Profile: Stonewall, a once brilliantly successful campaign group which now seems to be committing suicide

10 Jun

While agonising over how to begin this profile, I was rung by a friend who, on hearing of the subject on which I was working, declared:

“I hope you will say we are sick of being dictated to!”

That is not how I had thought of starting, for I am more timid and tactful than my friend. But it is actually quite a good jumping off point.

Stonewall finds itself in crisis because it has changed from an organisation which sought, with brilliant success, to persuade and to carry people with it, into one which insists on imposing a far from popular line.

The voluntary principle has been replaced by compulsion.

Nancy Kelley, since last summer Stonewall’s Chief Executive, recently compared gender-critical views to anti-semitism. In other words, anyone who maintains, as gender-critical feminists do, that “biological differences between the sexes make the continued provision of female-only spaces necessary”, is a disgraceful person.

Trans activists have set out to intimidate and silence the feminists, who in turn are appalled when trans women assert the right to enter female-only spaces, including women’s refuges, dormitories, prisons and sports facilities.

When Keir Starmer was running for the Labour leadership, he signed up to the list of ten pledges presented to the candidates by LGBT+ Labour, promising he would “campaign with you for the changes rightly prioritised here”:

“I will campaign to reform the Gender Recognition Act to introduce a self-declaration process… I believe that trans women are women, that trans men are men.”

A large number of feminists who think of themselves as Labour supporters find themselves without a leader who can articulate their concerns.

Not that Sir Keir is alone among politicians in preferring not to get involved in the debate.

Several influential Conservatives indicated this week to ConHome that they simply did not wish to play any part in the discussion.

Number Ten is watching developments carefully, but does not wish to have a public row. Boris Johnson’s approach to cultural issues of this kind, for example to the attacks on Winston Churchill’s statue, is not to intervene until people are pleading with him to do so.

Last September, the Government dropped plans to allow self-identification by trans people.

But a leading Conservative parliamentarian this week told me, on condition that their anonymity would be strictly preserved, that the trans debate is “extremely scary”.

In their view, Stonewall has completely dumped the LGB part of its mission, is now only interested in campaigning for trans, has become “an extremely unfriendly place for women”, and is viciously intolerant of dissent.

This presents, they argue, a danger for the Conservatives too: “The Conservative Party is terrified of another Section 28” – the law passed in 1988, towards the end of Margaret Thatcher’s prime ministership, forbidding the “promotion of homosexuality” by local authorities.

If the Tories were to become outspoken opponents of trans activists, they could once more come to be regarded as the nasty party.

So for several years, leading Conservative and Labour figures took great care to avoid the subject, as James Kirkup explained to ConHome in October 2018:

When James Kirkup became interested in transgender politics, people warned him that writing about it was too dangerous. He notes that the fear the subject inspires in many MPs of being attacked as “transphobic” has created a vacuum into which transgender campaigning groups have been able to move, and to push for the right of trans people to “self-identify” their gender, without the arguments for and against the reform being tested in rigorous debate.

In this interview, Kirkup says “nobody has really pointed out” that Professor Stephen Whittle – specialist adviser to the Women and Equalities Committee, chaired by Maria Miller, when it drew up its agenda-setting report on Transgender Equality – is “also the founder of a group called Press for Change, which was the first trans rights campaigning group in the UK.”

This avoidance of the subject is now breaking down. Victoria Hewson and Rebecca Lowe yesterday reported for ConHome, under their joint byline, Radical, some of the horrific information about Stonewall which has started to emerge as a result of Freedom of Information requests.

And Gary Powell recently declared on this site that, as a gay man, the LGBT+ lobby with its “extreme gender ideology” does not speak for him, and warned that we must “stop neo-Marxist identity politics being force-fed to children in British schools”.

Two of the original 14 founders of Stonewall, set up in 1989 in response to Section 28, have recently dissociated themselves from the organisation.

Stephen Fanshawe described in The Daily Mail how he had received a message from someone he “had always considered an ally in the fight for equality”:

“By expressing your views, you have put yourself outside Stonewall,” the terse message read when it landed in my inbox two years ago. Its Orwellian tone might make you wonder what “views” I could possibly have exhibited that would have set me at such odds with the organisation I proudly helped to form three decades earlier, to campaign for the rights of gay men and lesbians in a society that cruelly discriminated against them.

They must, surely, have been hateful and inflammatory? Not a bit of it. I had simply expressed the opinion that proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act for which Stonewall was campaigning — meaning people could legally “self-identify’” as whatever sex they chose, regardless of their biology — had serious implications for the rights of women.

