Independent journalism about VU Amsterdam | Since 1953
17 July 2024

Campus
& Culture

Activists decry ‘anti-trans conference’ at VU

A large group of activists gathered in front of the main building on Thursday to protest the inclusion of certain speakers at an event who they say are anti-trans. The speakers were accused of having blood on their hands.

Anyone visiting the campus Thursday may have thought there was a festival going on in front of the main building. There was dancing, cheering and loud music, mostly hip-hop. However, the colourfully dressed crowd of more than a hundred people had gathered for a different purpose. They are opposed to the ‘scientific conference on transgender care’ taking place at VU Amsterdam today.

Police officers of the Peace Unit were also present, as the protest was registered with the municipality. The officers were well-acquainted with the VU campus because of the recent encampment protests and greeted some of the participants whom they seemed to recognize. Indeed, various activists were wearing keffiyehs and some protest signs also referred to Palestine. There were fewer covered faces this time around, but organisers of the demo still tried to ensure that no one took photos of people without consent.

Unlike with recent pro-Palestine protests, the front entrance was not completely shut down. Instead, the revolving doors were closed and a door next to it was opened. Some VU employees stood by to check the student or staff passes of people coming in. One of the activists said they were escorted when going to the bathroom, presumably because they did not have a pass.

Puberty blockers

As various speakers climbed the stage, the cheerful mood made way for various heavy and damning statements. Some of the conference speakers are said to have contributed to policies in Sweden and the UK, for instance making puberty blockers less accessible. When a fifteen-year-old non-binary speaker takes the stage, a banner is held in front of them to protect their anonymity. They speak about feeling trapped in their body and about being on a waitlist for 823 days at VUmc.

“Kids, people under 18, youth, are killing themselves, thanks to the actions of people at this fucking conference”, says the next speaker. The person holds a minute of silence for the people who committed suicide due to a lack of access to care, which is followed by “a minute of rage at these fucking murderers”. During this minute various slogans are chanted. The most prominent chant of the morning is “Trans care now, fuck the VU!”, which rhymes in Dutch.

Fascistic government

In a statement released two days ago, VU Amsterdam said the conference “will bring together experts from diverse perspectives to engage in a broad, balanced, and scientific discussion”. Joey, a VU PhD researcher says on stage they were angry and disappointed, but not surprised when reading that statement. They say VU Amsterdam was one of the most vehement supporters of apartheid in South Africa in the past and draw a parallel with the university’s current actions. “The university should not be so easily let off the hook trying to both-side its way out of the controversy of this event.” 

One of the speakers also remarked that it is not a coincidence that the conference is taking place now. “They want to take advantage of the fact that a fascistic government is about to take over.” The official portion of the protest wrapped up around 12 PM, after two final outbursts of noise in which people chanted, cheered and banged on metal objects. The crowd was then told they were allowed to keep protesting for the duration of the conference.

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