Radical: Cherry and the SNP. Gender ideology is being used as a proxy for control of the party.

17 Feb

Victoria Hewson is a solicitor and Rebecca Lowe is the former director of FREER, and a former assistant editor of ConservativeHome. Together they found Radical, a campaign for truth and freedom in the gender recognition debate.

From the sacking of Joanna Cherry from their Westminster front bench, to the astonishing legal and political battles surrounding Alex Salmond, SNP infighting has been making headlines all round. From a Radical point of view, this has caught our attention, because gender ideology is serving both as a cause of splits in the party, and a battleground on which a proxy war for its control is arguably being fought.

You’ve probably noticed that the Scottish government has been pushing ahead with reforms to the Scottish Gender Recognition Act — reforms that would enable people to change their legal sex on the basis of a personal declaration, with no need for any diagnosis of gender dysphoria or other external validation. Yes, this would entail a seismic policy shift to what’s generally referred to as “self-ID”, and which the UK government recently decided not to pursue.

This topic been causing disagreements within the SNP for some years, with senior women including Cherry and finance minister Kate Forbes having expressed their opposition to the introduction of self-ID. Then, at the start of February, Cherry was sacked from her position as SNP spokesperson for Justice and Home Affairs. This followed a high profile and acrimonious row with fellow SNP MP Kirsty Blackman, and the SNP LGBT group “Out for Independence”, which involved allegations of transphobia and antisemitism.

The row was triggered by Cherry’s support for Sarah Phillimore, a barrister who was suspended from Twitter for expressing gender critical views. Phillimore has commenced legal proceedings against Blackman for defamation, and, in an extraordinary twist, another SNP front bencher was sacked after donating to Phillimore’s crowd funder for legal expenses.

It’s crucial to note that this ongoing debate over sex and gender is closely linked to the hate crime laws also being pushed by the Scottish government. The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill currently progressing through the Scottish Parliament would create a new offence of “stirring up hatred”, the scope of which would include relevant incidents related to the protected characteristic of “transgender identity”.

This had led to concerns that it might be the case that, with the passing of the bill, expressing opposition to gender recognition laws, or simply expressing the view that human beings cannot change biological sex, would become criminalised, or that freedom of expression related to these matters would at least become seriously curtailed, owing to people’s fear of falling foul of the new offence.

An amendment to the bill, intended to protect free speech in the “discussion or criticism” of transgender identity, appears to have provoked an “exodus” of young SNP activists from the party. And this, in turn, led to Sturgeon making a speech, in which she firmly took the side of the trans activists, and declared an aim of zero tolerance for transphobia within the party.

This response to the free speech amendment seems to validate the concerns of critics of the bill. After all, as we have argued here many times, the introduction of self-ID is not unequivocally in the interests of trans people: just look at the healthcare risks trans people will face if census-data collectors continue down the self-ID route.

It is absolutely essential for the purposes of proper healthcare resource allocation that there are reliable national statistics, for instance, on the number of people who need access to regular cervical smear tests, or information about testicular cancer screening. It is in nobody’s interests for the simple recognition of biological facts to become illegal — and to equate such recognition with hatred is to diminish the serious genuine struggles trans people often face.

Now, since Cherry is firmly on the “gender-critical” side of the debate — the side, that is, that believes in biological sex, and the societal importance of recognising truths about it — her sacking could easily be seen as a related power play by Sturgeon.

Polling suggests that the removal of Cherry from the front bench has the support of a majority of SNP members. Moreover, Cherry is also associated with Salmond. And the Scottish Parliament’s ongoing inquiry into Sturgeon’s behaviour in connection with the complaints against Salmond — and the eventual criminal proceedings that arose from these complaints — could conceivably result in a finding that Sturgeon violated the ministerial code, and would therefore be expected to resign.

Shoring up her position with party members on a cause that is a priority for many of them will surely help, if Sturgeon is forced to fight to retain the position of first minister and party leader. And SNP members and voters generally support gender-recognitions reforms, even if these are not widely supported by Scottish voters as a whole (indeed, polls suggest that reform of the Gender Recognition Act is of low salience, and only supported by 37 per cent of voters in Scotland).

Now, playing to the party base in times of trouble is, of course, nothing new in politics. Indeed, for supporters of other parties, it’s tempting to enjoy the schadenfreude of SNP MPs, MSPs, and activists turning their customary sanctimony and high-handedness on to each other.

But don’t forget that this power struggle isn’t simply limited to arguments about sex and gender. It carries with it serious threats to free speech and democratic accountability, and reflects deep structural problems with the devolution settlement in Scotland.

Sturgeon may be happy to instrumentalise the interests of trans people and women alike — for it is women who will suffer most at the introduction of self-ID — to try to hold on to her power over what increasingly often seems like a one-party state. But this isn’t just wrong in itself: it likely won’t end happily for anyone.

Radical: Keira Bell’s case is a national scandal. It should have never taken a court hearing to halt the harm of children.

8 Dec

Rebecca Lowe is the former director of FREER, and a former assistant editor of ConservativeHome. She is co-founder of Radical. She and Victoria Hewson, her co-founder, alternate authorship of this fortnightly column on trans, sex and gender issues, and are co-authors of the article below.

The tide continues to turn. The judgment handed down in last week’s Keira Bell case is the latest example of pushback against the agenda of the gender-identity activists who’ve captured our institutions. Regular readers will know we believe this capture not only damages our democratic processes, it represents a serious direct threat to some of the most vulnerable members of our society.  

Over recent years, many concerns have been raised about the practices of the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) — the UK clinic addressing the needs of under-18s who experience ‘difficulties with their gender identity’. Foremost has been concern about the medical interventions GIDS have undertaken on children. These fall into two categories: the prescription of puberty blockers, from around age 11, and the prescription of cross-sex hormones, from age 16. The number of children referred to GIDS has famously rocketed, with 2,728 children (between the ages of four to 18) referred in 2019-20.

The Bell case — more formally, Bell and Ors v Tavistock and Portman — represents the culmination of concerns about GIDS, and puberty blockers in particular. The claimants, Bell (referred to in the judgment as Quincy), and Mrs A (the mother of a 15-year-old girl) brought a judicial review against the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, in respect of its practice of prescribing puberty-suppressing drugs to persons under the age of 18. Bell, now 23, had been prescribed these at 16, then quickly moved on to cross-sex hormones, before a double mastectomy aged 20. Soon after, she realised the emotional and mental difficulties she’d felt as a teenager were not, after all, a sign that her true ‘gender identity’ was male, and thus ‘solvable’ with hormones and surgery.

The court case turned on the question of whether children treated by GIDS — such as Bell, and Mrs A’s daughter — were capable of giving informed consent, in the legal sense, to such interventions. GIDS, and the NHS trusts that administer these interventions, proceed only if they consider a child is competent to give consent (it wasn’t their practice to proceed on the basis of parental consent alone). The test for competence in English law derives from the 1986 Gillick case, in which it was established that under 18s can consent to treatment if they have sufficient maturity and intelligence to understand its nature and implications.

In the Bell case, three senior judges found the use of puberty-blocking drugs in treating gender dysphoria to be experimental, to lack a firm evidence-base and clarity of purpose, and to have consequences that are ‘highly complex and potentially lifelong and life changing in the most fundamental way imaginable’.