And Matthew Parris explained in The Times why he thinks Stonewall has lost its way:

What is the charity I helped to found doing, getting entangled in attempts to deny free speech at a university? This column should avoid getting into the trans debate itself. My single, tight focus is on this question: why Stonewall?

There’s something perversely 20th-century about linking gays to trans. Gay men do not want to be women. We like being men. I doubt that being a lesbian is about not wanting to be a woman. Our issues have nothing to do with identification or changing our bodies: we know what we are and nobody disputes it. Most gay men would strongly resist the suggestion we’re boys who want to be girls. I can’t think of anything I’d like less. The whole history of the gay liberation movement is inseparable from what people do rather than what they are. Central to trans concerns is being, not doing. The one thing that links gays and lesbians with trans people is empathy with anyone excluded, oppressed, marginalised or rejected. Indeed this was what influenced some gay groups into supporting the 1984-5 miners’ strike, and Stonewall was perhaps drawn into the trans arguments because a group was fighting for what it considers to be its rights.

Stonewall, founded by a group of activists who met at the house of the actor Ian McKellen in Limehouse, in the East End of London, achieved in its first 20 years or so a series of legislative triumphs. It was named after the Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village in 1969, which erupted when members of the gay community in New York fought back against a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, and which led to the Pride marches which continue to this day.

In its original typewritten manifesto of 24th May 1989, Stonewall announced:

A Parliamentary Group has been set up to consider new, proposed or potential legislation on issues that may particularly effect lesbians and gay men; and to work with MPs and legislators to ensure equality.

Its central argument, that lesbians and gay men should enjoy equal treatment with heterosexuals, was so strong, and so in accordance with the way the world was moving, that a series of big reforms followed.

These included the lifting of the ban on lesbians and gay men serving in the armed forces, the equalisation of the age of consent, legal adoption by lesbian and gay couples, the repeal of Section 28 and the introduction of civil partnerships.

In 2001, Stonewall launched its Diversity Champions programme, which had rapid success in recruiting major employers, including banks, retailers and government departments, who wished to ensure that, in the words of Stonewall itself, “all LGBTQ+ staff are free to be themselves in the workplace”.

And in 2011, David Cameron confirmed, as Prime Minister, that Stonewall had been working with the grain of history by declaring his support at the Conservative Party Conference for same-sex marriage, which was passed into law in 2013.

As far as legal equality was concerned, Stonewall had by this point achieved pretty much everything it set out to do. It cast around for a new mission, and in 2014 it decided it had found it in trans.

One can hardly blame trans activists for accepting this huge accession of campaigning strength, and one can see why the people running Stonewall persuaded themselves that instead of winding down their organisation, and putting themselves out of work, here was another injustice which they should be able in the space of a decade or two to put right.

As Parris puts it,

Perhaps the truth is that, after success in our great 20th-century drive for equality, Stonewall was left with bricks and mortar, an admirable staff, a CEO and a fund-raising team and, unconsciously, craved another big, newsworthy cause. Well, sometimes a big army with only small battles to fight does best simply to scale back. I know many gay men have become embarrassed by Stonewall and see (as I do) the paradox that some of its activities are actually damaging the standing of the gay community. We don’t want to be associated with sallies in the trans wars. We want to feel proud, not hurt, not victims. Trans people cannot yet feel that: they need a support group. But that’s for them. Gays (to use the lingo) should not be colonising their issues.

It took a while for politicians to realise that the trans war was not necessarily going to end happily. Theresa May was generally favourable, during her prime ministership, towards the demands of the trans lobby.

Complaints that trans women were demanding the right to use facilities which ought to be reserved for biological women could at first be dismissed as transphobic, a charge all the more convincing because it is sometimes undoubtedly true.

So too complaints that children were being put under unfair pressure to discover that they were unhappy with the gender assigned to them at birth, and to have treatment.

Calm, open discussion of these issues was impossible, and most people felt they had better things to do than court confrontation with trans activists.

But there has now been an unmistakeable change in the political weather. Liz Truss, the Equalities Minister, is pushing for all government departments to withdraw from Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme, which includes 250 public bodies among its 850 members.

The Sunday Telegraph reports that the Ministry of Justice will lead an “exodus” from the programme. A  source in the department told the paper:

“It’s a shame, as this was once an organisation that did incredibly important work, but it has totally lost its way and the ministers just don’t think it’s justifiable to give Stonewall taxpayers’ money.

“The department will be just as welcoming to LGBT people as before, but we really shouldn’t be paying thousands of pounds for controversial advice about pronouns and gender-neutral spaces.”

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission and the employment dispute service Acas have both withdrawn from Diversity Champions “for cost reasons”, a way of circumventing argument about the actual merits of what Stonewall offers.

