Women’s groups claim ‘silencing’ on transgender concerns

Fears of intimidation are stifling discussion of changes to the Gender Recognition Act, campaigners say

Nearly 200 prominent figures have signed an open letter raising concerns that public and private bodies are helping “close down discussion” about government plans to make it easier for trans people to have their preferred gender legally recognised.

Writers Marina Strinkovsky and Beatrix Campbell, actors James Dreyfus and Frances Barber, and Pragna Patel, the founder of the Southall Black Sisters Centre, are among 195 people to put their names to the letter, published in the Observer. “We believe the right to discuss proposed changes to the law is fundamental in a democratic society,” they write.

A government consultation on reforming the 2004 Gender Recognition Act (GRA) closes at the end of this week. When she launched it last month, the minister for women and equalities, Penny Mordaunt, said the government particularly wanted to hear “from women’s groups who we know have expressed some concerns about the implications of our proposals”.

But, according to the letter’s signatories, there have been a “series of attempts to close down discussion among women about GRA reform”.

Last month, Leeds City Council cancelled a booking by Woman’s Place UK, a group formed “specifically to ensure women’s voices are heard in the debate around proposals to change the Gender Recognition Act” after complaints it was giving a platform to transphobic views.

Earlier this year, the Mercure Hotel in Cardiff and Millwall Football Club cancelled bookings made by women’s groups who wanted to hold panel discussions about proposed changes to the law. In Bristol, a meeting was picketed by masked activists in an attempt to prevent it going ahead.

Women’s rights groups say that both online and real-world harassment of those organising, speaking and attending meetings is now routine. In one case, a woman had the details of her children’s school posted online, in an attempt at intimidation.

Last year, a 60-year-old woman was violently assaulted when she was part of a group gathered at Hyde Park Corner waiting to be directed to a meeting to discuss the GRA. There are also concerns about the intimidation and ostracising of female academics who speak out on the issue.

“Public authorities, academic institutions, unions and NGOs should be facilitating discussions and protecting the rights of people to take part in them without harassment or intimidation,” the letter states. “We find it troubling that institutions have not condemned these actions and in some cases have expressed support.”

On Saturday the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said that he had refused to sign the letter, condemning it as “one-sided” and “totally devoid of compassion for the suffering of trans women and men”.

“It does not acknowledge and condemn the abuse, threats and intimidation by some feminists against trans people and their supporters, including really vile abuse directed against me personally because of my support for trans human rights,” he said. “I always stand with the oppressed. Trans women and men are certainly some of the most vulnerable and oppressed people. They deserve our support, but this letter does not offer even a shred of solidarity.”

Those campaigning for greater transgender rights say that the reforms to the act are long overdue. But Woman’s Place UK has a number of concerns, including how they might affect women-only spaces. The group calls for a “respectful and evidence-based discussion about the impact of the proposed changes”.

• This article was amended on 15 October 2018 to correct a time reference. The Hyde Park Corner incident happened last year not last month.


Jamie Doward

The GuardianTramp

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