GIDS had argued that blockers can be stopped, and don’t necessarily lead to cross-sex hormones and surgery. But the court found that, in actuality, taking these drugs almost always puts a child on that medical pathway, and that ‘once on that pathway it is extremely rare for a child to get off it’. A child would, therefore, need to be able to weigh up not just the immediate (and poorly understood, even by specialists) medical consequences of taking blockers, but all the consequences for their future health, relationships, fertility, and sexual function.

Unsurprisingly, the court found it highly unlikely that children aged 13 or under would be able to give informed consent, and doubtful that 14- or 15-year-olds could. A court order will now, therefore, generally be required for blockers to be prescribed to them. For children aged 16 and over (where there’s a presumption in law they can give consent), the capacity for informed consent was considered more plausible, but clinicians will need to apply to the court for consent in cases where there’s doubt the treatment will be in the child’s long-term best interests. 

The judgment is a damning indictment of GIDS’ clinical practice. Its clinicians were criticised for their lack of data on the ages of the children they’d ‘treated’, on the number or proportion of these children who’d been diagnosed with autism or mental-health conditions, and for failing to track the outcomes of their patients into adulthood.

But, if you’re thinking these findings might’ve led to contrition from GIDS, and all those who’ve advocated for these interventions, then you clearly haven’t been following these matters. One of the reasons institutional capture is so dangerous, is that it prevents necessary accountability and redress. Often, legitimate criticism simply cannot get through. And if you’ve ever voiced concerns about GIDS, you’ll know too well about the personal costs involved in speaking out.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, there’s been a serious backlash against the Bell judgment. Stonewall took a predictable line, and Jolyon Maugham QC compared it to the HolocaustLiberty and Amnesty International made emotional claims that showed they hadn’t understood the judgment. Mermaids’ founder was taken to task by Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis for making unsubstantiated claims about suicides amongst gender-dysphoric children. And the UK’s National LBGT Adviser made claims about puberty blockers that the court had expressly found unsubstantiated. GIDS itself is continuing a legal action against a former member of staff who raised the alarm about the use of experimental hormone treatments on children. 

At Radical, we’re saddened and worried that it’s taken a court case to call a halt to what is so obviously an example of the exploitation and harm of children. All children are vulnerable, but many of those referred to gender clinics are particularly so. Yet their mental health problems have been left undiagnosed and untreated, their bodies subjected to experimental drugs, and their physical and mental development threatened in ways many of them will still fail to understand.  

The case vindicates Bell’s brave quest to prevent others undergoing the ordeal she’s suffered. And also the work of Transgender Trend — which has tirelessly campaigned to raise awareness, and facilitate open debate about these issues, and was allowed to submit evidence in the case. 

But what’s urgently required now is full recognition of the abhorrence of what’s been going on. Because this isn’t just about proving consequential harm. As the judgment shows, children, who cannot even consent to these life-changing interventions, have been deemed capable of determining they should take place. As we’ve written before, the problem is not just, therefore, that decisions about these matters are irreversible, or even harmful; it is that a child is incapable of making such a serious decision, in a sufficiently reliable manner.

Yes, some children — unlike Bell — may feel grateful in later life for having undergone these interventions, regardless of any personal costs involved, such as the lack of fertility and sexual function. But if a child is incapable of making a choice, then it is incoherent and wrong to see any preference they may seem to display, as a child, about the matter, as a ‘choice’. And if a child then goes on to feel happy about the consequences of what happened as a result of that ‘choice’, this does nothing to justify the decision of the adults — charged with the child’s care — who allowed them to make that ‘choice’.   

That this has been happening is an affront to human dignity. Recognising the harm these children have suffered is vital. But beyond that is the most basic abnegation of responsibility: parental, clinical, and societal. And demands for proof of harm are themselves a horrific moral failure. Nobody should have needed that to know the deep wrongness of what has been going on. Urgent institutional change, proper access to appropriate mental-health treatment, and serious accountability and redress are required — now.

Radical: This new inquiry into the Gender Recognition Act reform affects us all – and there are just days left to have your say

24 Nov

Rebecca Lowe is the former director of FREER, and a former assistant editor of ConservativeHome. She is co-founder of Radical. She and Victoria Hewson, her co-founder, alternate authorship of this fortnightly column on trans, sex and gender issues, and are co-authors of the article below.

Our aim for this coming week is to finalise the Radical submission to the Women and Equalities Committee’s new inquiry into Gender Recognition Act reform. You may have read our last column, in which we called for the urgent replacement of this committee (the “WESC”), on the grounds that it has clearly been captured by a single-issue political campaign, and as such is incapable of properly holding the state to account on the important matters within its remit.

We proposed that it should be replaced by a Civil Rights and Freedoms Committee, which would focus on fundamental questions of equality before the law — tackling everything from citizenship to levelling up — instead of the grouping of people by particular identities. We stand by this proposal, and will be writing more in the coming weeks to strengthen our case.

Nevertheless, like many who are frustrated by the WESC — in general, and regarding its revisiting of GRA reform, in particular — we feel it’s important to make a submission to this inquiry. This is in large part because these inquiries often risk suffering from a form of self-selection bias, in which many of those submitting evidence hold extremely similar views to those of the people who’ve set up the inquiry.

This is especially so when a committee has been captured by a political movement; it is a clearly bad state of affairs for many reasons, mostly relating to the crucial role that proper democratic deliberation should play within a free society. Being a member of a democracy shouldn’t just mean having the opportunity to vote every few years: being able to inform decision-making isn’t just for (every fourth) Christmas. So we hope our submission will, at least, help to provide some much-needed balance.

So, here we are thinking about GRA reform once again. Regular readers of this column will have read our thoughts on this topic many times, culminating in our relief at the momentous news, back in September, that Liz Truss had confirmed that the “self-ID” proposals originally put forward by the May government in 2018 would not be taken forward.

We were pleased by this news because, while we strongly believe that people should be free to present themselves in line with whatever “gender” stereotypes they wish — as long as doing so causes no harm to others — this should not entail making the determination of one’s legal sex a matter of personal preference.

As we have explained over the past year in these columns, bringing in self-ID would undermine the important concept of scientific truth, do away with single-sex services and spaces, and put women at serious risk of harm.

We have also been keen to emphasise, however, the way in which the battle over self-ID shone a light on the generally dismal state of law and policy concerning sex and gender. We have long been calling for the Government Equalities Office and the EHRC to clarify guidance on gender reassignment and sex under the Equality Act.

A fortnight ago, we explained our frustration at the WESC’s ongoing existence in its current form, and its revisiting of the topic of GRA reform. The WESC addressed this topic in detail back in 2016, and doing so again seems, at best, a poor use of taxpayer resources. But, let’s turn to the inquiry. Its terms of reference are available here, and include such questions as:

  • Should there be changes to the requirement for individuals to have lived in their acquired gender for at least two years?
  • Should the requirement for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria be removed?
  • What impact will these proposed changes have on those people applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate, and on trans people more generally?
  • Why is the number of people applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate so low compared to the number who identify as transgender?
  • Are the Equality Act provisions for single/separate sex spaces and facilities clear and useable? If not, do we need reform or further guidance?

Now, evidently some of these questions simply represent a re-run of the WESC’s 2015-16 inquiry, which ended up calling for reform of the GRA. The questions about the clarity and usefulness of guidance on the Equality Act (EA) are welcome, however. It is clear that misconceptions and misunderstandings of the EA are widespread, and are often encouraged by gender-identity-activist organisations and public-sector bodies that have been captured by that lobby.

