I have spent the past two years trapped in a Kafkaesque nightmare. It all started at the beginning of 2019, when I lost my job at an international development think tank for saying that sex matters: that being male and identifying as a woman is not the same thing as being female.
When I sought legal representation to bring a claim against my ex-employer, two major law firms refused to take my case, with one dropping it just days before I was due to launch a crowdfunding appeal because of concern about “transphobia”. When I complained to the Solicitors Regulation Authority, it said that it was not a breach of professional standards to vet and reject clients.
In the meantime, I looked around for another job in the international development sector, but was told I was too controversial to employ. Then a person I had never met complained to The Scout Association that I had referred to them as “he” rather than non-binary “they” in a short exchange on Twitter, reporting me as a “bigot” and “transphobe”. The Scouts launched a full investigation, concluding that I might not be fit to continue as a volunteer Scout Leader because I responded to the complaint by saying that, although my pronoun slip-up was an accident and I would generally try refer to people as they felt comfortable, if I came across someone male in the ladies’ showers at Scout Camp I would not worry about respecting their pronouns. The judge in my employment case also took this as a sign that my views should be condemned.
I asked the Fawcett Society, an organisation that dates back to the Suffragettes, if it would speak up about my case. It declined. Its former CEO, Sam Smethers, singled me out on the day she left the organisation as someone she wouldn’t miss. Stonewall and a host of LGBT organisations wrote saying it was a “kick in the teeth” when the Equality and Human Rights Commission intervened to argue in support of my right to freedom of belief. Amnesty International and the TUC have only commented on my case to emphasise the rights of transgender people.
My experience, however, is far from unique. I have heard from hundreds of people who faced similar harassment, victimisation and discrimination because they have refused to fall into line with the new dogma of gender fluidity. Indeed, it’s easy to forget that our common, everyday view — despite being painted as controversial and dangerous — aligns with the law of the land.
That there are two sexes, and that people cannot literally change sex, are plain statements of fact that also align with British law. Sex is recognised as a matter of biology. Since 2004 the Gender Recognition Act has enabled people to change their legally deemed sex for certain purposes, but it also recognises that this doesn’t change their actual sex (for example in relation to motherhood or fatherhood, sport, religion and inheritance).
A powerful lobby group led by the charity Stonewall, which used to campaign for gay rights, has told organisations to go “above and beyond” the law. As a result, we now live in a society where articulating the law is deemed an offence for which powerful people and organisations will try to ruin your life, while others look away.
And so I sued my ex-employer for discrimination and victimisation. Victimisation has a specific legal meaning: being treated badly because you have taken action to protect your rights under the Equality Act. My “protected act” was to highlight what the law says about the sexes — that men are male and women are female.
My legal team argued that as well as this being the law, I was also protected against belief discrimination. People who hold the opposite belief — that only gender identity matters, that “trans women are women, trans men are men and non-binary people are valid” — are also protected. This is as it should be in an open, pluralist society.
But the Center for Global Development, my ex-employer, argued that only one belief system — one that rejects the UK legal definition of sex — should be tolerated, and that those who share my belief (and agree with the current law) are bigots who should have no protection against being harassed by colleagues for their views and having their livelihood destroyed.
Shockingly, the employment tribunal agreed with this, judging my belief “unworthy of respect in a democratic society” and thus excluded from the protection that is given to other beliefs (or lack of beliefs) such as in the doctrine of the Trinity, transubstantiation, ethical veganism, stoicism and Scottish nationalism.
Last month the Employment Appeal Tribunal reversed the employment tribunal’s decision. The presiding judge, Mr Justice Choudhury, remarked that “where a belief or a major tenet of it appears to be in accordance with the law of the land, then it is all the more jarring that it should be declared as one not worthy of respect in a democratic society”.
The idea that the law is out of date and can be ignored is widely embedded in organisations’ diversity policies that confuse and conflate sex and “gender identity”. A key reason is that many are signed up to Stonewall’s Diversity Champions Scheme, which, according to Stonewall itself, covers a quarter of the UK workforce. Members include Whitehall departments, universities, NHS trusts and police forces, as well as large swathes of the corporate and voluntary sectors.
Gender-identity lobby groups even train the media and the judiciary. Views similar to Stonewall’s, for instance, are echoed repeatedly in the “Equal Treatment Bench Book” — the guidance written by judges, for judges, on how to treat people fairly in the justice system. The Bench Book says that the language used in the Equality Act 2010 is “now widely considered to be out-of-date and stigmatising”. It tells judges that “man” and “woman” are genders, not sexes, that there are “people who identify with no particular gender or who are gender-fluid”. The gender landscape, it says, “is rapidly changing, as is the terminology in the field”.
That government departments, public bodies, professional regulators and the judiciary are disregarding the law in favour of rapidly changing terminology controlled by a lobby group should be alarming to all. It undermines democracy, justice, freedom of speech and the integrity of organisations. Most importantly, by confusing adults and children about sex, it undermines safeguarding.
Only last month, for example, the employment tribunal heard another case of a woman punished for speaking up; Sonia Appleby, the safeguarding lead at the NHS Tavistock Clinic. In 2019 she raised concerns about the treatment of young people suffering from a feeling of disassociation from their sexed body, saying that safeguarding failures were a “Jimmy Savile waiting to happen”. The Tribunal heard that instead of responding to her concerns, management put a letter in her personnel file and told clinical staff not to talk to her.
It’s cases like these — and many other that we have heard — that led me, together with a team of lawyers and academics, to establish a new human-rights organisation, Sex Matters, earlier this year. It campaigns for clarity about sex in law and policy, seeking to help other organisations wake up from this nightmare.
One way is do this is by using freedom of information requests to shine light on the influence of gender-identity lobby groups. We are also calling on employers to leave the Stonewall scheme. The Cabinet Office, the Ministry of Justice, Ofsted and the Equality and Human Rights Commission are among the 40 organisations we know have left. But 800 or so are hanging on. The Government Legal Department (which advises other departments on what the law says) remains an enthusiastic member, as do the Home Office and the Scottish Government.
Interestingly, Stonewall has responded to criticism by changing its public story. After years of telling employers that the law is outdated, it now claims its advice is in line with the law it has derided, as set out in the Statutory Codes of Practice for employers and service providers.
Yet as analysis published by Sex Matters today reveals, in our report “Understanding the Risk of Following Stonewall Advice” there is an alarming gap between Stonewall’s advice and the Statutory Code of Practice for employers. Stonewall’s approach ignores the rights of other employees, focusing only on advancing gender ideology. In particular, Stonewall’s advice, replaces the Equality Act’s protected characteristics characteristics of sex (being male or female) and “gender reassignment” with a single characteristic, “gender identity” — so that women and trans women are said to have the same “gender identity”. It also states that employers must allow people to choose which toilets and other facilities to use based on their gender identity — and that challenging or denying them access amounts to harassment.
So what can be done? Well, we will plan to send our report to every Stonewall Champion and to every minister, MP, peer and member of a devolved legislative assembly. Concerned readers can also write to their MPs and representatives, and to organisations they have links with, asking them to leave the Stonewall scheme and return to following the law that protects all their employees.
We are also today sending an open letter with over ten thousand signatures to the Committee on Standards in Public Life. We are calling for a public inquiry into how so many public bodies could have abandoned the Nolan principles of acting in the public interest with integrity, objectivity and accountability, and instead adopted policies that make people afraid of complying with the law, or even of saying what it is.
Such behaviour is not worthy of respect in our democratic institutions. I have already experienced first-hand what can happen when we allow the law to be misinterpreted. And if we don’t wake up to the way it’s being distorted, I certainly won’t be the last.