality”. What is wrong with that? Neither homosexuality, heterosexuality or any other sort of sexuality should be promoted by Government let alone schools. There should be discussion in a rational manner

N Satori
N Satori
1 year ago
Reply to  Rob N

If you haven’t seen it already there is a very interesting piece at spiked-online dealing with the extremes to which sex education in schools is being pushed. Written by Joanna Williams and posted online today:

The Warping of Sex Education

Very worrying when you see how far activists are prepared to go in pushing their agenda without regard either to parents or potential harm to children.

Last edited 1 year ago by N Satori
N Satori
N Satori
1 year ago
Reply to  Rob N

If you haven’t seen it already there is a very interesting piece at spiked-online dealing with the extremes to which sex education in schools is being pushed. Written by Joanna Williams and posted online today:

The Warping of Sex Education

Very worrying when you see how far activists are prepared to go in pushing their agenda without regard either to parents or potential harm to children.

Last edited 1 year ago by N Satori
Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Wilma Fraser

What is your view on parents whose religious views have a different opinion on sex teaching in general ? Should children be forced to listen to views on sex promoted by adults which differs from those of their parents?

Jill Mans
Jill Mans
1 year ago
Reply to  Wilma Fraser

Children are not sexual beings. I couldn’t care less what adults do in private, but I don’t want it thrust into the faces of children. (Or into my face, for that matter.)

N Satori
N Satori
1 year ago
Reply to  Wilma Fraser

OK Doc, If same sex relationships are not a form of deviancy from the natural purpose of sex (a repurposing if you will) what are they? [Please spare me an awareness-raising lecture on what is and isn’t natural]
You reinforce my point about criticism being forbidden by resorting as you do to the tired old trope of homophobia. As for gays seeking equality and respect that boat sailed long ago. We now see demands deference, celebration and (all but compulsory) inclusiveness.
Let’s not forget the growing influence of Queer theory which, unless I’m very much mistaken, denigrates “compulsory heterosexuality” aspiring as it does to a full blown cultural revolution in which natural procreative sex is just one option among many for achieving that never questioned goal of self-fulfillment. I’m not sure but Is Queer theory making stealthy inroads into the education system?

Rob N
Rob N
1 year ago
Reply to  Wilma Fraser

I don’t really remember s28 but Wikipedia says it prohibited the “promotion of homosexuality”. What is wrong with that? Neither homosexuality, heterosexuality or any other sort of sexuality should be promoted by Government let alone schools. There should be discussion in a rational manner

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Wilma Fraser

What is your view on parents whose religious views have a different opinion on sex teaching in general ? Should children be forced to listen to views on sex promoted by adults which differs from those of their parents?

Jill Mans
Jill Mans
1 year ago
Reply to  Wilma Fraser

Children are not sexual beings. I couldn’t care less what adults do in private, but I don’t want it thrust into the faces of children. (Or into my face, for that matter.)

Wilma Fraser
Wilma Fraser
1 year ago
Reply to  N Satori

I’m sorry but, as a lifelong feminist and a lesbian I find this discussion taking a very unpleasant turn. To call for a return to the bitter days of Section 28, and to refer to same-sex relationships as ‘deviancy’, reflect a totally misguided and hugely homophobic response to the very stance that Fanshawe was trying to elucidate at Cambridge. Gays are not Trans-equivalents (although some young activists have been seduced by the trans lobby) and the struggle for gay liberation has nothing to do with the darkness attending the trans movement. The former sought equality and respect, the latter seeks the annihilation of women-only spaces and the erasure of biological difference; with the nonsensical, dangerous and misogynistic twisting of statistics and data to ‘show’ ‘women’ raping women

Please do not confuse the hard-won (and still fragile) progress achieved over decades by gay activists with the violence and silencing thundering from the trans-lobby.
Dr Wilma Fraser

N Satori
N Satori
1 year ago
Reply to  Jill Mans

Exactly. What is so great about same-sex relationships anyway? Why are we benighted heterosexuals urged to genuflect before their sacred sexual deviancy – and never utter a word of criticism.

Jill Mans
Jill Mans
1 year ago

To digress slightly – I remember Section 28 being repealed, and wondered at the time how long it would be before gay activists took over our schools. If it were still in place there would be none of this transgender nonsense which has ruined so many young lives, nor would we have drag queens thrusting their nether regions into the faces of small children. Yet Section 28 is still being called ‘infamous’ as in this essay.

Last edited 1 year ago by Jill Mans
Derek Smith
Derek Smith
1 year ago

It’s time to bring back Section 28, with an additional clause for the teaching of gender ideology.
By banning this nonsense in schools, and Stonewall suddenly having a reason to exist again, it would truly be a win-win situation.

Last edited 1 year ago by Derek Smith
Derek Smith
Derek Smith
1 year ago

It’s time to bring back Section 28, with an additional clause for the teaching of gender ideology.
By banning this nonsense in schools, and Stonewall suddenly having a reason to exist again, it would truly be a win-win situation.

Last edited 1 year ago by Derek Smith
James Stangl
James Stangl
1 year ago

The revolution is eating its own. Welcome to Thermidor, Mr. Fanshawe.

James Stangl
James Stangl
1 year ago

The revolution is eating its own. Welcome to Thermidor, Mr. Fanshawe.