Even Caroline Nokes, the chair of the WESC, shows a lamentably bad understanding of the EA. Last week, in response to a question posed during a webinar hosted by the Tory Reform Group, she exclaimed that the EA has no relevance to men. Can it really be the case that the chair of the WESC doesn’t understand that the EA protects people from discrimination on the grounds of sex, whether their sex is male or female?

Nokes also showed a shocking disregard for the risks arising from housing male prisoners who identify as female in women’s prisons — flippantly (and wrongly) asserting that such concerns for the safety of women prisoners stem from only one, isolated, case (presumably, referring to this one). And judging all trans women prisoners by reference to a single case of a male rapist sent to a women’s prison was, Nokes claimed, like judging all doctors by reference to Harold Shipman.

That a self-declared equalities champion, and chair of the Women and Equalities Committee (note the foregrounding of the term “women”, here) is seemingly unaware that there are currently at least 139 trans-identifying male prisoners housed in women’s prisons — many of whom are dangerous sex offenders — is troubling.

Moreover, the Prison Service’s policy on trans prisoners is currently subject to judicial review, on the basis that it is unfair to the vulnerable women who are incarcerated alongside male-born criminals. If someone in Nokes’ position has such a poor understanding of law and policy in the field — and spreads incorrect and incomplete information, so casually — then what chance do public servants and private business people have?

The prospect raised in the WESC consultation of new legal protections for gender-fluid and non-binary people, which would extend the committee’s own remit in that respect, is concerning, therefore, not least given that its members clearly already struggle with their brief as it stands.

Other moments in the Nokes webinar were similarly disturbing. From her general question-evading, to the moralising intimation that submissions focusing on single-sex risk were ‘ignorant’ and ‘offensive’, to the callous way in which she spoke of foreign-born homeless people as a ‘complex cohort’, it was often quite hard to watch. We fear this underlines the way in which the WESC has been captured. If Nokes is simply not up to the job, then that’s one thing. If she is seeking to misrepresent law, then that is quite another.

Either way, the inquiry’s questions need answers. And these answers should come from a wide range of interested parties: these are matters that affect us all. You’ve got until Friday to have your say.

Radical: It’s time the Women and Equalities Committee was replaced

10 Nov

Rebecca Lowe is the former director of FREER, and a former assistant editor of ConservativeHome. She is co-founder of Radical.  She and Victoria Hewson, her co-founder, alternate authorship of this column on trans, sex and gender issues.

We need to talk about the Women and Equalities Committee. Just take its name, for a start! The ‘women’ part incites ire both from those who find it patronising (“we’re 50 per cent of the population!”), and those who find it exclusionary (“what about men?”, “what about trans men?”, “why isn’t there a BAME committee, then?”). Whereas the ‘equalities’ part is symptomatic of the confused nature of state discussion of such matters: why the plural? If ‘equality’ is good enough for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Equality Act…

Parliament.uk lists 133 current parliamentary committees, the members of which are MPs and Lords (some only have MPs, some only Lords, and some both). Some are ‘general committees’ (focused on scrutinising legislation), some are ‘select committees’ (focused on the work of particular government departments, etc), and three are ‘grand committees’ (focused on devolved matters). Unsurprisingly, these committees cover a vast range of topics — from Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs, to Fire Safety, to Pensions. 

The Women and Equalities Committee (WESC) is a select committee, set up in 2015 to scrutinise the work of the Government Equalities Office, on the recommendation of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in Parliament. It’s worth noting the involvement of this APPG. After all, the GEO focuses on many other ‘equalities issues’ aside from women; sex is only one of the Equality Act’s ‘protected characteristics’. Anyway, on this approach, aren’t women included in ‘equalities’, already? Isn’t the WESC a bit like a Mars Bars and Chocolate Bars Committee?

There’s more to be said about the foregrounding of the term ‘women’, here. But, beyond specific frustration at perceived condescension or exclusion, there’s a longstanding general debate about the state’s involvement in such matters. This ranges from the claim that the state does nowhere near enough to further the life chances of people from oppressed groups, to the claim that the state shouldn’t be involved in these matters at all. Many argue, for instance, that such involvement can be divisive and counterproductive, and represents serious overreach. And that seems a convincing argument to us at Radical, with regards to matters such as state-enforced positive discrimination. 

However, it also seems clear that there are certain such matters that do require state involvement. Indeed, in writing this regular column, we hope to remind Conservatives of this, in relation to the way in which, so often, the interests of women have been forsaken amidst the gender-identity lobby’s capture of our institutions.

Beyond this, however, it’s hopefully uncontroversial to emphasise, for instance, that it’s good and right that FGM is illegal, as it has been under UK law since 1985. And also that the state should do a much better job of enforcing this, to protect girls from these mutilations. Then, there’s the decades-long failure of UK institutions, including police forces, to stop large-scale sexual abuse in towns including Rotherham and Rochdale. The state is involved in these matters, and its actions — for good or bad — must be scrutinised.

Again, maybe you believe the state has no role to play in proactively addressing what are typically seen as hot ’equalities’ topics — such as mandating pay gap reporting, or quotas on boards. And those particular policy approaches run very much against our beliefs.

But hopefully you’d agree that equality itself is a crucial societal value, relating to our basic rights as human beings and as consenting members of a shared political society. And that situations in which members of certain sets of people are treated as if they are lacking the fundamental equal status that we all share, can be a matter for the state. And that this can move beyond instances of direct harm. For instance, policy issues like prisoner voting, and asylum seekers’ right to work, relate to equality in this sense.

But does the WESC spend its time addressing these kinds of matters? Is it a champion of girls’ safety? Are its members engaged in considering fundamental questions of equality? Do they work hard to defend their existence by engaging with underlying debates about the role of the state, and which kinds of state intervention can be justified?

Well, if the WESC has made any impact at all, it’s been solely on the question of gender self-ID. Perhaps it was inevitable that a committee with its remit would be susceptible to capture by gender-identity interest groups like Stonewall. It stands to reason that sceptics of the equalities agenda would avoid engaging with such a committee, while lobbyists for each protected characteristic under the Equality Act would see it as a political platform for their cause. And, as the most vocal identity-related cause of recent years has been that of transgender people, the most high-profile inquiry of the WESC was on transgender equality. Therefore, it’s hardly surprising that, only weeks after Liz Truss published the government’s response to its long-running consultation on self-ID, the WESC felt the need to re-litigate the matter, opening its own, second inquiry into reform of the Gender Recognition Act.

This is neither to say that the interests of transgender people are unimportant, nor that the WESC has not produced interesting publications. Its 2016 report on sexual harassment and violence in schools made for sobering reading. Indeed, you might have thought WESC members would’ve reflected again on their earlier findings on the ease with which people should be able to change their legal sex. Their 2016 conclusions included not only the importance of accurate data — currently under serious threat following the capture of the census ‘sex question’.

But also the urgent need to ‘engage with men and boys’ on matters of sexual violence: ‘the focus in [Sex and Relationships Education] has been often based on girls changing their behaviour, rather than addressing the culture that leads some boys and young men to sexually harass and abuse girls and young women’. We hope the WESC pays more attention to such matters in their new inquiry, and recognises that effectively denying the existence of biological sex is not an option for a state institution.

Or maybe we should hope for something else. The WESC has shown itself to have been captured by a single-issue political campaign, and as such is clearly incapable of properly holding the state to account on the important matters within its remit.

