January 9, 2024 - 5:30pm

A social worker has won her claim for harassment after she was suspended for expressing gender-critical beliefs — and the judgment has far-reaching implications for freedom of speech. For years now, activists have claimed an exclusive right to decide what constitutes “transphobia” and too many organisations — employers, regulators and political parties — have let them get away with it.

Not any more. An employment tribunal has found that Rachel Meade suffered harassment by her employer, Westminster Council, and her regulator, Social Work England (SWE). It’s a stunning vindication for Meade and a warning to other organisations that take accusations of transphobia at face value. 

Meade’s ordeal began when the regulator received a single complaint about her sharing gender-critical posts on social media. SWE responded by launching a lengthy “fitness to practise” investigation and issuing a formal sanction. It was later withdrawn but Westminster Council suspended her for a year. A finding of gross misconduct was eventually withdrawn, but by then the damage had been done. 

Now the tribunal has stated what the council and the regulator should have acknowledged from the start: Meade had not broken any law or said anything that compromised her ability to do her job. “All of the claimant’s Facebook posts and other communications fell within her protected rights for freedom of thought and freedom to manifest her beliefs,” the panel held. 

The second half of that sentence is vitally important. Ever since Maya Forstater won her landmark tribunal case three years ago, trans activists have tried to argue that it’s okay to hold gender-critical beliefs, but not to express them. Those of us who believe in biological reality are supposed to keep quiet and avoid upsetting people who hold bizarre and extreme views about the human body. The Meade judgment establishes that this is quite wrong, and that merely expressing or supporting gender-critical beliefs doesn’t amount to an assault on the rights of others

The ruling goes further, calling out organisations which passively accept allegations of transphobia without considering that they might be malicious. The judgment explicitly criticises the regulator for “an apparent willingness to accept a complaint from one side” of the debate without any attempt at objectivity or balance — and for failing to look at the complainant’s own tendentious social media posts before initiating action against Meade.

It’s a body blow to all those gender warriors who claim that anodyne statements about biology constitute “hate speech”. Trans activists lurk on social media, like teenage boys looking for someone to throw stones at, and supposedly decent people are too cowardly to call them out. 

It happened again several days ago when a Labour MP, Tonia Antoniazzi, posted a message on X in support of single-sex spaces, prompting a torrent of abuse from young Labour activists. Antoniazzi was merely restating current party policy, but she was vilified as though she had suggested the slaughter of the first-born. As usual, leading Labour figures failed to come to her defence.

The Meade judgment is a very welcome recognition that trans activists don’t own language. They’ve got away with slandering people who disagree with them for far too long, distorting statements that wouldn’t have raised a single eyebrow until this bandwagon started to roll. Observing that human beings can’t change sex is not “transphobic” — and the Meade judgment is a resounding defeat for everyone who ever claimed otherwise.

Joan Smith is a novelist and columnist. She has been Chair of the Mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Board since 2013. Her book Homegrown: How Domestic Violence Turns Men Into Terrorists was published in 2019.