Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Trans rights protester explains why they glued themselves to floor at Oxford Union talk

Exclusive: Student Riz Possnett was one of around 200 campaigners who demonstrated in opposition to Professor Kathleen Stock’s appearance

Tara Cobham
Friday 02 June 2023 21:22 BST
Comments
Four police officers spent around 10 minutes attempting to remove the activist

A trans rights protester has explained why they glued themselves to the floor during a talk at the Oxford Union.

Riz Possnett was one of around 200 demonstrators taking part in Oxford Trans Pride, organised in opposition to the appearance of gender-critical feminist Professor Kathleen Stock.

Speaking to The Independent about why they felt compelled to take this action, The University of Oxford student said: “I’m infuriatingly bothered by anything I perceive as injustice. It’s absolutely to my own detriment, and I’d have a significantly better quality of life if I didn’t do this. But if I see something I see to be wrong or harmful, I just can’t help myself.”

The trans rights protester explained why they glued themselves to the floor during a talk at the Oxford Union (Riz Possnett)

They said they were “terrified” in the build-up to the action, adding: “I was scared all these people queuing for the talk were about to hate me in an hour.”

But while stuck to the floor, Possnett, who has been an activist and involved with various causes for five years, said they “switched off” due to the adrenaline coursing through their body.

“I was staring off into the distance – apart from when someone came near me, to see if they would kick me,” Possnett said. “Otherwise, I was trying to zone out, breathe slowly, and not get hit.”

It took four police officers around 10 minutes to remove the protester, with the student saying they were later arrested but released under investigation.

When they left the building, they were met by Trans Pride activists: “I got to see all my friends and hug them. It was overwhelming but brilliant.”

Possnett said they had been “so nervous” until just before gluing themselves to the floor. They said: “Trans Pride showed up outside the union, and I thought, ‘Oh yaeh, that’s why I’m doing this – so that they can do that.’”

Possnett said they were arrested by police but later released under investigation (Yuhao Wang)

Professor Stock, 51, who left her position at the University of Sussex in October 2021 after the publication of her book Material Girls, in which she outlined views perceived by some as trans-exclusionary, drew an angry reaction from students and inspired vitriol online.

Possnett said a friend, the president of the Oxford University LGBTQ+ Society and organiser of Trans Pride, had previously received a death threat to their address.

The student suggested such extreme behavious show the consequences of Professor Stock’s words for trans youth and that highlighting this was the aim of their protest.

But the protest itself has led to a backlash of its own, they said, adding: “Her [Stock’s] supporters have called me every slur under the sun for what I think is a relatively uncontroversial act. I didn’t challenge or threaten her in any way. They’ve reacted by attacking me and my family.”

The student said they were “terrified” in the build-up to the protest (Riz Possnett)
Campaigners holding banners that read “Resisting by existing” and chanting “Trans rights – human rights” marched towards the 200-year-old debating society, where police were braced for potential clashes (AFP via Getty Images)

Professor Stock’s views “being platformed more or less uncritically” is what they said they took issue with. “We didn’t want to disrupt her right to free speech, as that would’ve undermined what we were trying to do,” they said.

Speaking on Talk TV on Tuesday, Professor Stock said universities had become “timid” in pushing back against “idealistic, illiberal attempts to shut down” free speech.

Writing an account of her experiences of that day for UnHerd, she spoke about other students “who have interests at stake“, such as those who invited her and who she said she “looks on with great affection and respect.”

She continued: “In standing firm and holding a space where students are free to engage with big ideas in time-honoured, age-appropriate ways – whether by arguing, shouting, laughing, emoting wildly, or indeed gluing themselves to wooden floors – they are doing the world an enormous service.”

Professor Stock believes sex is binary and an unchangeable biological characteristic (PA Archive)

Possnett spoke of receiving many supportive messages from friends but also facing a lot of hate. They also claimed some media coverage about themself and their family had been “completely false” and “unbelievable”, adding: “I’m not engaging with it – I’m not going to go through and explain why half of it is untrue as I’d just be giving more attention to them.”

They said they are trying to “be brave, be kind”, even when they are angry and feel like they are being attacked. “I don’t want to be playing into that game,” they said, but added it is still important “to stand up for myself”.

Possnett said: “It’s about trying to home in on the good stuff like trans kids and their parents saying ‘thank you for what you did’, and remembering why I did it in the first place.”

The student said the reason they did it is ‘because it’s important to me’ (Rose Henderson/PA)

The student said the reason they did it is “because it’s important to me”. But it is not their career, they said, and at the moment they have exams to focus on.

“I know there’ll be more stuff to do as that’s the person I am. I hate the press and attention, but this is what I’m good at – this is how I stand up for people and what I care about.”

For now, though, they said they are taking some time to recharge.

“Whenever the next thing comes along it will happen, but for now, a break.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in