The WESC has even shown itself incapable of advocating for the one group specifically named in its title — women — and has focused instead on privileging the interests, at all costs, of people identifying as transgender. Perhaps, therefore, parliament should bring the WESC to an end? Perhaps it should be replaced with a committee charged with scrutinising the way in which the state upholds the equally-held freedoms and rights of all, rather than viewing these matters through the contested post-modern lens of identity politics?

We therefore call on MPs to halt the WESC’s waste of taxpayer-funded state resources, and propose it should be replaced by a Civil Rights and Freedoms Committee, at the earliest opportunity. Focused on questions of equality before the law, instead of the grouping of people by particular identities, this committee could tackle everything from the privileges of citizenship, to the question of economic ‘levelling up’, to the risks of government by decree in the age of Covid-19. These are matters related to the fundamental values of equality and liberty, which can be approached by conservatives and progressives in common cause, without conceding to identity politics at the outset. 

Radical: Gender ideology has penetrated our institutions – and now it’s the census that’s under threat

20 Oct

Rebecca Lowe is the former director of FREER, and a former assistant editor of ConservativeHome. She is co-founder of Radical.  She and Victoria Hewson, her co-founder, alternate authorship of this column on trans, sex and gender issues.

If you thought self-ID was off the table, now the Gender Recognition Act battle has been won, you’d better think again. Gender ideology has penetrated our institutions so deeply that, even without self-identification becoming a matter of law, the insidious idea that one’s sex is a solely matter of personal demand is seeping into policy and practice, almost unnoticed. Yet the damaging effects of this will be far-reaching, and one of the most worrying examples regards the case of the upcoming census. 

Regular readers will know we believe that adults should be free to present themselves however they want (as long as this doesn’t harm others), and that such behaviour shouldn’t prevent anyone from being afforded equal respect. But this doesn’t equate to believing that the way someone presents themselves determines their biological sex — or that anyone should be mandated into accepting that to be the case!

Indeed, the activists pressing for such mandates endanger many people. We’ve charted the risks faced by vulnerable children, pressured into taking life-changing experimental drugs; the risks natal women face when forced to shared their single-sex spaces; and the risks we all face from attacks on societal commitment to truth.

National data collection is also under threat. And without trustworthy societal data, horrible problems go unnoticed, policy solutions go untested, and nobody is held to account. Sadly, one field that’s been heavily occupied by gender-identity activists is national statistics — in particular, they’ve targeted the censuses that are due to take place, soon.

The UK authorities in charge of censuses are the ONS in England and Wales, National Records of Scotland (NRS), and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA). For the upcoming English, Welsh, and Northern Irish censuses in March 2021, and the Scottish census that’s been postponed to March 2022, they’ve confirmed that the wording of the compulsory-to-answer “sex question” will continue to offer only the standard answers “male” and “female”. Controversially, however, accompanying guidance will advise respondents to answer based on their self-declared gender identity.

This has raised serious concerns among social scientists and statisticians. In a letter to The Sunday Times, more than 80 academics noted that the guidance “will effectively transform the sex question into one about gender identity”, and highlighted their concern that “this will undermine data reliability on a key demographic variable”.

In an excellent Woman’s Place webinar on Sunday, one panellist summed up the situation: “How has this happened when everyone who knows about it, disagrees with it?”. Informed by the webinar, and our wider reading, including an important new paper by Dr Jane Clare Jones, here are some answers:

1) UCL’s Professor Alice Sullivan describes how the census has “collected data on sex since its inception in 1801. As a fundamental demographic variable, robust data on the number of male and female citizens is of vital importance to the planning and delivery of public services. Sex is a protected characteristic under the 2010 Equality Act, therefore data on sex is clearly necessary for equalities monitoring”.

Yet, the aforementioned guidance will conflate the provable scientific concept of sex with the contested subjective concept of gender identity. This will make it unclear what’s being measured (violating the most basic principle of questionnaire design), and render the resulting data unreliable.

Now, it could be argued that the number of respondents who’ll answer the question with anything other than their biological sex will be very low, and that, therefore, this is relatively unimportant. But, aside from the principle of the matter, this neglects how most research using census data drills down deep, comparing findings relating to different variables and subgroups in different ways, making accuracy essential at all levels.

Of course the census covers sensitive matters, but regarding none of its other questions is it indicated that the respondent is not expected to give a truthful answer, but that they can instead choose to provide a response that makes them feel better, or that they wish were true.

UK census authorities have an obligation to maintain public trust in national statistical data. This poor guidance puts them in danger of losing their long-held ability to monitor differences between the sexes, and provide foundations for evidence-based policy.  

2) Until recently, the census “sex question” was thought self-explanatory. In 2011, however, guidance was provided advising transsexual and transgender people to respond based on their self-declared gender identity. This wasn’t subject to consultation, but, according to the ONS, was done “at the request of the LGBT community”. This doesn’t mean, however, that self-identified sex should be accepted as a necessary feature of the census. Professor Sullivan describes how: 

“it is not clear how data quality was affected [by the 2011 guidance], but it is likely that few respondents consulted the guidance. The shift to a “digital-first” census in 2021 means that any proposed guidance will be much more visible and accessible, compared to the 2011 census (which was predominantly paper based, with separate online guidance). It is also likely the number of respondents who might seek to answer the sex question in terms of their gender identity will be higher in 2021. Taken together, these factors introduce the potential for significant discontinuity with the 2011 and previous censuses”.   

Moreover, the 2021 census (in England and Wales, and Scotland) is in further danger of undermining the pursuit of good data collection, with the introduction of a voluntary question specifically pertaining to gender identity. This means respondents will first be asked their sex (but told to answer on the basis of their gender identity), and then asked about their gender identity (by reference to sex!).

Given increasing interest in gender identity, especially among young people, and the lack of reliable data on the number of UK trans people, there’s value to this question. However, that’s only if gender identity can be understood separately from sex: conflating these terms helps nobody, not least trans people, who we’re regularly informed are at risk of missing out on screening for medical conditions relating to their natal sex. Yet, gender-identity activists continue to press this dangerous and confusing conflation. 

3) The conflation of biological sex and gender identity — an astonishing failure of the census authorities — is but one example of the powerful institutional capture achieved by activists. Analysis by MBM tracks how the NSR was in regular and close correspondence with Stonewall. And much of the ONS’s output on the topic of the sex question betrays, through the use of tell-tale words and phrases, an uncritical absorption of post-modernist gender ideology.

4) It cannot be overstated how important the census is, not only to good public policy formation, but to good data collection and analysis, in general. A panellist on the Woman’s Place webinar referred to the census as “the mothership”. And anyone who’s ever done any research on any policy matter will be familiar with the use of census data; its methodological approach is, for everyone from academics to pollsters, a lodestar for survey design and so much more. Risking its standards, therefore, is tantamount to destroying a foundation post of our society.

5) The good news, however, is that it’s not too late — yet — to save the census! If you care about public policy, and believe that national statistics should be protected from gender ideology, then you’d better complain now. You’ve still got a small amount of time before the upcoming censuses to write to one or all of the following: the ONSNRSNISRA, your local MP, and the equalities minister, Liz Truss.

Radical: Who should count as female in women’s sport?

