On Academic Freedom and Transphobia

By Anita Levy

At its November meeting, the AAUP’s Council adopted the statement On Academic Freedom and Transphobia. The statement holds that academic freedom protects conversations and learning about potentially uncomfortable subjects, including histories and experiences of sexuality and gender that do not conform to prevailing social narratives. But academic freedom cannot be understood to support misgendering—referring to someone using a word or pronoun that does not reflect that person’s gender identity—or otherwise serve as an excuse for transphobia or the diminishment of trans, intersex, gender-nonconforming, and nonbinary persons and their lives. The statement concludes that faculty members and students should have the freedom to determine how they will be addressed.

The former Committee on Women in the Academic Profession, now the Committee on Gender and Sexuality in the Academic Profession, began drafting the statement in 2018 in response to reports of misgendering inside and outside the classroom. The committee approved the statement in fall 2019 but did not take further action because of the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure also voted to approve the statement at its October 2021 meeting.