James Kirkup

Women are being silenced from speaking about transgender rights

Women are being silenced from speaking about transgender rights
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I have written several times here about the fear that some women have about expressing their opinions and concerns about the trans-rights agenda. I know of women in many walks of life, some of them prominent public figures, who think that current and potential policies intended to make life easier for trans women (that is, people born male who know identify themselves as women) will have the effect of diminishing women’s safety, dignity and legal standing.

Among their concerns are the gradual erosion of laws that allow companies and organisations to restrict access to particular services and spaces according to sex (which is a biological fact). They fear that 'gender' (which is a social concept) is overtaking sex in common legal use, perhaps because a lot of people – including, shamefully, many public servants – either do not understand the difference or do not care. Some women see organisations such as Stonewall openly lobbying politicians to remove sex-based exemptions in the 2010 Equality Act that allow, say, a domestic violence refuge to deny service to a person of the male sex, and they wonder: why is so much effort and money being thrown at eroding the laws that underpin women-only services in Britain today?  Do the people behind these efforts not fear that scrapping those laws might make it easier for abusive men to claim to be trans women and gain access to spaces now reserved for women?

Yet many women who hold such concerns and fears do not express them publicly or openly. And, among that group are senior, powerful women, including members of parliament.

Why? How has it come to pass that in Britain, women do not dare to raise their fears that their legal rights and even safety are now being jeopardised by changes in law, policy and practice?

The answer is fear.  Some of that is fear of criticism and controversy. Some of those who argue for the trans rights agenda are quick and skilful in their misrepresentation of legitimate concerns. Women who worry that ending the laws allowing female only-spaces will offer new opportunities to predatory men pretending to be transgender are quickly accused of depicting trans women as predators. That’s a dishonest distortion of the concern, of course: those women are worried about people with penises in their bathrooms, changing rooms and refuges, and they don’t much care what the people with the pensises call themselves. In the words of a victim of sexual violencequoted in this report,

'My attacker’s genitals and my sexual parts were involved in a bodily attack. He didn’t care about my identity and at that point I didn’t care about his.'

But that can be an awkward, tricky point to make. And who wants to be publicly accused of branding transgender people as dangerous deviants and likened to the bigots of the 70s and 80s, who depicted all gay men as potential child molesters?  So some women who worry about this stuff keep quiet, because they fear the harm they would suffer if they expressed their views and opinions.

What sort of harm?  Well some fear they would lose their job, or suffer professional harm: allegations of transphobic bigotry could do real harm to a career, especially in the public sector or a charity. I know of women in senior roles in those sectors who dare not breathe a word of their views on sex and gender for fear of censure and dismissal.

Perhaps you think that is exaggerated or even silly.  No one gets sacked for discussing potential changes in law and policy, do they? And surely no one would sack a woman who expressed her views and concerns about changes in the law that might affect the legal rights she holds as a woman, would they?

The reason those women are too frightened to speak out about sex and gender now has a name: Maya Forstater.

Forstater used to work for the Centre for Global Development, a think tank with an office in London. She no longer does, and says that’s because she talked, openly and calmly, about sex and gender and her view that trans women are male. She says that view is rooted in biological fact, that a person who is born male cannot become female no matter how they identify, because sex is an objective fact not influenced by subjective belief.

According to details of Forstater’s case reported in the Sunday Times, this position is connected with her departure from the CGD.  Her employers told her that by expressing her views about sex and gender, she had behaved in a manner inconsistent with the organisation’s rules and culture.

In an email to Fortstater about her views, a CGD manager is reported to have said: 'You stated that a man’s internal feeling that he is a woman has no basis in material reality. A lot of people would find that offensive and exclusionary.'

Forstater is seeking to take her former employers to an employment tribunal over her departure from the CGD, arguing that her 'gender-critical' views of transgender issues should be recognised as protected beliefs in law.  She’s raising money to bring her case here.

I should say here that I’ve met Forstater once and discussed her case in broad terms. I don’t claim to know everything about it and I note that CGD has said it cannot discuss staffing matters, but says that all staff 'are expected to uphold our respectful workplace policy'. So I am not, to be clear for the benefit of the legally-minded, stating as fact that her claims against her former employer are justified.

Reaching such a conclusion is the job of an employment tribunal, and I very much hope Maya Forstater assembles the funds required to put this case to law. Because it really is about a lot more than her and her circumstances, important as they are. It’s about how free people are to express views and state facts which may well be offensive to some people, but which do not remotely justify the loss of livelihood and status. It’s about our ability to disagree with a person without seeking their personal ruin. It’s about accommodating reasonable differences of perspective in private and public debate instead of scouring all contrary views from the public square.

Even if you don’t give a fig about Maya Forstater and the trans issue, I hope you’ll bung her a few quid to ensure her case is properly heard and explored. Because this time, it’s women scared of losing jobs for saying things – respectfully and lawfully – that a few committed and organised men don’t like. But if someone like Maya Forstater can lose her living for saying that someone born male cannot become female, who knows who the targets will be next time?

Written byJames Kirkup

James Kirkup is director of the Social Market Foundation and a former political editor of The Scotsman and The Daily Telegraph.

Topics in this articleSocietytransgender