6 Oct

Rebecca Lowe is the former director of FREER, and a former assistant editor of ConservativeHome. She is co-founder of Radical.  She and Victoria Hewson, her co-founder, alternate authorship of this column on trans, sex and gender issues.

One topic we haven’t properly addressed in our Radical columns so far is sport — and, specifically, the ongoing heated debate about who counts as a ‘woman’ means for women’s sport. Yet, for many people, this is an obvious starting point into the kinds of things we’ve been discussing. And various recent events have pushed it into the limelight. See, for instance, discussion following last week’s announcement that eight of Australia’s ‘peak sporting bodies’ have ‘committed to implementing governance that supports a greater level of inclusion for trans and gender diverse people in their sports’.

First, a quick reminder of our focus at Radical. We believe that everyone should be treated with equal fundamental respect, and that people should be free to behave and express themselves as they wish. But that, in organised political society — made up of many human beings, with often competing needs and preferences — there must be some caveats to the second of these beliefs.

A standard example of this involves harm: you can do what you want, as long as you don’t harm others. And one function of positive law is to adjudicate — along that line and others — in situations in which one person’s needs and preferences rub up against another’s. Some situations, however, remain outside of law’s jurisdiction, as matters for us to determine for ourselves, privately. And some fit within the remit of various other kinds of rules and regulations.

Sport neatly exemplifies these distinctions. Some matters within sport are matters for the law of the land. If I stab you while we’re playing football, it’s not just the referee I’m going to have to deal with

And some matters are private, or community-based — whether you cheated in our newly made-up version of competitive hit-the-ball-against-the-wall, or whether I infringed my tennis club’s particular dress-code rules by wearing my dinosaur t-shirt in the pavilion.

And some matters are for national or international regulatory organisations: the England and Wales Cricket Board, the British Horseracing Authority, the International Paralympic Committee, and so on. One thing that seems certain, however, is that games involve rules and that when we play a game, we agree to abide by its rules.

Now, that could be seen as a bit of a controversial claim: the word ‘game’ is famously hard to define, after all. But, for our purposes, let’s accept that sports are a kind of game, and that if you’re not willing to accept that there are going to be some rules to follow, then you’d better not bother playing. (Indeed, it might even be the case that you’re not actually playing, if you don’t accept that.)

But what the rules should be is a different matter. Various concerns will be relevant, here — from coherence to tradition to safety to competitiveness — and the content and enforcement of the rules deriving from these concerns will differ owing to the formality of the situation, and various other relevant factors. We’re probably not going to need to commit to the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern method for our knock-around in the park.

Where might all this get us to on the pressing question of inclusion within women’s sport? This question is a subset of a bigger question: who counts as a woman, more generally, in our society? And it’s a question that’s become difficult even to ask. Just try. You’ll probably come up against some vitriol pretty quickly, and, sadly, particularly if you’re not a man…

However, just because this question didn’t used to be asked, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be asked now: that’s not a good argument. That said, it’s always worth noting that genuine social and legal change tends to follow relatively broad, and often hard-won, societal consensus. What is disappointing, however, is when people try to censor questions like this on the grounds that they are fundamentally hateful.

Now, I’m a bit hardcore on the matter of whether there are any topics that are morally beyond the bounds of discussion: I tend to think that even the most seemingly settled matters benefit from debate, and that formally preventing this is not only wrong but often counter-productively risky. Beyond that, however, it seems clear that there very much are discussions to be had on this particular matter at this particular moment.

Arguments for or against the involvement of trans women in women’s sport typically come down to three types of reason, related, respectively, to harm, fairness, and rights. For instance, there are claims of harm coming from both sides of the argument. Put simply, some people believe that trans women should be allowed to play on women’s sports teams because, if they are not, then these trans women would be at risk of psychological damage, Whereas, some people believe that trans women should not be allowed to play on women’s sports teams because this would put the natal women on these teams at risk of physical harm.

The fairness and rights arguments play out along similar lines, relating to the exclusion or inclusion of trans women in what was previously deemed to be a domain only for natal women, and all three types of argument often overlap. For instance, it might be argued that allowing trans women on women’s sports teams is unfair to natal women because they might suffer physical harm, or that being put at risk of such harm would violate their rights. It’s also the case that someone might be on one ‘side’ in one of these arguments, and on the other in another — or, of course, claim that they’re on both sides, in one or all of them.

In fact, many people do try to be on both sides of these arguments, sticking up both for natal women and trans women. And why wouldn’t you? Well, two reasons jump out.

The first is that this is very much a zero-sum game: you cannot both have trans women playing on women’s teams, and also only have natal women playing on them. The second reason is a little more complex, but comes down to the fact that the side of the argument that initially seems to preference someone may not truly reflect that person’s best interests. In other words, it might turn out that ‘sticking up’ for someone, in this sense, isn’t really a good thing to do for them: for instance, if you know that your friend has told you a lie, it’s often not in their interests for you to go along with that lie.

So, in the case of participation within women’s sports, it seems as if there are some pressing decisions to be made. And, to return to our discussion above, part of what needs to be determined here is who should make these decisions. Which parts of all this, if any, are a matter for democratic society at large, via law? Which parts should be up to experts in official sporting bodies? Which parts to the membership of individual clubs or other organisations? Which to individual players?

And part of this relates to the scope of the question. Sex isn’t deemed relevant to all sports; sex is sometimes only deemed relevant when considered in tandem with other matters, like age. (Young children often play sport in mixed teams at school, for instance.) And beyond that, what part should tradition play in the formal and informal rule-making of sports? And other considerations such as excellence and opportunity and competitiveness and fun? And when does a sport stop being a sport, or stop being the particular sport it once was? How many rule changes can you have? What matters here and why?

The more I think about all this, the more I realise why we haven’t really addressed this topic in our Radical columns so far. Superficially, it can seem the simplest of relevant areas of discussion. And parts of it definitely are: if you’re going to try to tell me that it’s simply not at all problematic for a six-foot-three 20-stone former-men’s-team loose-half prop to turn up for trials at the local women’s rugby club, and you won’t even consider why it might be problematic, then we’re probably not going to get very far.

Indeed, I’d take a pot shot at the idea that you have no comprehension of what sportsmanship is — never mind its value, both to sport and to society in general. But once we get past the simple cases, we get into much more complex territory. And I’d contend that part of the reason for this complexity is that rules in sport are part of the game.

A bit like morality, if you break the rules you’re not really playing; if you over-regulate, you crowd out virtue. But, beyond that, it’s simply not an easy normative domain to which we just apply our standard principles. Often, sport involves special exceptions: people doing things that are normally deemed too risky to themselves or others; people doing things that would normally be deemed, well, stupid or pointless, or lacking value in other senses. Games have a curious relationship with the real world. And determining their rules is never easy.

Tony Hockley: The future of farming must be diverse

1 Oct

Tony Hockley PhD is Director of the Policy Analysis Centre and a Visiting Senior Fellow at LSE.

When Farmers Weekly magazine used an image of five white male speakers to promote an event entitled “What does the future of farming look like?”. No irony was intended.


Like many working in policy I cannot recall the last all-male panel at a mainstream event. I suspect that most would also agree that the change has been for the better. It is now the case that most men who would bring value to a policy event will decline an invitation to participate in one that is comprised entirely of white men of a certain age. Whoever organised the September 30 Farmers Weekly event was probably just lazy and unimaginative, rather than prejudiced. But this speaks volumes on how much must change if the countryside is to live up to the rhetoric, to play a leading role in the pandemic recovery and to deliver a “Green Brexit”. If ever there was a time for fresh thinking then that time is now. This also requires fresh voices.