But Lady Falkner, the new chair of the EHRC, has gone further, declaring in The Times in her first interview since taking up her post:

“Someone can believe that people who self identify as a different sex are not the different sex that they self identify. A lot of people would find this an entirely reasonable belief.”

When the editor of ConHome commissioned this profile, he asked: “Is the Government trying to kill Stonewall?” It seems to me it would be more accurate to say Stonewall is committing suicide.

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.

The Government and self-ID. Scrapped for now. But the pressure isn’t going away.

24 Sep

Given the enormous amount of news about Coronavirus and Brexit, a contentious matter has gone under the radar in recent months. That is, whether the Government would drop proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) 2004 to allow for “self-ID”; in other words, a person being able to change their legal gender without a doctor’s approval or undertaking other administrative processes.

In 2017, Theresa May announced her government would run a consultation on reforming the GRA, with the expectation that it would allow transgender people to change their birth certificates without a medical diagnosis. Johnson’s Government, on the other hand, has reversed the idea. In April Liz Truss, the Equalities Minister, signalled that the existing checks would stay in place – something she confirmed to Parliament this week, and has received an incredibly polarised response over.

The strength of feeling on GRA is obvious from the fact that 102,000 people responded to the Government’s initial consultation on the subject. It is reported that thirty nine per cent of these came from Stonewall, which advocates for self-ID. 

Proponents of the concept argue that the current processes are intrusive and distressing; these include providing two medical reports (one to show a diagnosis of “gender dysphoria”, and the other to outline details of what treatment has been received), obtaining the consent of a spouse if married, demonstrating that a transgender person has lived in their acquired gender for at least two years, and paying £140. Self-ID would put an end to all this.

Many, particularly women’s rights groups, feel it goes too far, however. While polls routinely show that the public is sympathetic to trans rights, there are concerns about transgender women with male anatomy being able to access female-only facilities, such as prisons and changing rooms. From women’s sport, to census data collection, self-ID would have enormous practical and legal implications.

The Government clearly wants to achieve a compromise on the matter. Although ministers haven’t carried forward self-ID, they want to speed up the process for those wanting to change gender. Truss, for instance, said that the Government would be “opening at least three new gender clinics this year” to reduce waiting lists; that the process would be “kinder and more straightforward”, mainly by moving online, and that the fee would be reduced to a “nominal” amount.

Is the debate closed, though? While it looked that way this week, the Government will still find itself under enormous pressure to reform the GRA – not only from activist groups.

For starters, there’s its own MPs. Crispin Blunt has been one of the most vocal about the decision. He said it had caused “crushing disappointment”, and accused Truss of not proposing legislation – so as to avoid it being voted down. “Does she appreciate that her statement does not command a majority in this House?” Were his words.

There’s also the fact that Scotland is close to implementing self-ID, as Rebecca Lowe and Victoria Hewson recently pointed out in their column for ConHome. This will either exacerbate demands on Johnson’s Government to change direction – or give it evidence of why self-ID is practically untenable.

Lastly, one of the big surprises this year was that Google UK attacked Truss over self-ID. On June 18, the company Tweeted a petition to its followers (which now stand at 190,000), inviting them to sign a petition asking her to reform the GRA. “Don’t roll back on trans dignity”, it read, along with the hashtag: #TRUSSTME.

It emphasised a sinister, broader point, which is the capacity for tech giants to try and influence political policy (something troubling considering the Government’s increasing reliance on them – not least to help get out Britain’s contact tracing app).

With all that being said, Truss was robust in her response to Blunt’s criticisms, and no doubt many people will have been impressed with her actions.

But with Conservatives having u-turned on the matter, it’s a reminder that shifts in leadership can easily change the direction of this battle. The Government has got its way for now, but the debate is far from over.

Radical: While political leaders hide from confrontation, activists are winning the war on self-identification

18 Aug

Victoria Hewson is a solicitor and co-founder of Radical, a campaign for truth and freedom in the gender recognition debate. She and Rebecca Lowe, her co-founder, alternate authorship of this column on trans, sex and gender issues.

Regardless of commitments about a summer announcement, Parliament went into recess without any further clarity from Liz Truss on the Government’s plans for reform of the Gender Recognition Act. Nonetheless, there has been no let up in the debate.

It had been expected that the changes to the law that the May government had consulted on – which would have allowed people to change their legal sex without a medical diagnosis, or evidence of having lived for some time as a member of the opposite sex – would be abandoned by the current Westminster government.

In Scotland, reforms of the law to this effect in are still expected to proceed, after having been put on hold during the Covid crisis. But the signs had been pretty clear for months that Westminster had decided against so-called “self-ID” for England and Wales.

