First They Came For…

by Phyllis Chesler

If our leading literary enchantressJ.K. Rowling, an author who cherishes those who are seen as unacceptably “different” because they wield magical powers, can be cursed and shamed for her belief that biology, DNA, and anatomy are real—imagine what can be done to a less magical, or certainly less powerful being such as the distinguished Professor Donna Hughes.

Dr. Hughes holds an Endowed Chair in Women and Gender Studies at the University of Rhode Island. She founded the invaluable academic journal Dignity: A Journal of Analysis of Exploitation and Violence and also pioneered the academic study of sex trafficking in the United States, Russia, Ukraine, and Europe.

Professor Hughes’s Thought Crime involved the publication of an essay at a feminist website in which she said “that a person could not change their biological sex; that children are not “born in the wrong body and cannot have the brain of one sex and the body of another.”

Hughes, who has a Ph.D in genetics, is now in grave danger. Her university released a statement to the media which says: “The University does not support statements and publications by Professor Donna Hughes that espouse anti-transgender perspectives….a faculty member’s First Amendment and academic freedom rights are not boundless…faculty have a special obligation to exercise critical self-discipline in transmitting their personal opinions.”

This is a remarkable statement. URI is claiming that anything a professor says or writes anywhere that challenges the Party Line is forbidden. URI’s going public is equivalent to putting Professor Hughes’s face on a wanted poster.

Two female URI students launched a petition on denouncing Professor Hughes which now has more than 1,200 signatories. The Gender and Women’s Studies faculty and the College of Life Sciences also piled on with statements of their own though their statements are not online. Dr. Annie Russell, the director of the university’s Gender and Sexuality Center, published a pro-trans letter.

Currently, diversity of race is essential but intellectual diversity is forbidden. Were such student petitioners to seize state power they would either be executing dissidents like Professor Hughes or sending them to a remotely located pig farm or a gulag punishment cell for re-education. In our post-Orwellian world, intolerance is the new tolerance.

The “disappearance” of dissident views, amounts to the de-construction of Western thought. Statue-toppling is no longer enough; one must also censor views which challenge the reigning “politically correct” opinions about racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and American history itself.

From 2003 on,  I’ve been writing about the “cancellations” of American professors. First, they came for anyone who was too pro-Israel or not pro-Palestinian enough. Then they came for those who were critical of Islam/Islamism, including its gender and religious apartheid and Jihad terrorism—and then, for those professors who were seen as racists, misogynists, or homophobes. Eventually, Big Brother came for anyone who wanted to teach the traditional Western (white) Canon as opposed to “relevant” and more recent works of intersectional social justice.

They have now come for those who are critical of the well-funded transgender movement, and who are not necessarily opposed to trans individuals. There is a huge difference.

And so, the arrogant children and the virtue-signaling adults have come for Dr. Hughes.

In an interview, Professor Hughes told me that “Even at URI, I’ve seen the fear on faculty member faces when they are told they must learn the (new) language of transgenderism or possibly face legal action.” Thus far, she has been deluged with both negative but, like J.K. Rowling, also with very positive and supportive email.

After nearly twenty years of Cancel Culture, people are beginning to fight back. For example, a new organization, the Academic Freedom Alliance, was launched in March.  Both Professor Hughes and I are founding members. They have provided her with a lawyer.  However, she may also need to raise funding for the kind of lawsuit that will be necessary.

A precedent on academic freedom and transgender rights may now exist in the state of Ohio. On March 26th, the Sixth Circuit ruled that Nicholas Meriwether, a philosophy professor and an evangelical Christian, had the right not to use politically correct pro-transgender pronouns—and he could do so without fear of suspension or termination at Shawnee State University. This decision may have absolutely no bearing on what happens elsewhere or to anyone other than Professor Meriwether.

At the risk of being shamed, and defamed, allow me to join Professor Hughes in suggesting that biology is objectively real and so is DNA and anatomy.

Professor Hughes has stood up to pimps and pornographer and she assures me that she “remains dedicated to defending my right of free speech, and I’m sure I’ll prevail in the end.” 

Until then, we had all better be prepared for a very long night and for a time that will try our souls. I will give J.K. Rowling the last word:

“I’ve been forced to the unhappy conclusion that an ethical and medical scandal is brewing. I believe the time is coming when those organizations and individuals who have uncritically embraced fashionable dogma, and demonized those urging caution, will have to answer for the harm they’ve enabled.”

First published in Front Page.