The UK has arrived at a point in which there is almost no connection between the population and the countryside that sustains its food and landscape. Divisions in debates around the countryside reflect this disconnect. There are very few voices of mutual empathy between the increasingly divergent worldviews. Positive progress needs an end to groupthink.

This year has shown what happens when a population cut off from the countryside are forced to staycation and have nowhere else to go. Decades of failure of engagement have led to huge damage to precious sites for nature. From the pristine ponds and biodiverse grazed heaths of the New Forest in the South to the summit of Snowdon, some of the UK’s best sites for nature have been driven over, dumped on (in all senses), and burnt by disposed barbecues. It is hard to blame the families involved, when so little has been done to engage for so long.

There is an opportunity to change this after the pandemic and outside the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Farmers must be willing and able to engage, and to welcome renewed interest in our own countryside. Appreciation of nature and fears for its loss and for climate change are high. But few seem to connect these fears with the UK landscape, or with our own behaviours. We seem to worry more about the fate of the pangolin than the fate of the hedgehog, the adder, or the curlew. It is, of course, easy to blame others in foreign lands or faceless corporations, rather than look closer to home.

The Agriculture Bill includes public access, enjoyment and understanding of the countryside in its short list of public goods worthy of receiving public money. This needs to be a priority, not an afterthought. It is not something to be left to agencies, but for everyone in the countryside. Despite the alarming damage to precious landscapes in 2020, a warm welcome needs to be the default approach, not the “Keep Out” sign. This will be a far cry from the insular mentality of the CAP, where the occupation counts more than anything.

Outside the CAP we can now invest properly not only in restoring nature, but also in building understanding of it and in helping everyone enjoy the countryside sustainably. Inside the CAP those who would like to do more have had to rely on the National Lottery to support local, time-limited projects. The Agriculture Bill offer the chance to scale up; the Heritage Lottery Fund has, for example, allowed New Forest commoners to create a free toolkit which local primary schools have incorporated into their curriculum.

This is helping re-connect the next generation to the countryside on their doorstep, and its special nature sustained by centuries of common grazing. The new GCSE in Natural History is an important step in the same direction. There is no silver bullet, but without much greater inclusivity and engagement damaging behaviour will only get worse. Then those who access the countryside for the first time will only see barriers, warning signs, and policing.

It is too easy for those of us who benefit from regular countryside access to fail to understand the psychological and behavioural barriers to those who do not and who are often visibly “different”. The Glover Review of designated landscapes highlighted this collective myopia, reflected in appointments to our national park authorities. Landscape conservation has become insular and process-driven. Politicians cannot deliver adequate public funding unless the population at large appreciate the need and feel the value.

That is why, even from a position of self-interest, it is deeply dangerous for discussions about the future of farming to lack diversity. It not only excludes half of the population by gender, but also ignores wider demographic change: The proportion of the “White British” population in the UK is declining. The proportion of the population who are not White British or Irish is forecast to continue to grow, from 17.5 per cent in 2016 to almost 40 per cent over the next 40 years.

There is, of course, also a strong moral obligation to change. The events of 2020 have added emphasis to this obligation. Ethnic minorities in the UK and disadvantage groups of all ethnicities have suffered disproportionately during the pandemic. Many of the towns and cities worst hit by Covid-19 are on the doorstep of incredible landscapes, but engagement is low. The pandemic has drawn attention to the health benefits of regular access to green spaces and of a deeper connection to nature.

Anyone who doubts that the countryside has much more to do on engagement would do well to read a blog by the earth scientist Dr Anjana Kathwa for the Council for National Parks. The future of farming after the pandemic and after Brexit must be very different to the past. Diversification of practice will need to be matched by diversification of culture if the general public are to be expected not only to put their money into the countryside’s public goods but also prioritise support for domestic farming within future trade deals. There will certainly be no shortage of alternative and very popular uses for public money as the UK recovers from the pandemic, nor of other priorities in trade talks. The future of farming really is a choice between diversity or decay.

Radical: Trans. Self-ID proposals have been stopped for now. But the struggle for civil rights and truth continues.

22 Sep

Victoria Hewson is a solicitor and Rebecca Lowe is the former director of FREER, and a former assistant editor of ConservativeHome. Together they found Radical, a campaign for truth and freedom in the gender recognition debate.

On September 20, The Sunday Times reported that gender “self-ID” proposals originally put forward by the May government in 2018 will not be taken forward. We’ve written here many times about this topic, but it’s worth a quick reminder of the context, before we address this momentous news.

Since the introduction of the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) in 2004, people meeting certain conditions have been able to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). A GRC legally recognises someone’s change of gender, and allows them to have their sex on their birth certificate changed to match this gender change, for legal purposes.

Under the terms of the act, obtaining a GRC requires a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria, and evidence of having lived in one’s “acquired gender” for two years. It is worth noting here the difference afforded to sex and gender within the process. For instance, it is often stated that a GRC “changes someone’s gender” on their birth certificate, yet this is clearly wrong, as gender is not recorded on a birth certificate – rather, sex is.

The terms “sex” and “gender” are often used interchangeably in conversation, and various relevant pieces of legislations are lax on their clarity of use of these terms. But, as the Government’s GRA consultation document notes, “gender” technically relates to “socially constructed characteristics” associated with societal notions of masculinity and femininity, whereas “sex” relates to the biological characteristics that determine whether someone is male or female. Regardless of the terms used, this distinction is crucial for many reasons.

In 2018, Penny Mordaunt, the then Minister for Women and Equalities, launched a consultation – as referred to above – on the reform of the GRA. The aim of this consultation was to determine “how best Government might make the existing process under the [act] a better service for those trans and non-binary people who wish to use it”. The consultation closed in October of 2018, and although the Government Equalities Office has stated that it received more than 100,000 responses, no responses have ever been published by the Government.

The most notable reforms discussed in the consultation were proposals that would entail that, to obtain a GRC, a person would no longer require a diagnosis of dysphoria, or need to prove that they had been living in their acquired gender. Rather, someone would be able to obtain a GRC, and change their sex for legal purposes, simply by making a statutory declaration of their intention live in the opposite gender.

This is already the case in a number of countries, cited as examples in the consultation document, and is informally known as “self-identification” or “self-ID”. These proposals for change were strongly supported by trans activist campaigners (including those within the Conservative Party), but were strongly opposed by women’s groups and people concerned about myriad practical and legal implications that seemed to have gone unnoticed in the consultation.

We have discussed many of these implications in our columns, ranging from concerns about prison safety to census data collection. We strongly believe that people who choose to act in ways traditionally associated with membership of the opposite biological sex should be treated just as respectfully as anyone else, all other things being equal.

But we also believe that acknowledging the importance of the right to free expression does not equate to believing that the law should mandate that biological men must be treated as women, or biological women as men – on their demand. The consequences of such an approach would not only include the violation of natal women’s rights to security and privacy, but also the undermining of biological truth. 

This week, the Government seems finally to have clarified its position on self-ID. Although Liz Truss, the current Minister for Women and Equalities, had stated back in April that it was her intention to “[maintain] the proper checks and balances in the system”, the announcement confirming that the Government would not be going forward with self-ID did not come before the summer break, as she had implied.

