Sticks, stones and lawsuits

The Conservatives may be in government, but the influence of the censorious trans lobby is growing not abating

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JK Rowling's tweet in support of Maya Forstater

The year 2019 produced many paradoxes. One was that many left-leaning women breathed a secret sigh of relief at the Conservative election victory. The Tories are currently the only mainstream party with no stated ambition to dilute women’s rights by reforming the law to make switching gender a de-medicalised, administrative formality.

In the same month, Maya Forstater lost her employment tribunal case, involving trans issues, which she had pursued against the Centre for Global Development. The judge ruled that Forstater’s belief that biological sex cannot be changed through social or even medicalised transition was not only false but “incompatible with human dignity and fundamental rights of others”; and that the termination of her employment, for insisting on facts about sex in some contexts, was perfectly legal. Yet losing the case may have done more for Forstater’s cause than victory, as the judge’s staggering verdict prompted a scathing tweet by Britain’s best-selling author, J.K. Rowling:

Dress however you please. Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real? #IStandWithMaya #ThisIsNotADrill”

 

 

While the reaction to the Harry Potter author’s intervention from trans activists was furious and predictable, she received more than 200,000 “likes” on Twitter, far more than those of her opponents. Rowling also helped draw public attention to the suppression of speech and thought encountered in public life in Britain (and elsewhere) when it comes to discussing sex and gender.

The main protagonist in this war on free speech in the UK is Stonewall, a campaigning charity that was founded to promote the rights of the same-sex attracted, but which in recent years has switched its focus to an unconditional defence of (what it views as) transgender equality. Its website declares that “Trans women are women and trans men are men”, and—somewhat surprisingly to many gay people, given the charity’s original mission—that “of course” a lesbian can have “a trans woman as a lesbian partner” or “a gay man be with a trans man”.

A central aim of Stonewall is now to bring the public to agree with these pronouncements; and a major instrument is its “Diversity Champions” scheme. Many organisations see the association as useful branding and are keen to sign up. In 2018, Stonewall made more than £2.7 million in fees—a significant part of the organisation’s £8.7 million

income—from membership of the Diversity Champions scheme and similar programmes, including providing speakers and consultancy. But scheme membership requires a host of further conditions upon institutional structure and provision that go well beyond existing law, and seek to control speech and attitudes about transgenderism and gender identity.

In 2020, several legal cases will challenge Stonewall-sponsored policy within organisations. One is against Oxfordshire County Council for its “Trans Inclusion Toolkit For Schools”; another is against NHS England and the Tavistock NHS Trust, for allegedly pursuing experimental medical treatment on under-18 trans-identifying children (see Helen Joyce, “Speaking up for female eunuchs”); and another against Girlguiding for allegedly expelling a leader for gender-critical beliefs. A further case being explored is against the National Theatre (unlike the other defendants, not a “Diversity Champion”, but currently selling Stonewall merchandise in its bookshop) for refusing to serve women wearing T-shirts bearing the (apparently) provocative words: “Lesbian: a woman who loves other women.”

(© Keith J via Twitter)

Stonewall’s big policy shift came in 2015. In its “Vision for Change: Acceptance without Exception for Trans People” document, it argued that trans people have the right “to determine their own gender” rather than leaving “intrusive and demeaning” medical panels or legal experts to decide for them. It simultaneously lobbied to have an inner feeling of gender identity (in Stonewall terminology: “a person’s innate sense of their own gender, which may or may not correspond to the sex assigned at birth”) replace gender reassignment as a protected characteristic in the Equality Act; and to have non-binary identities (roughly, an inner feeling of being neither man nor woman) legally recognised. Perhaps most controversially of all, it lobbied to have exemptions for single-sex services and spaces removed from the Equality Act, so that there could be no space or resource designated only on the basis of biological sex. Goodbye, “exclusionary” bathrooms, changing rooms, and sport—or so Stonewall hoped.

At first these attempts looked stunningly successful. In 2016, in response to the Woman and Equalities Select Committee’s Transgender equality inquiry—itself instigated partly as a result of Stonewall lobbying, and in whose final report Stonewall was referred to approvingly throughout—Theresa May’s government took on a host of recommendations. For instance: the GRA should be “updated in line with the principles of gender self-declaration” and “de-medicalised”. The very highest bar was set in principle for single-sex exemptions under the Equality Act, with the Government noting that “it is very unlikely that any exceptions will apply in ordinary ‘high street’ service provision situations”. It further noted—apparently ignoring average size and strength differentials between biological males and females—that “there are likely to be few occasions in sport where exclusions are justified to ensure fair competition or the safety of competitors”.

Later, in 2018, the-then prime minister fronted the launch of the Stonewall-YouGov “LGBT in Britain” survey. She was also the face of the government’s response to that survey: an LGBT Action Plan in July of the same year, rehearsing sentiments taken from the Vision for Change document, that stated its intention to remove “bureaucratic and intrusive” obstacles to legally acquiring a Gender Recognition Certificate, and to move to a “more streamlined and de-medicalised process”. A consultation on GRA reform was delivered in 2018 with May’s imprimatur. Substantial public pushback following, and in November, with a new prime minister in charge, the Daily Mail reported that plans to reform the GRA would be “kicked into the long grass”, though this has not been confirmed.