In the weeks before recess, however, trans rights activists became ever more vocal in their efforts to mobilise support for self-ID. Publications such as Pink News worked hard, misusing survey data (and misrepresenting the current law), to try to create the impression of a country in which the vast majority of people favoured self-ID, and with it the ability for male-bodied transwomen to use women-only facilities. As ever, mainstream-media reporting too often went along with this false narrative.

Perhaps the influence of these activist groups is one reason for the Government’s delay in confirming its position formally, as promised. After all, government departments and quangos, from the Cabinet Office to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), have signed up to receive guidance and training from Stonewall, through its Diversity Champions programme – and Stonewall is a highly political organisation, which has been lobbying the Government particularly strongly on trans issues.

Transactivist talking points have also been adopted by representatives within the Conservative Party. Many common examples of transactivist misinformation can be found in this piece by Crispin Blunt and Sue Pascoe, for instance – ironically, in a section devoted to “myth-busting”. So it would not be surprising if the Minister for Equalities has faced the pressure of opposition from within the party over her rethink on pushing forward with self-ID.

The EHRC itself joined the fray last week. Not, however, as might have been hoped, to clarify and improve its guidance on the existing laws protecting women that have been the subject of widespread misunderstanding (as seen in the Blunt and Pascoe piece referred to above). But, rather, to publish another tendentious survey, and remonstrate with its respondents who didn’t support transwomen’s access to women-only spaces and services.

Whilst she acknowledged that a great majority of British people broadly support trans people’s rights to live free of discrimination, and do not consider themselves to be transphobic, Rebecca Hilsenrath, EHRC’s chief executive, also noted that “people were found to be less supportive of trans people in specific situations”. The specific situations in question included women’s refuges and facilities such as public toilets.

Yet far from acknowledging that there are good reasons, and legal support, for such views, Hilsenrath seems to consider that the people holding them need to be helped to change their minds, by bringing about a better “level of understanding on the key facts surrounding the debate” by “both sides improving the level of discourse”.

This seems, again, rather ironic considering the poor guidance the EHRC has published on the legal facts of the matter. Indeed, although Hisenrath called for a constructive, tolerant, and fact-based dialogue on law and policy, it seems very clear what the EHRC considers to be the “right” outcome of any dialogue.

In a recent thoughtful piece for The Spectator, James Kirkup called for the Government to take the sting out of the issue by first publishing a “drily technical” announcement that: self-id would be dropped, tweaks made to existing processes regarding legal sex changes, to make them faster and cheaper; and, proper clarity provided in guidance on single-sex provisions. Then the “wider issues” of “reconciling conflicting rights and addressing the woefully poor evidence-base on trans issues, should be kicked even further into the long grass, with a proper fact-finding ‘further investigation’ that must report before any major change can come”.

Now, apart from the fact that what Kirkup considers would be an undramatic, “technical” announcement is, in effect, exactly what the trans lobby have been campaigning against – and publicly positing as a “rolling back” of trans rights – this calm approach seems sensible.

However, it comes with risks. Conservative governments have not traditionally been good at making conservative appointments, and trans lobbyists and activists have excelled at capturing public bodies. There is surely a serious risk, therefore, that any investigative commission, instead of fearlessly finding and reporting on the truth in medical and legal matters, would be susceptible to the same forces that have caused scientific papers to be withdrawn, and legal “guidance” to distort the law.

Certainly, however, there is no reason for Boris Johnson or Liz Truss, or Keir Starmer for that matter, to get personally involved in the unedifying social-media gender wars. But, it is also the case that they should not allow themselves to get caught up in the “both sides are equal” fallacy that the EHRC and others have been perpetuating.

Legal rights associated with sex have become a political matter, whether we like it or not, and a Conservative government should not hide from making necessary political decisions to acknowledge the reality of sex, and the legal and policy considerations that flow from that. In real life, public bodies continue to adopt policies that are in conflict with current law. Yet these decisions seem to undergo little or no consultation or scrutiny – until, as seen with the spate of legal action against guidance to schools, brave individuals stand up and challenge them.

NHS Lanarkshire recently announced an HR protocol , which effectively makes staff changing rooms mixed sex, included people who dress as the opposite gender for “erotic pleasure” under the umbrella of “trans”, and by claims that staff could be discriminating against trans colleagues by “not thinking” of them as the gender they present.  A Labour MSP who tried to hold NHS Lanarkshire to account over this, and who questioned how a medical organisation could propagate the idea of a baby having its gender “assigned at birth”, was met with calls that she should be disciplined by her party.

These are the consequences of political leaders leaving the field. Hiding behind a commission of experts, therefore, in order to avoid offending the groups of highly engaged and influential activists who have occupied that field, would itself be a political decision, and one that seems unlikely to improve the quality of the debate.