In the meantime, there was, unsurprisingly, a new flurry of campaigning for the change. And opponents of reform began to fear that the powerful influence of organisations like Stonewall (whose diversity scheme most government departments subscribe to) would prevail, and that the proposed changes would be brought forward, after all.

It comes as a great relief, therefore, to learn that, aside from dropping the £140 fee, the current process will remain unchanged. A government spokesperson was quoted by The Sunday Times as saying, ”We think that the current legislation, which supports people’s rights to change their sex, is sufficient”.

This does not mean that our struggle for civil rights and truth is over, however. The battle over self-ID has shone a light on the state of law and policy concerning sex and gender. In this column, we have written many times about the confusion and misinformation that has been propagated by public authorities, often on the advice of campaigners like Stonewall.

Illegal guidance by bodies ranging from local authorities to the Crown Prosecution Service has been successfully challenged by women and children who refused to accept that girls and boys should no longer be separated in toilets, changing rooms, and dormitories.

Legal actions in respect of medical intervention on children and young people are ongoing; the NHS has already changed its official position on the “reversibility” of puberty blockers, to recognise that these powerful drugs have effects on young people that are not reversible. A challenge to the lawfulness of guidance issued by the body tasked with overseeing and enforcing equalities legislation, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), is under way

It is particularly notable, therefore, that the reaction of Stonewall to the news that the GRA reforms would not proceed was to state an incorrect interpretation of the Equality Act. This was rightly described by Jackie Doyle-Price, the Conservative MP, as a “wilful misrepresentation” from a body that purports to advise public- and private-sector organisations on how to comply with equalities laws.

Now that the law on gender recognition looks to be stable again, the Government Equalities Office and the EHRC should urgently attend to clarifying guidance on gender reassignment and sex under the Equality Act. Police and civil-service leadership should consider whether such close involvement with politically-driven organisations such as Stonewall and Gendered Intelligence is consistent with impartiality. 

It is clear that the Gender Recognition Act is not a good law. Its key provisions are badly drafted, mixing the terms “sex” and “gender” without defining either. This both reflects and contributes to widespread confusion, which has been exploited to pursue outcomes that the MPs and peers who voted for the act in 2004 had no conception of – such as the right for male-bodied people who identify as women to use female changing rooms, be housed in female prisons, and be recorded as female in crime statistics and census data. 

The GRA could certainly still be improved – but at least it now seems that it is not going to be made worse by the introduction of self-ID. Equivalent reform is still being pursued in Scotland, however. In combination with the Scottish hate speech bill, this would be dangerously authoritarian, and Conservatives across the UK should hope that opposition parties and groups will succeed in their campaigns against both pieces of legislation.

Radical: A response to Nicola Richards and Alicia Kearns’ recent piece on the Gender Recognition Act

1 Sep

Victoria Hewson is a solicitor and Rebecca Lowe is the former director of FREER, and a former assistant editor of ConservativeHome. Together they found Radical, a campaign for truth and freedom in the gender recognition debate.

We’ve been writing this fortnightly column about sex and gender since March. We’ve covered a range of topics relating to relevant matters of law, philosophy, and public policy, but we’ve been clear from the outset about where we’re coming from:

Of course trans people should be treated just the same as anyone else, all things being equal. But it’s also the case that biological women need societal recognition of their right to certain single-sex spaces. And the denial of the concept of biological truth leads only to an anti-vaxxing hellhole.

We’ve also been clear that we’re writing these columns because people on the centre-right have, too often, been missing from this important contemporary debate. We wanted to share what we’ve learnt and provoke discussion, and felt well placed to do this.

One of us, Victoria, is a party member and activist, and a classic conservative; the other of us, Rebecca, is a former party member and PPC, and a libertarian. Our shared values, and our differences of opinion, mean that, between us, we have a lot in common with most of the ConHome readership, which itself is varied in many ways.

So, we want to use this fortnight’s column to pave the way to search out points of commonality with some Conservative MPs – Nicola Richards, Alicia Kearns, and several other co-authors – who wrote a piece here last week.

Maybe you saw it then, or read about it in the papers. Now, the conclusions of their piece, regarding matters of sex and gender, were different from ours: not least in that they support a move to “self-ID”, and we don’t. But it seems clear that their article comes from a place of goodwill, and we’re keen to engage with its writers. 

We want to know more about their views, particularly regarding some key issues about which we feel they could’ve been clearer. We’re also keen to know your answers to the questions we’re going to pose to them now:

Q1 Are you clear about the content of the Gender Recognition Act?

You note “there are many misconceptions” about proposed reforms to the GRA. Unfortunately, you’ve adopted misconceptions, yourselves. For instance, you refer to a person changing their “gender” on their birth certificate. Yet, despite the confusing language regarding “gender recognition” in the legislation, a GRC doesn’t change the gender noted on a birth certificate (because gender isn’t recorded there). Rather, it changes someone’s sex, for legal purposes – to align it with the gender with which they identify.

Your confusion is understandable, in some ways: the wording of the relevant section of the GRA uses “sex” and “gender” interchangeably, and doesn’t define either. But it’s important that lawmakers – and particularly those agitating for profound change – are clear and specific, rather than helping to spread misinformation. Sadly, this is not the only example of misinformation we noted in your piece. 

Q2 Do you accept that the distinction between sex and gender is an important one?

We believe it’s crucial: that “sex” relates to matters of biology (whether someone is a member of the female sex set, or the male sex set), and that “gender” is a matter of social convention (how someone sees themself in relation to stereotypical societal norms regarding the two sex sets).

Moreover, we believe this distinction reflects why it’s neither illiberal nor hateful to oppose self-ID. People should be free to behave and present themselves in accordance with whichever (unharmful) norms they prefer, but there are good reasons to avoid pretending that sex-set membership is a matter of personal choice or feelings. 

There’s no law here against exercising “gender expression” – which is a private matter for individuals – and it would be profoundly illiberal to instate one. Indeed, there’s significant legal protection under the Equality Act and criminal law for anyone identifying as a member of the opposite sex.

Sex-set membership itself, however, is highly relevant to important matters of public concern, including those as basic and obvious as the data collection required to underpin medical-resource allocation.

We strongly believe, therefore, that whilst goverments should not be concerned with how people present themselves, healthcare concerns provide just one clear reason why the state must remain interested in, and objective about, matters of sex.

Accuracy and clarity is vital, here, and should be unobscured by personal impressions relating to sex-set stereotypes about matters such as as dress sense. 

Q3 Do you believe that trans people should have access to single-sex services and spaces intended for the opposite sex, including refuges and prison wings?

We were concerned by your claim that: “Trans people can already use, and have always been able to use, services matching their gender, regardless of whether they have the certificate. Services such as Domestic Violence Refuges have always been able to exclude a trans person in certain circumstances, if it is proportionate and regardless of whether they have a GRC. This is covered by the Equalities Act”.

Again, this is complicated, and the legislation is not clear, but the grounds on which trans people can be excluded from single-sex spaces under the Equality Act are actually general and wide-ranging.

Activist groups, such as Stonewall, like to pretend this isn’t the case, and public bodies, such as the EHRC, which should know better, have issued misleading guidance (currently subject to legal challenge) that tries to limit this to “exceptional” or “limited” circumstances.

But do you really believe that, in 2010, parliament intended that the very wide protected characteristic of gender reassignment – “proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person’s sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex” – generally entitled men in that position to use women’s changing rooms and refuges?

