Victoria Hewson is a solicitor and Rebecca Lowe is the former director of FREER, and a former assistant editor of ConservativeHome. Together they founded Radical, a campaign for truth and freedom in the gender recognition debate.
Stonewall keeps hitting the headlines. When we wrote a fortnight ago about the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s decision not to renew its membership of Stonewall’s Diversity Champions Scheme, we said that a similar decision couldn’t come soon enough from the scheme’s other members, particularly the vast number of public organisations that’ve been blindly following the charity’s guide. These organisations have faced huge costs in money, time, and resources, only to be misled on important matters of law, and fed an ideology that leads to serious physical risks to women and children, and ironically, an implicit homophobia.
Since then, Stonewall’s chief executive has made a vile equivalence between people who are ‘gender critical’ (ie who believe that human beings can’t change sex) and antisemites. And, as predicted, many public and private bodies have quickly followed in the EHRC’s footsteps, withdrawing from the Champions scheme. Channel 4, universities including UCL, and police forces have all quit, as has the Ministry of Justice with the comment that the charity has “totally lost its way”. Liz Truss is reportedly “pushing for all government departments to withdraw”.
Growing recognition of Stonewall’s sad moral downfall is welcome, but clearly overdue. We thought it worthwhile, therefore, to highlight the process by which politicians, journalists, and wider society have become aware of Stonewall’s transgressions.
This is not by way of MPs holding ministers to account, or by journalistic investigation, but rather is thanks to the determined action of individuals, mainly women, who realised what was happening, and used tools such as Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to bring the truth into the open. These individuals are too many to name, but particular recognition must go to Nicola Williams and Fair Play for Women, Maya Forstater and Sex Matters, Naomi Cunningham and the Legal Feminist lawyer collective, and members of the policy-analysis group MurrayBlackburnMackenzie.
In honour of this important work, here’s a list of five of the most shocking and revealing disclosures concerning gender ideology that’ve been made following FOI requests. Such requests represent a formal way in which members of the public can obtain information held by public authorities, under the 2000 Freedom of Information Act.
- Top place among the latest revelations must go to the University of Oxford, whose submission to Stonewall’s WorkPlace Equality Index was revealed last week: 135 pages of substantial check-lists and supporting evidence, including screenshots of prescribed “social media activity”. It’s hard to imagine how much all this must’ve cost the university to put together — on top of the membership fees they paid Stonewall. Attached to the submission are two further documents, however: Oxford’s substantial 2018 Transgender Guidance document, and the slides of a powerpoint presentation entitled “LGBT+ 101”. These documents also reflect the classic hallmarks of Stonewall wording — e.g. references to sex “assigned at birth” — and its classic misrepresentations of the law. Some of the UK’s equality law is complex and contested, but it’s really not difficult to get the Equality Act’s “protected characteristics” right, as Oxford fails to do here. Moreover, it’s mind-boggling to conceive of one of the most respected universities in the world, long revered as a home of the acquisition of knowledge and commitment to searching out truth, putting together a document about its practices that includes the diagram above. Close behind Oxford comes the University of Bedfordshire, however. On being asked to provide information about its relationship with Stonewall, Bedfordshire’s FOI team confidently responded that “we do not have dealings” with the charity — on a letter featuring the Stonewall logo.
- Less amusingly, Fair Play for Women recently used the FOI process to obtain the Equality Impact Assessment carried out by the Prison Service in connection with the establishment of accommodation for transwomen prisoners, including dangerous sex offenders, in a women’s prison. This document revealed that the service disregarded the single-sex exceptions legally available, and prioritised the claimed need of transwomen (ie male) prisoners to “associate” with women and have access to “female services”, over the safety of women prisoners. The fundamental right of these endangered women prisoners to be treated as equal members of society has been violated, leaving them instrumentalised, by the state, in order to meet the interests of a certain set of male prisoners. The seriousness of what this FOI has revealed is hard to overstate.
- We’ve written several times over the past year about how gender-identity ideologists’ attempts to hijack the census have dangerously risked the accuracy of essential national data. In March, the ONS was obliged to correct the guidance it had issued for the 2021 census, following a successful legal challenge by Fair Play for Women. However, as we emphasised back then, many questions remain, not least about the determination process of the wording of crucial census questions. This is also the case regarding the upcoming 2022 Scottish census, which is being run by the National Records of Scotland (NRS), and about which MurrayBlackburnMackenzie has revealed the following: “[d]uring the question development phase for the sex question in the  census, NRS met only with LGBT advocacy bodies. There is no evidence of consultation with independent statisticians or census data users in this period (see FOI correspondence)”.
- The tireless work of the Safe Schools Alliance has uncovered and challenged many instances of the capture of schools by gender ideology. This includes recently obtained confirmation, through an FOI request, that Stonewall had urged the schools inspectorate Ofsted to mark primary schools as “requires improvement” or “inadequate” — the lowest grades in Ofsted inspections — if children as young as five had not been made “specifically” aware of “sexual orientation and gender reassignment”.
- The last document to make our top five is not an FOI request, but rather a recent insight into why public bodies are so reluctant to make this kind of material available to the public. The NHS had published its “glossary” of equality and diversity terminology. But when social-media users reacted with serious concern at the document’s embrace of contested terms such as “gender identity” and “white fragility” — alongside its failure to discuss legally-protected equality characteristics such as sex and religion — the NHS quickly moved to “password protect” it. Nonetheless, further inquiry can be expected into the document, not least from the MPs who’ve signalled their discontent.
This NHS incident reflects the way in which much of the information discussed above has had to be prised from public authorities, who — supported by Stonewall — sought to withhold material on the grounds it could cause reputational damage.
Now, fear of reputational damage is not a good enough reason to withhold disclosure under the FOI Act, but these organisations were surely correct in their presumption that information acquired could damage their reputations. So why was awareness of this reputational risk not a signal to the officials concerned that they should have thought harder about what they were doing?
And, as we asked in our last column, in that many of these organisations have their own legal and HR departments, how did they find themselves publishing formal policy documents including such basic, dangerous errors?
The biggest pressing questions, however, focus on why such crucial information about our public organisations was not openly available until formally requested by resourceful citizens. And what it is that our elected representatives — including the Women and Equalities Committee, whose persistent failings we’ve catalogued in these columns — are going to do about all this, now the extent of the capture of the UK’s institutions is finally being fully revealed?