Joyce is currently director of advocacy at the charity Sex Mattersmoneyconf / CC BY 2.0

Gonville & Caius College are under fire over a discussion involving controversial journalist and Cambridge grad Helen Joyce, set to be held at the College later this month (25/10).

The event, titled “Criticising gender-identity ideology: what happens when speech is silenced”, is being hosted by Arif Ahmed, a Caius fellow, but is not an official college event. It was announced yesterday (13/10) in emails sent to students across different faculties.

The email said that Joyce, former Britain editor at The Economist and the author of Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality, will be interviewed by Sir Partha Dasgupta about her interest in the “controversial subject of gender-identity ideology” and the positive and negative reactions to her work.

The planned event has prompted outrage among students, some of whom accuse Joyce of being a “TERF” (a trans exclusionary radical feminist). That term, considered offensive by some, refers to the beliefs of gender critical feminists, who tend to be sceptical of some claims made by trans activists. They are also concerned about the implications of allowing people who were assigned male at birth into women’s spaces.

Students have expressed their disappointment on Camfess, with one post branding Joyce “hateful” and “ignorant”, whilst expressing support for Caius’ transgender students.

Joyce has been outspoken about the “no-platforming culture” and “free speech crisis” in universities, in which student societies avoid inviting controversial speakers for fear of backlash. On Twitter, she alleged that she was disinvited by the Cambridge Union last year, following a series of events in which John Cleese withdrew from an event over “woke rules”.

Earlier this year, Joyce was due to speak at a top conference for trainee doctors to discuss her views on gender theory, but was disinvited just days before the event. Organisers were forced to postpone after trans activists protested Joyce’s inclusion on the panel, claiming that it would make trans participants feel “unsafe”.

LGBT college reps have condemned the planned event at Caius, accusing the staff involved of “allowing transphobia to proliferate within the university” and “potentially putting transgender students in harms’ way.” Their statement included statistics detailing the prevalence of mental health issues within the young trans community, as well as the worrying increase in levels of transphobic hate crime.


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They wrote: “this kind of rhetoric is fundamentally against what we as LGBT officers stand for, and we are unanimously disgusted by the platforming of such views by Caius … Transgender identities should not be put forward as a subject for debate, and their existence is not an ‘ideology’.”

Cambridge SU also condemned the event, arguing that it would do nothing but “contribute to the further alienation of trans students, to whom the university has a duty of care.”

Both the SU and the LGBT officers called on the College and faculties to “reconsider their decision to platform Joyce.”

Joyce’s talk is being hosted by Arif Ahmed, a philosophy lecturer and fellow at Caius, who has been vocal about the need for free speech in universities. In a comment piece for Varsity earlier this term he criticised the “misplaced idea that we should respect everyone else’s beliefs, identities and values”, if doing so hinders freedom of expression.

Discussing his decision to invite Joyce, Ahmed told Varsity: “Helen Joyce and Partha Dasgupta will be discussing important questions to do with sex and gender. These are matters of great public interest on which it is very important that there is free and open debate.

“Anyone who would like to learn about Helen Joyce’s views and her reasoning, and to discuss them with her, should feel free to come along. Everyone is welcome.”

The fellow is no stranger to defending free speech in Cambridge. In 2020, he led the charge against the University’s plans for a new free speech policy, which he said would have “required all of us to ‘respect’ the opinions and ‘identities’ of others” – plans which “offered practically endless scope for censorship”, he argued.

Caius told Varsity: “Gonville & Caius College prides itself on being a welcoming and inclusive community. The event on October 25 is an external event hosted by Professor Arif Ahmed, a Caius Fellow.

“It is not a College event. We support free speech and would encourage those within the College community and wider society to challenge views they find reprehensible through debate and to celebrate our diversity.”