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21st February 2012

The Wilberforce Academy and Christian Concern

The Wilberforce Academy has booked conference facilities at Exeter College out of term time. This event has attracted criticism in the student press. Frances Cairncross, the Rector of Exeter College, says:

“Exeter College has a strong record in protecting the rights and dignity of its gay and lesbian members, and we continue to champion those values. My colleagues and I have discussed the conference at length with representatives of the MCR, the JCR, representatives of Exeter’s LGBTQ community and other students who have voiced views on the matter. The conference has been discussed at three consecutive meetings of Governing Body. As soon as it was raised as a potential issue, the Bursar wrote to the Wilberforce Academy to emphasise our position on equal rights, and sought and obtained reassurances that nothing in the meeting would be against our policies on basic rights and freedoms. The first meeting of Governing Body in Hilary Term also set up a working party to review the basis and terms on which the College agrees to the use of its premises by other bodies.

“We believe that Exeter College is a place where students and staff alike can be free from fear and prejudice, and we are proud of that.”

A statement from representatives of Exeter’s LGBTQ community is carried below.

“We as the LGBTQ community of Exeter College are uncomfortable with the perception of our college expressed in the article ‘Exeter Welcomes Homophobes’ published In the Oxford Student on the 9th of February 2012. We would like to highlight to readers that from the perspective of our (very well-established) LGBTQ society, Exeter College is extremely welcoming towards its LGBTQ staff and students.

“While we continue to maintain our strong disagreement with the views held by Christian Concern and the Wilberforce Academy, it is preposterous to suggest that Exeter ‘welcomes’ homophobia in any way.

“Through its appointments to important positions and its actions in the past, Exeter has demonstrated its support for the LGBTQ community both in Exeter and the wider University. Only a small example of this is provided by the fact that Exeter will host the University-wide Graduate LGBT dinner in 6th Week, and also in a few weeks will host its own annual dinner for the LGBTQ community across common rooms, organized by students and supported strongly by staff and fellows. The presence of a very vibrant student LGBTQ society, including undergraduates, graduates, home and international students, is testament to the atmosphere in Exeter, buttressed further by the strong LGBTQ presence in the SCR.

“Thus, from our perspective, the article mentioned above entirely misunderstands and misinterprets Exeter’s position on the question of the rights and dignity of LGBTQ students. It takes the incident of the Wilberforce Academy out of context, without an understanding of the process that has led up to this point, and misjudges the college on the basis of these isolated facts.

“The conference business of Exeter College, like many other colleges, has been handled by the Steward’s Office, and like in several other colleges it is not established practice to filter organizations based on their ideological views. While this may be an issue that Exeter and other colleges will put thought into for the future, the fact that an organization with homophobic views has rented the college premises does not reflect on the college’s own views on this issue.”

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