URI Must Fire Donna Hughes in Defense of Trans Rights

URI Administration

New York, U.S., July 26, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

We demand that the University of Rhode Island fire Donna Hughes for her recent transphobic comments and her history of outspoken violence against trans people and sex workers.

In a recent essay, Hughes wrote that the 'belief' that a person could change their gender was a 'trans-sex fantasy'. She went on to equate followers of QAnon (a bizarre chain of lies claiming that a global cabal of baby-eating celebrities and 'Deep State' politicians rule the world) to people whose gender identity differs from the sex they were given at birth.

It is unconscionable that URI continues to support Hughes’ transphobia. She is a risk to the health and well-being of URI students—particularly trans students— who might be subject to her hate speech in the classroom.

In her gender and sexuality studies courses, Hughes refuses to respect students’ pronouns, saying “we don’t do that here” when asked what details students should use to introduce themselves. A transphobic professor is not fit to educate, particularly in this subject.

This utter disrespect for trans people, nonbinary people, sex workers, students, and members of our community needs to be addressed.

Hughes’ comments are also representative of her longstanding contempt and disrespect for sex workers, particularly trans and nonbinary folks involved in the sex industry. While Hughes has compared advocates of trans rights to QAnon, she herself has called for government-funded misinformation campaigns on sex trafficking that rely on conservative sexual values and moral panic to attract supporters.

Hughes has also been the leading academic pushing for the criminalization of sex work in Rhode Island. In 2007, Hughes collaborated with Katherine Y Chon and Derek P Ellerman – co-founders of the anti-human trafficking organization the Polaris Project, created during their time as undergraduate students at Brown University – on a study claiming that trafficking in South Korea was connected to the trafficking of South Korean women to massage parlors in the United States. Hughes and her co-authors conducted 36 interviews; more than half of the interviewees were of law enforcement, ten were social service providers, six were reporters and one was a researcher. None of the people interviewed were trafficked women or sex workers who have worked with trafficked women.

In the wake of the killing of eight spa workers in Atlanta, the impact of Hughes' "research" is clear: she continues to promote the policing of Asian migrant spa and massage workers, relying on racist narratives and fear-mongering to obscure the violence of police against migrant workers, while harmfully conflating labor trafficking with sex work. Her reprehensible, racist feminism is most evident in this article, where she argues that the Atlanta murders were not motivated by race, but by sex alone.

Hughes’ claim to free speech is also incredibly hypocritical in light of her support of FOSTA (the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2018) which attempted to silence those involved in the sex industry by throwing sex workers off the Internet.

We will continue to call out the people and institutions that provide platforms for racist, transphobic, and anti-sex worker hate speech, which continues to harm marginalized people. We call on URI to defend trans rights and fire Donna Hughes.

Petition by
Providence, Rhode Island

To: URI Administration
From: [Your Name]

We call on URI to defend trans rights and fire Donna Hughes!