A professor of gender studies at the University of Rhode Island (URI) has sparked a firestorm over her recent assertion the left has fallen into a state of “trans-sex fantasy,” a world governed by the belief one can change one’s sex and in which “real children are becoming actual victims.”
The Daily Mail drew attention to the case of Professor Donna M. Hughes, the endowed chair in Women’s Studies at URI, who is facing an aggressive backlash, including calls for her dismissal, in the wake of her incisive essay at feminist site 4W, in which she compared the left’s transgender movement to QAnon conspiracy theorists on the right.
The premise of Hughes’ piece, published February 28, was that the transgender movement has become a serious threat to biological women and, now, too, to children who are being seduced into a life of body-mutilating drugs and surgeries.
“[F]ake news and harmful politicized beliefs leading to real harm are not solely a right-wing phenomenon,” the feminist professor wrote. “The American political left is increasingly diving headfirst into their own world of lies and fantasy and, unlike in the imaginary world of QAnon, real children are becoming actual victims.”
Hughes expressed the irony that many feminists believed an administration led by President Joe Biden would bring relief from the “QAnon fantasy” the left has been associating with supporters of former President Donald Trump:
In the U.S. presidential election, many of us voted against the QAnon fantasy and the authoritarian leadership which prevails over truth and rule of law. We hoped to reestablish a more rule-following, rational, decent, and science-based governance, particularly for combatting the COVID [coronavirus] pandemic. Yet, within hours of President Biden being sworn in, he signed the “Executive Order on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation.”
Arguing that the transgender movement is actually engaged in a “huge reversal” of the progress feminists have made over decades in winning rights for women and girls, Hughes asserted:
The trans-sex/“gender identity” ideology challenges same-sex rights, particularly those of women and girls. Interestingly, men and boys have had no attack on their rights. The biological category of sex, particularly women’s sex, is being smashed. Women and girls are expected to give up their places of privacy such as restrooms, locker rooms, and even prison cells. When biological males identify as trans-women, they can compete in women’s and girls’ sports. There are now cases of women being injured, some severely, by biologically larger and stronger biological men competing as “transwomen.”
Hughes, who has done much of her research in the area of human trafficking, assailed the push by transgender activists to end Title IX sports and associated scholarship opportunities for women and girls.
She detailed how one-sided the leftwing “fantasy” world works, rubbing out the rights of females in order to cater to the “feelings” of biological men who wish to feel like women.
“The dystopian trans-sex/“gender identity” world claims that female mammalian characteristics should be redefined and disappeared from the female body to satisfy the feelings of biological males who identify as women,” she wrote. “Basic biological words like breast and vagina are replaced by misogynistic, trans-sex/trans-gender language so that a female has a ‘front hole’ instead of a vagina; females ‘chest feed’ instead of breastfeed.”
Hughes observed further that references to women are completely disappearing and being replaced by phrases such as “people who menstruate,” “people with uteruses,” “a pregnant person,” or “a birthing parent.”
“No such changes in terms are proposed for men’s bodies and anatomy,” she asserted. “These redefinitions are hatred targeted at women’s bodies and their rights.”
Hughes pronounced as “lies” the information Big Tech and the transgender industry of “medical consultants and surgeons” are feeding teens, who now suddenly believe “they can be medically transitioned into the other sex with full-functioning sex organs facing few complications.”
“Pharmaceutical companies, clinics, and doctors are profiting from these disfiguring treatments and procedures with no regard for the future of their victims,” she warned. “In fact, they are creating patients who will be in need of permanent treatments for the rest of their lives.”
Hughes’ critical essay was described as “beyond the pale” by Annie Russell, director of the URI Gender and Sexuality Center.
The Providence Journal reported Russell said Hughes’ rhetoric fails to meet the criterion for respectable discussion on the issues of gender and sexuality.
“These are not debatable issues in the scholarly field of gender studies,” Russell said. “It’s not only outdated, it’s never been a part of the gender and women’s studies movement.”
“Trans people are people, period,” Russell added, stating members of the transgender community have expressed hurt and angry feelings over Hughes’ comments as well as concerns for their own safety.
Russell questioned whether someone with Hughes’ views should be allowed to teach in the classroom, according to the Journal, and said the URI administration responded to concerns about Hughes’ comments with seriousness.
“I just want to be very clear that academic freedom of speech does not protect someone in regards to discriminatory actions or behaviors,” Russell stated.
URI distanced itself from Hughes in its statement published on the school’s website:
The University of Rhode Island respects the rights and dignity of each individual and group. The University does not support statements and publications by Professor Donna Hughes that espouse anti-transgender perspectives and recognize that such discourse can cause pain and discomfort for many transgender individuals. The University is committed to transgender rights and the need to eliminate all forms of discrimination and violence aimed at transgender individuals and the LGBTQIA+ community.
The school continued that it “recognizes that faculty have the same rights, obligations, and responsibilities as other American citizens, and that the university “honors and respects the right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment for all citizens, including our faculty, without censorship or retaliation.”
Nevertheless, URI asserted:
A faculty member’s First Amendment and academic freedom rights are not boundless, however, and should be exercised responsibly with due regard for the faculty member’s other obligations, including their obligations to the University’s students and the University community. As stated in the above referenced documents, faculty have a special obligation to show due respect for the opinions of others and to “exercise critical self-discipline and judgment” and “appropriate restraint” in transmitting their personal opinions.
If the U of Rhode Island thinks it can intimidate–or silence–Women's Studies professor Donna Hughes, it will be amusing to watch the trainwreck. This is a woman who has taken on the sex-traffickers and the thugs who run the porn industry. She's fearless.https://t.co/avKY72tHI5
— Robert P. George (@McCormickProf) March 25, 2021
The Journal reported Hughes’ response:
A person cannot change their sex. That is a fact. I have a PhD in genetics so I think I am qualified to write about the basics of sex. And even for those who might question that, I have the right of free speech to say that sex is immutable. In fact, I think I have a civic responsibility to speak out on false claims and harm I see happening to young people who are being told they can change their sex.
In a statement to the College Fix, Hughes’ attorney, Samantha Harris, said her client “has become the target of a coordinated online campaign by people soliciting students to file complaints about her with the university and, in the words of one Twitter user, to ‘take her down.’”
Harris also responded to URI’s statement by noting its implication is that Hughes’ essay may not be protected as free speech by the First Amendment “because she somehow failed to show appropriate restraint in the expression of her opinion.”
Hughes received support from Professor Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University.
“If the U of Rhode Island thinks it can intimidate — or silence — Women’s Studies professor Donna Hughes, it will be amusing to watch the trainwreck,” he wrote. “This is a woman who has taken on the sex-traffickers and the thugs who run the porn industry. She’s fearless.”
Hughes told the College Fix she is not satisfied with URI’s statement and she is not backing down.
“I’m known as someone who expresses my opinion and have been willing in the past to advocate for the rights and protection of women and girls and to oppose laws and policies that result in their harm and exploitation,” she said.
“The university needs to state they are committed to academic freedom and free speech, and take steps to demonstrate that those principles and rights are more than words,” Hughes added.