Warning: This article contains graphic content. 

A UC Santa Barbara feminist studies graduate student — who previously served as a teaching assistant for an introductory LGBTQ+ studies course — has come under fire in recent weeks after students discovered dozens of transphobic statements posted on her public Twitter account.

The Ph.D. student, Laura Tanner, has faced severe backlash both on Twitter and in letters from the general student body and from 20 feminist studies graduate students. The account @saltyfemst, which features her name and image, has posted dozens of tweets espousing transphobic views, including: “It’s not possible to be born in the wrong body,” and “so called trans women will never be anything but men.”  

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After students publicized Tanner’s tweets within the UCSB Twitter community, Tanner was harassed on the social media platform, with several accounts labeling her a trans-exclusionary radical feminist (TERF) and calling for her to be removed from the university. 

The widely known definition of a TERF is an individual who believes that transgender people do not exist and, specifically, that transgender women are not women. 

Nearly 400 UCSB alumni and 20 feminist studies graduate students also released two separate letters following the publicization of Tanner’s account, the first demanding that the university protect its students and the second emphasizing the department’s committment to transgender and genderqueer students.

Two UCSB students also organized a demonstration against Tanner on June 13, demanding that Tanner be removed from the university. 

But Tanner, in a statement to the Nexus, defended her right to share her views on social media and took offense to the descriptor of TERF, stating that her postings are an “expression of my political beliefs” and the word TERF is a “slur used to denigrate and silence women.”

“The student campaign asking the university to retaliate against my exercise of free speech by “firing” me has included incitement to violence, defamatory lies about my teaching, and harassment in regard to my race and sexuality,” Tanner said in a statement. 

“The silencing, no platforming, and retaliation against academics who question or critique trans ideology is a problem throughout the world. This is especially concerning in the university environment, which is supposed to be a place of open, unimpeded exchange of ideas.”

Tanner has been with the university since Fall Quarter 2013, according to student verification records. She earned a masters in feminist studies at UCSB in 2015 and has since served as a teaching assistant for several courses within the department. 

According to Tanner’s website, her doctoral research is focused around “the mistaken idea that biological sex is socially constructed or possible to change” and “the abusive and dangerously experimental practices of medically “transing” children and young adults.”

University spokesperson Andrea Estrada said that the university could not discuss specific incidents because of confidentiality requirements but said that UCSB will review any reports of campus policy violations.

Estrada declined to comment on any potential complaints against Tanner.

Below is a list of some tweets visible on Tanner’s account, posted between January and June: 

  • June 20: “People who think they are transgender exist. No debate. There is no such thing as actually being transgender (a male woman or a female man). Believing so is a delusion. I will not validate such a decision by validating terms like ‘trans people’ Interpret that as you will.” 
  • May 5: “Yea, like ‘woman’ ‘female,’ ‘man’ & ‘male?’ These words all have original definitions based on reality. Transsexualism started this mess by trying to change ‘man/woman’ to include people of the opposite sex & fantaszing that drugs & cutting change one’s sex in the first place.”
  • March 29: “Rather than resolving dysphoria or dysmorphia, ‘transition’ maintains & reinforces a state of opposition to one’s own body and forces one to live in a constant state of cognitive dissonance. This is not mental health care. #StopTransingKids #TruthisNotAHateCrime” 
  • March 28: “Calling males women, or females men is the very definition of misgendering I feel deeply disrespected by the notion that any male can call themselves a woman and be considered the same gender as me. #MalePrivilge #TransWomenAreMen #TruthIsNotAHateCrime”  
  • March 28: “If you ever had a dick you aren’t a lesbian, not now, not ever.” 
  • March 26: “Genital cutting of any kind does not change one’s sex and can never make a man into a woman.” 
  • March 14: “Trans ‘women’ are men, ffs”;
  • March 2: “Stand up for your son because he is perfect the way he was born – a boy. No child is trans. It’s not possible to be born in the wrong body.” 
  • Feb. 4: “People who believe themselves to be trans exist. Transgenderism itself is a delusion. A man cannot become a woman anymore than a male can become female. This is NOT a denial of the humanity of people who believe the delusion, it IS reality

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In response to her tweets, students have called Tanner “absolute trash,” a “dumb bitch” and “a gatekeeper of womanhood.” One student tweeted “that bitch needs to die.” 

Other responses on Twitter called for Tanner to lose her job, arguing that Tanner’s beliefs interfered with her ability to teach. 

The open letter from the nearly 400 UCSB alumni echoed some of the rhetoric seen on Twitter, demanding that the university take steps to protect transgender and genderqueer students.

“Instructors should not promote material in the classroom and department that denies the reality of trans people’s experiences or reifies gendered and sexed binaries as essential or real,” the authors emphasized. 

“These issues are not merely an academic debate; when the academy legitimates transphobia, it lends credence to an ideological position that systematically disenfranchises and kills trans people.”

The open letter from the graduate students also spoke out in support of “trans, non-binary and sex working students at UC Santa Barbara,” stating that “in our classrooms, curricula, and professional interactions, we are committed to supporting trans and sex working students.”

“As part of Feminist Studies, we are committed to cultivating intersectional, student-centered learning and community environments. To the students who have been harmed by transphobia and anti-sex worker rhetoric in our department, we are so sorry.”

While neither letter mentions Tanner directly, both letters were released shortly after Tanner faced backlash on social media. 

Two second-year UCSB students, Kyremina Youssef and Ari Moini, saw Tanner’s posts on Twitter and decided to organize the June 13 demonstration to make the greater student body aware of Tanner’s social media posts. The demonstration echoed the themes of the two open letters: that those who hold transphobic beliefs should not be allowed to teach at UCSB. 

Moini said she believes it is “unsafe for the trans community on campus” for Tanner to teach at the school, and Youssef added that the two would hold additional rallies if Tanner continued teaching in the fall.

Youssef said that while she knows Tanner is “protected by her First Amendment on Twitter,” the students are “also showing our First Amendment [rights] on campus by advocating for our community here and spreading awareness.”

Sanya Kamidi and Max Abrams contributed reporting. 

Updated [11:34 p.m.]

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