An event by a controversial women’s group went ahead yesterday evening at the University of Bristol despite a large demonstration outside.
Around 70 trans rights activists gathered from 6pm (May 3) to disrupt and protest a talk organised by Woman’s Place UK which was being held in the great hall of the Wills Memorial Building.
The protesters hung a trans pride flag above the main entrance of the building and stood outside as an estimated 300 attendees arrived for the talk. They chanted and gave speeches and engaged in occasional acrimonious exchanges with attendees, although the overall atmosphere remained calm.
Protesters Attempt to Disrupt the Talk
The protesters were prevented from entering the building by University security but two found their way inside the event before it began by pretending to be IT support and attempted to disrupt organisers’ preparations by sitting on tables arranged for speakers at the front of the hall.
The two protesters (who wished to remain anonymous) told The Bristol Activist that one man inside the event tried to lift the table and shake the two women off: ‘He grabbed the table that we were on and he lifted it up to intimidate us,’ adding that at that point some of the attendees told him to stop: ‘I think if they hadn’t done that he would’ve thrown us off.’
The protesters’ bags were taken from them by an event attendee who reportedly wore a security-style jacket but was not suspected to be employed by the University.
According to the two protesters, attendees of the event asked whether they had been sent by a man. ‘They really thought a man had sent us to do this. They could not fathom the fact that we just wanted to do this,’ they said, adding that most of the organisers of the protest were women.
They stayed inside until the police threatened to arrest them for breach of the peace. At that point ‘I was ready to go,’ they said, adding: ‘I’d definitely do it again.’
Why Are People Protesting?
Other protesters remained outside and chanted and gave speeches as attendees arrived for the talk, which was advertised by WPUK as a discussion on the current “maternity crisis” exploring themes including “the importance of sex-based language and feminist analysis”.
Protesters criticised the event, saying that it discredited the language trans people choose for themselves in a medical setting, particularly surrounding pregnancy and birth.
They also expressed anger at WPUK for the latter’s role in lobbying against reforms to the Gender Recognition Act 2004, proposed by Theresa May’s government in 2018, that sought to simplify the requirements for trans people to obtain a gender recognition certificate of their acquired gender.
Trans people previously had to submit excessive paperwork and to undergo invasive and often humiliating medical questioning to prove their trans identity in order to obtain a gender recognition certificate of their acquired gender.
WPUK supported reforms to provisions in the Act which stipulated that applicants had to live in their acquired gender for two years prior to qualifying, saying such provisions played to stereotyped gender norms.
However, WPUK lobbied to maintain provisions relating to marriages and civil partnerships, which ultimately stayed in place following a consultation, and to strengthen the rules around children under 18 receiving treatment.
Outside the building, Liam, a trans man, spoke to the crowd of his experiences in the healthcare system and of being treated as a “curiosity” by hospital staff. ‘I’m not a curiosity, I’m a person.’ he said.
He also spoke of discrimination faced by trans people in daily life, including in the use of public toilets, an area in which WPUK have campaigned to maintain single-sex facilities for (cis) women.
‘Whenever I use the women’s bathroom they will shout at me, they will yell at me, they will make me feel unwelcome. Whenever I use the men’s bathroom I’m at risk of sexual harassment and I have been the subject of sexual harassment,’ said Liam.
He went on to say: ‘Coming out as trans I’ve been so much happier; I’ve felt so much more confident. Transphobes will not take that away from me. I will keep fighting for our rights and we will keep turning up here every time hate groups like this try to silence us.’
There were some brief moments of confrontation, such as when a group of women arrived for the talk and chanted “respect my sex” as they walked past protesters, who responded with chants of “trans rights are human rights”. Stewards and University security kept both crowds apart and shepherded attendees inside.
At 7pm the final attendees arrived and the talk began, leaving the protesters locked outside where they sat nearby until eventually dispersing.
Police were on scene from 6pm, perhaps anticipating disruption of the event similar to a protest last month by Student Action Bristol.
Who Are WPUK?
WPUK was established in September 2017 by a group of women from the labour and trade union movement in order to enable women’s voices to be heard in debates about their sex-based rights.
This evening’s talk was titled “A Woman’s Place is With Women: Feminism, Birth and Motherhood” and was co-hosted by With Woman, a group of birth workers and activists, focussed on the pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding concerns of women.
In a statement released before the event, Kiri Tunks of WPUK said: ‘We are delighted to be back in Bristol for what is our 30th public meeting. Bristol was where we held one of our first meetings in February 2018. With today’s devastating news from the US, discussing women’s reproductive rights could not be more timely. We stand in solidarity with our American sisters.
‘WPUK is firmly committed to upholding women’s right to bodily autonomy. Our 2019 manifesto called for free access for all women, including women in Northern Ireland and migrant women, to NHS services, including maternity care and abortion services and the decriminalisation of abortion across the UK.
‘We are aware of a planned protest of our meeting tonight in Bristol. We support the right of peaceful protest, but not to intimidate. We expect the rights of all to be upheld, including the rights of women to meet to discuss feminism, birth and motherhood.’
The talk was a private event organised externally to the University of Bristol.
Were you at this protest? What did you think? Let us know in the comments or at firstname.lastname@example.org.