A graduate of Oxford University has handed back his degree to protest the University’s Exeter College deciding to host an anti-gay conference that is run by a religious group, Christian Concern, which has backed a “gay cure” along with routinely seeking to curtail gay rights. Michael Amherst returned his English degree to Exeter College on February 29; according to Pink News, Amherst said that he no longer wishes “to be associated” with the University.
He is not alone. The Oxford Student reports that numerous students and faculty have joined with the LGBT community and international gay rights organizartion Stonewall in demanding that Oxford cancel the Wilberforce Academy. While the conference’s materials do not mention homosexuality, Christian Concern has frequently opposed measures for marriage equality. In addition, the organization’s founder, Andrea Minichiello Williams, is listed as the director of the Coalition for Marriage, which opposes marriage equality. Williams is also the founder and director of the Christian Legal Centre, which is defending psychotherapist Lesley Pilkington, who faces being removed from the British Association for Counseling and Psychotherapy (BACP) for offering “corrective” therapy.
Oxford University administrators have defended their decision to allow the conference to be held on its grounds, telling the Oxford Student that the Christian Concern “has signed a contract with us stating they will follow our policies. They’ve signed the contract and as long as they abide by it we’re content.” But a spokeswoman for Oxford said that the university will not be “undertaking any effort to police or monitor the extent to which the conference conformed to college regulations.” Allowing the conference to be held in its facilities is allowable, says the university, because “Freedom of speech is something Oxford stands for.”
The University seems to be deliberately overlooking the extent to which organizations such as Christian Concern exist to limit the freedoms of those who do not share its views, such as its wish “to see the United Kingdom return to the Christian faith” and its objections to “secular liberal humanism, moral relativism and sexual licence.”
In no small part because of the prestige associated with Oxford, the University lends an imprimatur of approval to organizations that are hosted on its grounds. Regardless of what university spokespeople may say, Oxford is giving tacit approval to the views of those whose efforts have led to “intolerance and hatred against gay people in the UK and the US,” says the head of policy at Stonewall, Sam Dick. One student interviewed by the Oxford Student said that “I’d rather that Exeter was known for having some drunk students than anti-gay, anti-Muslim, anti-toleration Christian fundamentalists,” while noting that allowing the conference to be held at Oxford seriously undermines how “forward-thinking and tolerant of everyone” the University is.
In addition, in a letter to the rector of Exeter College, Alun John wrote that
This is a simple question of Exeter’s priorities: do they care more about respecting their lesbian and gay tutors, students and staff – the people who pay their fees, teach their tutes and clean their floors – or is their focus on profiting financially from the very people who say that those members of Exeter are “evil” and need to be “cured”?”
Sadly, Oxford seems on course to showing that it cares more about the latter. Michael Amherst may well be only the first of many to publicly declare that he wishes no longer “to be associated” with the University.
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