Rather, what is clear from the act, is that it was intended for people with this protected characteristic to be protected from discrimination (such as in the workplace), not that they were to be entitled to be treated as a member of the opposite sex. 

Moreover, you claim that “we are the party that ensures people have the freedom to live their lives as they wish”. Now, this is a contestable and partial account of Conservative Party philosophy.

But, putting that aside, aren’t you concerned by the idea of the Government violating women’s rights to organise themselves, and to consent to whom it is they share private spaces with? Or the ability of businesses and charities to provide services that respect and protect women’s interests and preferences?

Q4 Do you believe that doctors should be allowed to perform non-reversible medical interventions on under-16s, in order to help them physicalise their gender expression?

We believe that adults should be free to seek medical intervention to make their bodies resemble the opposite sex. We also believe, however, that there’s no justification for prescribing puberty blockers (which the NHS no longer states to be reversible) or hormome therapies to children.

Indeed, it’s clear that these interventions are, like FGM, a form of child abuse, and we are keen to share with you our full findings on this topic as a matter of urgency. 

Q5 Do you believe in free debate about these matters?

We hope you’ll agree that our questions are neither inherently hateful nor phobic. We certainly agree with you that improving mental health services for trans people is important, and that fighting against hateful prejudice of all kinds is both good and necessary.

We hope you agree with us, however, that people should be able to discuss their views openly about these matters, and that the serious professional consequences and personal abuse that too many – from JK Rowling, downwards – have faced for doing so, are worrying and wrong.

Rebecca Lowe: CNN’s “individuals with a cervix” Tweet, and why denying biological sex can harm those its meant to help

4 Aug

Rebecca Lowe is the former director of FREER, and a former assistant editor of ConservativeHome. She is co-founder of Radical.

I’m going to assume you saw three things on Twitter this weekend. But don’t worry, I’ll go through them briefly, now, and I’ll explain my annoying Twitter-centricity, below.

The first of these things was a tweet by CNN, saying: “Individuals with a cervix are now recommended to start cervical cancers screening at 25 and continue through age 65”. The second thing was a range of people replying to CNN’s tweet with variations on the theme of, “Cervix-havers?! You mean women!”. And the third thing was a less wide-ranging set of people responding to these “Women!” tweets, with claims that the people who wrote them were transphobic.

Now, to anyone who doesn’t follow this stuff, it must sound a bit “inside baseball”. And, yes, I know there’ll be comments below this column telling me: “The world is bigger than Twitter!”, and “Get a life!”. But the point is that this kind of exchange – “Women!”, followed by “Transphobe!” – is becoming common. And so is the thing that instigated it. Organisations like CNN know full well what they’re doing when they say things like “individuals with cervixes”.

Indeed, in our fortnightly Radical column, we’ve written many times about the powerful lobby pushing the agenda that leads to wording like CNN’s. As we’ve documented, this lobby has captured our institutions – local authorities, schools, medical providers, police forces, and so on. And commercial organisations have proven keen to extract financial gain from what’s become a raging culture war. (I don’t use terms like “culture war” lightly, but it’s hard not to see all this in that way.)

Now, one obvious response to this weekend’s problem – as various sensible-seeming people have pointed out – is that organisations like CNN could simply refer to “women and other cervix-havers”. Or, “women and transmen”. Because that’s where the crux of the matter lies. The main reason that accusations of “Transphobe!” are levelled at the people who shout “Women!”, is that the accusers believe – counter to scientific acceptance – that not all cervix-havers are women.*

This is not, generally, however, because those who shout “Transphobe!” believe that someone born a man can have a cervix. Rather, it’s because they believe that being a “man” or “woman” is not determined by biology, but rather by the way in which someone “identifies”.

So, they shout “Transphobe!” largely because there are some natal women who identify as men, but who haven’t had their reproductive systems removed to meet their desire to present themselves as men. And these transmen, the “Transphobe!” shouters believe, are not covered by the term “women”, because -regardless of their extant cervix, or any biological fact – they are now “men”.

Nonetheless, I imagine many of the people who shout “Transphobe!” wouldn’t like the solution on which CNN write “women and transmen”. And this is, surely, because such a phrase would work to emphasise an essential difference between people who are natal members of a sex set, and those who identify into it.

And what the “Transphobe!” people want is to elide these two things. In other words, if “transwomen are women”, and “transmen are men” -as their mantras go – then, the phrase “women and transmen” is problematic, because the “full” reduction of this would, of course, be “women and men”.

Now, the solution on which CNN write “women and transmen” would, also – I believe – not go down too well with many of the people who shout “Women!”. (I should confirm at this point that I am one of those people, albeit one who prefers calm, reasoned argument to shouting, wherever possible.)

And this is because the people who shout “Women!” see the CNN tweet as a particular kind of intentional political act – a sexist one. This kind of tweet, in other words, serves purposefully to help to write women out of the picture, in an insidious way.

So, we appear to have reached stalemate: people shouting across each other on the internet, with no hope for mid-ground pragmatic solutions. Or, do we?

Well, aside from my concerns about what all this means for women – and, particularly, girls, as I’ve set out here, before – I’m also worried by the lack of concern for transpeople that is shown by those who shout “Transphobe!”, whenever anyone refers to the realities of biological sex. I wonder whether, potentially, this worry could help us – or, at least, those of us entering these discussions from a shared position of good will – to find a point of agreement.

The point here, surely, is that shouting “Transphobe!” in response to “Women!” cannot really be in transpeople’s interests. This is not only because unfair accusations of prejudice help nobody: they dilute focus on real instances of prejudice, and also make people scared to enter into necessary discussion. But it is also because transpeople’s needs cannot be fully met if, as a society, we pretend there is no such thing as biological sex.

Rather, if we recognise, as we must, that transpeople have some particular needs that differ from the needs of the natal members of the biological sex with which those transpeople identify, then it cannot be that “transwomen are women” – if “women” is to mean what it needs to mean.

These needs include some transwomen’s need for testicular cancer treatment and some transmen’s need for cervical smears. On top of this, specific trans needs also include support against trans-specific prejudice, which differs from misogyny and misandry, from which many transpeople also suffer.

Now, meeting all of these particular needs requires widespread and formal awareness of the realities of biological sex – and that requires words, so we can discuss these things. Using the words “woman” and “man” for these purposes is simply reflective of the development of the English language.

Yes, we could begin to use other words for these purposes. Instead of “woman”, for instance, we could use “female-person”, or “womxn”, or “shwoman”, or “abc”. But we would come to the same place, and that is a place in which this particular word would refer to what it is to be a natal member of one particular biological sex.

Using “woman” to mean a natal member of one particular biological sex is, therefore, exclusionary. But it is not exclusionary for hateful reasons; it is not a value judgement. It is a functional term, and it is required for the meeting of sex-specific needs.

These needs go beyond healthcare. They also relate to sex-specific concerns around bodily privacy and security, as recognised in the Equality Act. They relate to matters of fairness, too. And if we have no relevant words, then – as with healthcare concerns – people will miss out on what they need.

In other words, if you deny the realities of biological sex, in order to be kind – and I am certain that the majority of the people who are committed to the mantra “transwomen are women” are committed to it because they think that it is kind, and good – then you will end up harming those people you seek to protect.


*Of course, to state that “all cervix-havers are women” is not the same as to state that “all women have cervixes” (women who’ve had total hysterectomies, for instance).