Anti-gay, anti-trans activist Caroline Farrow invited, uninvited, then re-invited to debate sex work at University of Exeter

Caroline Farrow

Anti-trans, anti-gay and anti-abortion activist and Catholic apologist Caroline Farrow was invited to Exeter University to debate sex work, before being uninvited over of her anti-LGBT+ views, and then re-invited against the wishes of the debate society.

On Friday (18 September) the University of Exeter debate society is set to debate via Zoom whether “sex work is real work”.

But if a “show debate” on the validity of sex work wasn’t already questionable, the society then announced that anti-LGBT+ Catholic activist Caroline Farrow would one of two external speakers arguing that sex work is not real work.

Farrow has a long history of opposing LGBT+ and reproductive rights, although it is unclear what credentials qualify her for a debate on sex work.

Within one year, 2019, Farrow blamed LGBT+ people when she was barred from travelling to the US, was hit with an injunction over “abusive tweets” she sent to a trans woman, and claimed that children were not “emotionally ready” to visit a “deviant” gay penguin couple at the zoo.

Seeming to have a vendetta against gay penguins, Farrow also claimed that her children hated the book And Tango Makes Three, about a pair of male penguins raising a chick together, saying: “They cried and found it incredibly traumatic that the baby penguin didn’t have a mummy.”

This year alone, she has insisted that Disney is losing money because of its inclusion of queer characters, claiming that many families “no longer feel safe” because of LGBT+ cartoons, and said that rainbow lanyards worn by NHS staff are a “hostile political symbol” with “connotations of deep misogyny”.

However, when her previous comments about the LGBT+ community were brought to the attention of the debate society chair, Farrow’s invite was promptly retracted.

Farrow posted a screenshot to Twitter of an email from the society which read: “A number of articles have been brought to our attention concerning your widely-cited anti-LGBT+ activism.

“This is in direct contradiction to the inclusive culture we wish to promote, being an incredibly broad-church society both in our ideas and diverse makeup.”

Her Twitter followers were outraged, accusing the society and the university of “intolerance”, “no platforming” and “cancel culture”.

Farrow said she “got on” to the Free Speech Union, which has previously defended “gender critical feminists”, and the organisation wrote a letter to the university’s vice chancellor.

Less than 24 hours after she was uninvited, PinkNews received confirmation from the University of Exeter that Farrow and been re-invited.

A University of Exeter spokesperson said: “We were unaware of this students’ guild debating society event and the decision both to invite Caroline Farrow and to rescind the invitation. We understand Caroline Farrow has been re-invited to the online debate.”
According to the Free Speech Union, Farrow was sent an email by James Lindsay, the student guild’s interim director of membership engagement, which read: “I’m writing to you on behalf of the debating society at the University of Exeter students’ guild.

“I have been in touch with the society this evening and discussed the retraction of invite that was sent to you earlier today. I can confirm that this was sent in error and I apologise for any inconvenience caused.

“Therefore, your invitation stands and we welcome your attendance at the debate tomorrow evening.”

However, a University of Exeter student, who wishes to remain anonymous, said the debate society committee has expressed “regret” over Farrow’s initial invite, and said: “This a new committee it appears to be a genuine mistake.”

They added that the committee was “fuming” about Farrow’s renewed invitation, and said: “While this was [the society’s] mistake, the university and unelected guild officers have failed completely to support them when they tried to correct it.”

Caroline Farrow has already been invited to Exeter to discuss decriminalising sex work, gender and sex robots.

Although the current members of the debate society said that Caroline Farrow’s views were “direct contradiction” to its “inclusive culture”, it appears that previous iterations of the society felt that the anti-LGBT+ activist was an appropriate choice of speaker to debate issues relating to sex.

In fact, in 2017 the society held an almost identical debate on decriminalising sex work, at which Farrow spoke for the opposition.

According to the University of Exeter independent student paper Exeposé, students at the time accused the society of treating sex workers like “zoo animals”.

The event was later investigated by the students’ union, known as the guild, after Farrow distributed graphic, sensationalist and inaccurate leaflets to attendees which had not been approved.

In 2018, Farrow appeared again at the debate society freshers event, this time to argue that she would not have sex with a robot. 

According to Christian Concern, Farrow had originally been invited to the 2018 event to debate the motion: “This house believes there are only two genders.”

However the debate society reportedly “realised” that the motion was “offensive and hurtful” and “badly framed”, and so changed the topic to sex robots.

The Exeter students’ guild, the University of Exeter debate society and Caroline Farrow have all been approached for comment by PinkNews.