Best-Selling Feminist Author Under Fire for Transphobia

October 27th 2015

Diana Crandall

Australian-born author Germaine Greer is under fire for making transphobic comments in an interview with BBC’s "Newsnight"—and it isn’t the first time she’s made this type of statement. Greer, 76, maintains the viewpoint that transgender women—persons who identify as female but were assigned male at birth—do not "look like, sound like, or behave like women."

Backlash against Greer.

According to the Independent, Greer’s comments sparked backlash at Cardiff University, where she was meant to give a lecture in November 2015. A petition started at the school called for a ban on Greer’s attendance, which has received over 2,500 signatures to date.

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The New York Times reports that the school quickly rejected the petition in the name of free speech, but Greer canceled the appearance herself amidst the overwhelming backlash she's faced for her comments.

“I’m not saying that people should not be allowed to go through that procedure. What I’m saying is that it doesn’t make them a woman,” she told "Newsnight" on October 23.

Greer’s opinion starkly contrasts with established LGBT viewpoints from organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) who champion transgender people’s right to be themselves. "We’re fighting discrimination in employment, housing, and public places, including restrooms," the ACLU website reads in part. "We’re working to make sure trans people get the health care they need, and we're challenging obstacles to changing the gender marker on identification documents and obtaining legal name changes."

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Greer, who is the author of several world-wide best selling books about women and feminism, has been referred to by critics as “out dated” and a “dinosaur" for making those comments.

Greer argued in the "Newsnight" interview that her comments “happen to be opinion…I’ve been accused of inciting violence against transsexual people. That’s absolute nonsense.”

The very real issues facing the trans community.

According to the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS), conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National LGBTQ Task Force, transgender people in the U.S. are almost four times as likely to live in extreme poverty as cisgender people.

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2013 Rally for Transgender Equality

In addition to poverty, transgender people in the U.S. reported barriers to healthcare, obtaining identity documents and gaining access to social services like rape crisis centers, hospitals and social workers. There is also a disparity in the experiences of transgender women of color. The Fenway Institute reports that transgender women of color are more likely to be incarcerated than white transgender women.

Discrimination against transgender people can also impede access to education.

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The NTDS showed 78 percent of people who identified as transgender or gender non-conforming in grades K-12 reported harassment. Of those who experienced harassment, 15 percent felt the harassment was severe enough to leave school.

Sometimes, harassment against transgender people proves to be fatal. In January, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) partnered with the Trans People of Color Coalition (TPOCC) to examine the marginalization facing transgender people in the United States. As of October 2015, the report details the murders of 21 people who identified as trans at the time of their death.

The vigil for Michelle Yasmine Payne, a transgender woman who was murdered in Los Angeles, CA.

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By denying the existence of transphobia, as Greer did in her comments, the marginalization of the trans community is perpetuated. But free speech is important for many reasons. Guardian columnist Zoe Williams writes that silencing Greer will only allow prejudice against trans people to flourish.

“It is precisely because there is still so much prejudice against trans people that nobody should be silenced…[progress is made] not by shutting down homophobes, but by argument, persuasion, rage and ridicule, openness and candor."