The Johnson government may be more robust than its predecessors, but Stonewall has plenty of scope for action elsewhere. Its four stated strategic priorities are “Empowering individuals”, “Transforming institutions”, “Changing hearts and minds” and “Changing and protecting laws”. In all of these areas it apparently continues to push a trans activist agenda, with gay rights in the shadows, relatively speaking. The focus on law now moves to Scotland, where the Scottish Government has just launched a consultation on gender recognition reform—although, unlike May’s Tories, it apparently recognises that exceptions in the Equality Act should remain untouched. All mainstream UK political parties bar the Tories obediently espouse the cause of gender law reform, despite it having brought them no apparent gains at the ballot box. But it seems that, for now, “transforming institutions” is the priority.

And so Stonewall’s lucrative diversity champions scheme ploughs onwards. In the education sector, most British universities are Diversity Champions, and so have been instructed to produce dedicated trans policies. These policies tend not to be confined to personnel matters, but also dictate what acceptably may be taught and said on campus about trans people. Some university policies require that “any materials within relevant courses and modules will positively represent trans people and trans lives”. (No such clause appears in university policy for any other group, to my knowledge.) Training reinforces such messages, during which people with PhDs are shown diagrams such as the “genderbread person”, shaped like a gingerbread man but with sex depicted between the legs and gender identity in the head. A glossy Stonewall document entitled “Delivering LGBT-inclusive Higher Education” tells universities that inviting “anti-LGBT” speakers who deny “that trans people exist as the gender they say they are” causes LGBT people “to feel deeply unsafe”. In this document Stonewall announces: “The most inclusive universities find ways to consistently communicate their support for LGBT equality throughout the year, in digital communications, at university events, and in their buildings and grounds.”

One result is the Transgender Day of Remembrance, an event originating in the US, designed to commemorate victims of “anti-transgender bigotry”. It is heavily promoted by LGBT charities including Stonewall. As a consequence, in late November on British campuses, senior managers can be spotted shivering in the freezing dark, huddled around a candle flame with colleagues and students, listening to someone laboriously reading out the names of South and Central American sex workers killed in some of the most violent countries on earth—people whose tragic deaths seem, at the very least, somewhat causally overdetermined.

Stonewall is also active in primary and secondary schools. It provides “toolkits” for early years, in order to “prevent children from developing . . . transphobic attitudes”. It provides assembly plans and various other guides aimed at teachers, and holds conferences for children and young people. Another significant indirect source of influence is via local authorities, whose own membership of the Diversity Scheme leads them to insist on policies and toolkits in local schools, provided by Stonewall or other like-minded organisations. One such toolkit (not one of Stonewall’s) tells children: “Remember that a pupil who identifies as a girl but was assigned male at birth is not a ‘boy dressed as a girl’ but is a girl.” In a society with increasing numbers of children and teens identifying as trans—sometimes with lifelong medical consequences—this degree of discourse control has worrying implications.

With local variations, a similar-looking story can be told about most major public and third-sector institutions in this country, as well as many big companies. Membership of the Stonewall Diversity Champions scheme brings policies, training, propaganda, the regular marking of special days, and attempts to control language and ultimately thought. Among the 750-plus members of the Diversity Champions scheme are the Crown Prosecution Service, several police forces, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Office for National Statistics, the Scottish Prison Service, the Ministry of Justice, the Foreign Office, the Department for Education, NHS Trusts, the Scottish Government, the Labour Party, the Bank of England, the Serious Fraud Office, city and county councils, London boroughs, the Department for Health, Sport England, the Football Association, and the Royal Navy and other armed services; as well as businesses such as Marks & Spencer, law firms (Allen and Overy), financial services (J.P. Morgan) and arts and heritage organisations like the Tate and the National Trust. No doubt most of these outfits originally came, laudably, for the gay rights and associated warm fuzzy feelings; but they stay for mandatory trans policies and training for staff and stakeholders. The Diversity Champions scheme now allows Stonewall to exert a chilling grip on free thought and expression about gender identity. While the government consults the public on whether to reform gender laws, it simultaneously pays Stonewall to lobby to change them.

Stonewall did not respond to requests for a specific comment on the issue of free speech. A statement said: “We will continue working with universities, companies and other organisations, supporting them to create accepting learning environments, so LGBT people from all walks of life are accepted without exception.”

Simon Fanshawe, a Stonewall founder and vocal critic of its present incarnation, says that its early strategy was “winning by losing”: perhaps losing cases, but winning hearts and minds along the way. Whether or not future legal battles are won or lost, Stonewall’s sinister absolutism and intolerance of disagreement means that it is, perhaps, already losing the wider war.