It was shortly after the 2019 general election that Labour’s equalities spokesman, Dawn Butler, said, on BBCTV that “babies are born without a sex”. They are “assigned” male or female at birth apparently.
Believing that sex is an immutable biological reality is, she averred, “transphobia” – a hate crime punishable by law. I realised then that the left had taken a seriously wrong turn.
Ms Butler was articulating an ideology promoted since 2015 by the LGBTQ+ pressure group Stonewall. It wants to change the law to allow men to self identify as women, in a process called Self-ID, without undergoing medical intervention. All that matters is that you think and feel like a woman, not your genetic endowment.
Hence the mantra “transwomen ARE women” (TWAW). This is meant in a literal, rather than a metaphorical or dignified sense. Disgreement with this amounts to transphobia.
But Labour had adopted this dogma without considering the views of people who might have an interest in this abandonment of biology: women themselves. So called “gender critical” feminists have been arguing ever since that biological sex defines women’s existence and social experience.
Only women menstruate, give birth, breast feed and experience the menopause. Male-bodied transwomen, while they have every right to live and love as they wish free from discrimination, will never have these experiences and cannot be seen as literally female.
Most of us regard all this as self-evident. Yet somehow to state basic biological facts of human existence had come to be regarded in many quarters as hate speech. Labour was not alone. HR departments in universities and NGOs enthusiastically adopted the TWAW mantra, claiming, further, that believing in immutable sex differences is actually illegal under equalities law.
This was why the tax expert Maya Forstater was dismissed from her job at the Centre for Global Development two years ago for saying that “a woman is an adult female”and that “men cannot change sex”. The CGD said these remarks were “offensive and exclusionary”.
Incredibly, the judge at Ms Forstater’s industrial tribunal, James Taylor, agreed. He said that Ms Forstater’s views were “not worthy of respect in a democratic society.” This meant that Ms Forstater was expressing views akin to Nazism, or a racism. Last week, an appeal judge overturned this bizarre ruling.
It may seem scarcely believable that it took two years of intense legal argument to establish that it that it is lawful to believe – just believe – that biological sex exists. But that is where we are. Stonewall’s assault on sex has been astonishingly influential. It’s CEO, Nancy Kelly, told the BBC only last month that “gender critical” feminism was comparable to “antisemitism” and that such views should suppressed by the full force of the law.
That this constitutes a fundamental misreading of equalities legislation should have been self-evident to anyone with legal training. As the head of the Equalities Commission, Baroness Falkener, explained last week,following the Forstater appeal, the law actually: “protects the expression of such gender critical views”.
Stonewall has been spreading misinformation for the last six years. Prominent founders of Stonewall, like the former MP Matthew Parris, and the writer Simon Fanshawe, are adamant that the organisation has lost its way.
But someone needs to tell Scotland’s universities the news. Last week, after an inquisition worthy of Franz Kafka, a 29 year old mature student of law, Lisa Keogh, was finally cleared of hate crime by Abertay University’s Student Disciplinary Board. Her offence? In a university debate on gender law she had said that “women have vaginas”.
She also said that because transgender women have male physiques they should not participate in women’s sporting events. This is a view also held by the leading transgender spokeswoman, Caitlyn Jenner.
But merely by expressing these views Ms Keogh risked being expelled from the university without a degree.
It beggars belief that any institution of higher learning should have thought it was unacceptable to believe in the existence of human sexual differentiation. But like many universities Abertay took its policies off the peg from Stonewall. Academics spend too much of their time on Twitter and Google where groups like Stonewall have disproportionate influence.
Ms Keogh was finally exonerated. But as she said last week “the punishment is the process” – the stress of having to undergo a two month disciplinary investigation while studying for her law exams took an immense toll. Her lament was echoed by the former STUC Assistant Secretary, Ann Henderson, who last week gave a harrowing account of the campaign by zealots at Edinburgh University to have her removed as Rector.
A life-long feminist, Ms Hendrson suffered three years of intimidation, including baseless and defamatory accusations of transphobia and anti-semitism.
Her crime had been to publicise a parliamentary meeting by the feminist group “Women’s Place UK” which has been questioning Stonewall’s proposal to allow men to become legally female merely by making a declaration of such. She was given no support Edinburgh University.
Across Scotland, women who dispute the TWAW mantra, like the Harry Potter novelist, JK Rowling, and and SNP MP Joanna Cherry QC have experienced similar abuse and victimisation. Ms Cherry called in the police and a man was charged with threatening behaviour.
Yet her boss, Nicola Sturgeon has yet to condemn Ms Cherry’s abuse and offer support. Instead, she was demoted from her front bench role in the SNP parliamentary group.
Stonewall’s campaign on Self ID is close to the First Minister’s heart. It entails abolishing the legal protection for singe sex spaces that exists in equalities law as it now stands. Stonewall, and presumably the First Minister, believe this sex exemption is discriminatory because it allows male-bodied transwomen to be excluded from changing rooms, prisons and women’s medical services.
This is why Stonewall has been so determined to erase the biological definition of sex. If sex didn’t exist then how can single sex spaces continue to exist?
After an outcry from women, England has now abandoned plans to legislate for Self-ID, but Ms Sturgeon, like the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, still want to open single sex spaces to transwomen. It is not clear exactly when the Scottish Government will change the law.
But it has a fight in its hands. Ms Sturgeon seems to think it is only a few antique homophobes and Christian fundamentalists who are concerned about the war against sex. She is about to find that she is taking on women in general and many feminists in particular.
Many women feel threatened by the abolition of their sex based rights and there privileged spaces. They are bemused that a supposed feminist like Nicola Sturgeon seems determined to abolish them.
Last week, the First Minister reaffirmed her support for Stonewall, to which the Scottish government has donated £400,000 of taxpayers money since 2017. It is surely time to question whether we should be financially supporting an organisation which is spreading a false interpretation of the law.
But more importantly it is time for Scottish civil society to find its voice on this issue and stop being intimidated by enemies of free speech and thought. This is not a progressive cause.