Sunday, June 20

Stonewall is at the center of a toxic debate on trans rights and gender identity | Transgender

Since its inception in 1989 in response to the prohibition of “promotion of homosexuality” by schools and councils in section 28 of the Local Government Act, Stonewall has been a part of every major fight for LGBT rights in the world. UK. But in recent weeks it has been drawn into a toxic line.

A founding member has accused him of taking an “extremist stance”, a report accuses him of giving incorrect advice on the equality law and a cabinet minister was reported to have been pushing for all government departments to withdraw from their Diversity Champions program, that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (ECHR) resigned last month.

Each controversy has been linked, directly or indirectly, to her position on trans rights, which critics believe is overly aggressive and seeks to shut down the debate, but which the charity and its advocates believe is putting her on the right side of the issue. the history.

The right to change one’s legal gender was established in the UK in the Gender Recognition Act of 2004, but only six years ago Stonewall announced that it would work for trans equality and apologized for not doing so in the past. His change of position has coincided with a period in which the debate, between activists for the rights of trans people, on the one hand, and feminists critical of gender, who do not agree with the idea that gender identity should Being prioritized over biological sex, on the other hand, has become increasingly tense. and polarized.

A year ago, in her first interview after taking over as Stonewall’s CEO, Nancy Kelley told the Observer that, following criticism of her predecessor, the organization would no longer seek to persuade her critics to accept her views. on gender, but would focus on “changes that make trans life easier.”

Fast forward 12 months and Kelley and Stonewall are in the middle of a storm. Last Saturday, Matthew Parris, one of the 14 founders of Stonewall, wrote in the Times that the charity had been “cornered into an extremist posture” on trans rights. He argued that Stonewall should steer clear, sticking to LGB rights without the T, which stands for trans.

Dissidents point out that LGB and T causes have long been intertwined, and trans activists Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P Johnson were important figures on the gay rights scene at the time of the 1969 New York uprising of which Stonewall derived its name.

The parris column followed a report from a lawyer from the University of Essex which found that the institution had illegally banned a female speaker after allegations that she was transphobic.

Nancy Kelley, CEO of Stonewall
Nancy Kelley, Stonewall’s CEO, says she trusts Stonewall’s advice on gender identity. Photograph: Andy Hall / The Observer

The report, by Akua Reindorf, did not suggest that the charity was directly involved in the decision to exclude Professor Jo Phoenix, but did say that the university, as part of Stonewall’s Diversity Champions’ job inclusion program, annually presented its policy on support for trans and non-binary people. staff to the charity, and Stonewall seemed not to have grasped the “wrong summary of the law” from the university.

Reindorf said the mistake was that the policy said that “gender identity or trans status” is protected by law, while only gender reassignment is protected, and concluded that the university should consider its relationship with the group. campaign. Kelley said the distinction was semantic.

Headlines focusing on Stonewall’s involvement in the controversy were followed by others suggesting that employers were leaving the Diversity Champions program due to concerns about their transgender inclusion training. The Telegraph reported that six public sector organizations had been left out of the 850 members listed on the Stonewall website, although those exits were from 2019 and none had publicly cited the issue of trans rights as motivation to leave.

Reports came in Monday that Liz Truss, the equality minister, is urging all government departments to abandon the plan. When the EHRC left last month, the watchdog said its decision was based on cost, but it was announced just days after Stonewall and other LGBTQ + groups had used an open letter to explain their “Frustration and disappointment” in the “recent EHRC record on the rights of LGBTQ + people and the rights of trans people specifically”.

The letter was a response to the EHRC defending critical gender beliefs and suggesting that they are “protected beliefs” under the Equality Act, a position that the signatories said was a “kick in the teeth for trans people.”

In an interview with the BBCKelley attracted further disgrace by comparing critical gender beliefs with anti-Semitism.

“With all beliefs, including controversial ones, there is the right to express those beliefs publicly and when they are harmful or harmful, be they anti-Semitic beliefs, gender critical beliefs, beliefs about disability, we have legal systems in place for people who are seen harmed by that, ”he said.

Kelley, who said that Stonewall believed in free speech but “not without limits,” said the comparison was appropriate as people were protected on the basis of their gender identity in the same way as people on the basis of gender identity. its race.

Veteran gay rights activist Peter Tatchell was a target of some transgender rights supporters after signing a letter in support of freedom of expression that cited attempts to ban Germaine Greer and Julie Bindel, who have raised concerns about predatory men’s access to women’s spaces. However, he told The Guardian that recent criticism of Stonewall was misplaced.

“Stonewall will be vindicated,” he said. “Taking a stand against the exclusion and hate crimes suffered by trans people is the ethically correct thing to do.

“Bans and the absence of platforms suppress intolerant opinions, but don’t challenge or change them. Bad ideas are most effectively refuted with good ideas that show why they are wrong, gathering counterarguments and evidence. However, there are double standards on racial and trans issues. Why do many people who support the cancellation of racist speakers oppose the cancellation of those who have similar prejudiced views about trans people? “

People hold banners that say Trans Fabulous and other slogans
Transgender people and their supporters protest outside Downing Street during the second Trans Pride for Equality march in September 2020. Photograph: WIktor Szymanowicz / NurPhoto / PA Images

On Kelley’s comparison of anti-Semitism, he said. “Those who deny the existence of trans people, confuse them and defend discrimination against trans people echo the prejudice of racists and homophobes.”

But Professor Kathleen Stock, a philosophy professor at the University of Sussex who has written a book criticizing theories of gender identity, said Stonewall had promoted a definition of transphobia that was too broad.

“Through his Champions of Diversity scheme, he has spread this widespread idea that an attack on the theory, or an attack on the particular interpretation, of identity is an attack on trans people. And that has really made the whole discourse incredibly toxic, given its enormous reach within national institutions, ”he said.

She added that as a gay woman she had benefited from the equality gains made by Stonewall in the past, but now she had gone too far. “They got what they wanted in terms of gay marriage and many other of their original goals, so they needed a new agenda, they needed new income, new currents and a justification, and they found one through what is now called trans rights, but it is a biased interpretation of what trans rights are.

“Obviously I think that trans people should have absolutely every right not to be attacked or discriminated against at work… but they got this new project and immediately the t-shirts say ‘trans women are women, get over it’ – that couldn’t be more aggressive…

“They have come under the guise of EDI [equality, diversity and inclusion] but, in my opinion, they greatly overreach in pedagogy, research, language control, and hate crime legislation. “

Kelley said, “We are very proud of the work we do with workplaces, schools and community organizations to help everyone in our communities prosper.”

She said the Diversity Champions program continued to grow in number and was “confident” of Stonewall’s advice regarding gender identity, and said it had recently reaffirmed itself in high court.

The controversies surrounding Stonewall suggest that the two sides remain as far apart as ever, but Tatchell urged them to focus on the other’s similarities, rather than their differences.

“All women, including trans women, are victims of misogyny, discrimination, violence and sexual assault,” she said. “This gives them a common interest in working together. Trans women are different from other women, but being a different type of woman is perfectly valid and is not a reason for the toxic defamation they suffer.

“Many women’s agencies have long accepted trans women without any problem. They investigate every trans woman and accept them unless there is evidence that they are a threat. This scrutiny keeps women safe and has long worked well in many women’s services.

“You cannot base trans policies on the actions of a bunch of bad apples. That would be grossly unfair to the vast majority of trans women who have never been, and never will, a threat to other women. “

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