Protecting women's rights is not bigotry
An open letter to the Council of Europe following their decision to condemn the United Kingdom for 'virulent attacks' on the rights of LGBTI people
[EDIT - call for signatures ended on 28th February]
We the undersigned are women and men who live in the United Kingdom. We are ‘gender critical’. We believe that sex is real and immutable and should be retained as a protected characteristic in the UK Equality Act 2010. We do not deny the right of anyone to claim a ‘gender identity’ and to be free from abuse or harassment for so doing, but we assert that gender identity cannot be given automatic primacy over the protected characteristic of sex. We fear that the elevation of ‘gender identity’ over sex has particularly harmful consequences for women and children.
On the 25th January 2022 you adopted a resolution based on a report by Fourat Ben Chikha (Belgium, SOC), to condemn ‘extensive and often virulent attacks’ against the rights of LGBTI people. The UK Hungary, Poland, The Russian Federation and Turkey were named as those countries particularly worthy of condemnation.
We are writing to express our serious concern at the unevidenced assertions and hyperbolic rhetoric adopted in the report as criticism of the UK. We fear this displays ignorance of, or even contempt for, the decisions of our courts, and provides fuel to an already emboldened and prevalent misogyny that operates in the UK.
We are very concerned at the consequences of this, some of which we note in more detail below. Simply denying the tension between the different consequences that flow from the characteristics of biological sex and claimed gender identity, will do nothing to resolve that tension. Rather, unevidenced assertions that ‘gender critical’ men and women are simply ‘bigots’ and the lawful reliance on their existing legal rights is an ‘attack’ on gay or trans people, will only increase and cement divisions in societies and harm efforts to promote increasing acceptance for those who wish to express a variety of gender identities.
It is particularly sad to note the rhetoric deployed by the Council of Europe, against those who have done no more than seek legal recognition of their most fundamental human rights, as protected by the European Convention - an instrument largely drafted by UK lawyers. We hope that there can be more thoughtful reflection to come regarding how we protect the rights of all without dangerous demonising and dehumanising of those who seek only to protect their existing rights.
We write to ask
for your commitment to protect and uphold the human rights of all
a recognition of the harmful consequences of attempting to set one group against another, on the basis of unevidenced and hyperbolic assertions.
Recognition that asserting the reality of biological sex and the consequences this has for women and children is not and can never be ‘bigotry’ or ‘transphobia’.
Criticisms of the report
We first note that the report apparently ignores the 2020 UK ranking by ILGA Europe – the European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association - which placed the UK 11th out of 49 countries, scoring 65% on commitment to LGBTI rights. This is better than France (57%) and Germany (52%) and significantly better than Poland (13%) Russia (10%) Hungary (33%) and Turkey (4%), with whom the UK is placed.
We are curious therefore as to what evidence was provided to you to justify the UK’s listing along those countries which scored so dismally in terms of commitment to LGBTI rights. We are unable to discern any such evidence in the report itself.
A fundamental difficulty with this report is the ‘forced teaming’ of sexualities (lesbian, gay and bi sexual people) with claimed gender identity (transgender) people and those with differences of sexual development (intersex). The objections made by ‘gender critical’ people to ‘gender ideology’ - i.e. the assertion that a chosen ‘gender identity’ should receive greater legal recognition and protection than immutable biological sex - has nothing to do with gay or intersex people, who have either a sexual orientation or a medical condition.
The report provides no definition of what is meant by ‘trans’ or ‘transphobia’ - a particular weakness, which we note is reflected in other attempts at commentary on these issues. ‘Transphobia’ appears to mean any rejection of the notion that gender identity is automatically more important than sex and some recommend that it is seen as a ‘security concern’ - i.e. that we are on par with terrorists. This is an astonishing state of affairs.
The report simply denies the existence of an obvious tension between those who seek to elevate ‘gender identity’ above sex - the ‘gender ideologists’ against the ‘gender criticals’.
For example para 5
The Assembly condemns the highly prejudicial anti-gender, gender-critical and anti-trans narratives which reduce the fight for the equality of LGBTI people to what these movements deliberately mis-characterise as “gender ideology” or “LGBTI ideology”. Such narratives deny the very existence of LGBTI people, dehumanise them, and often falsely portray their rights as being in conflict with women’s and children’s rights, or societal and family values in general. All of these are deeply damaging to LGBTI people, while also harming women’s and children’s rights and social cohesion.
An assertion that it is ‘false’ to argue that rights exist in conflict in this area, is unsustainable or requires evidence which this report does not provide. This conflict has been explicitly recognised in a number of court rulings in the UK and by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
For women to assert their right to female only spaces or express concern over the medical transition of children, cannot reasonably be seen as an attempt to ‘dehumanise’ gay, trans or intersex people or ‘deny their very existence’. The assertion that women who wish to speak about and organise around their rights protected pursuant to the Equality Act 2010 as ‘harming women’s and children’s rights and social cohesion’ is an unevidenced and incoherent assertion. On the contrary, we argue that determined efforts to prevent the ‘gender critical’ from speaking and organising in the UK, have caused serious harm to social cohesion by reducing trust in such fundamental state institutions such as the police, and have required significant efforts from individuals restore the rule of law by successful challenge in the domestic courts.
Paragraph 14 of the explanatory memorandum is highly critical of those movements which object to the imposition of ‘gender ideology’
Whatever their motivations, these movements work to maintain unequal gender relations in the name of “tradition”, “family values”, “Christian values”, or a so-called “natural order”. Attacks on abortion, access to contraception, comprehensive sexuality education, same-sex marriage, gender, legal gender recognition, access to transition-related medical care, trans and intersex persons’ participation in sport, and ratification and implementation of the Istanbul Convention all form part of this agenda
This has no applicability to the UK which is a secular democracy. Those campaigning groups in the UK which seek to protect single sex female spaces recognise and condemn gender stereotypes which operate to deny people the freedom to make their own choices about who they love, what work they do or how they dress. Female reproductive rights are seen as a very important part of the necessary protection of women and are supported. The report wrongly conflates the UK with those countries where bigotry and hatred to towards gay or trans people is indeed a serious problem We assert this arises largely from patriarchal cultural norms which seek to control women’s bodies and stigmatise homosexuality. We are proud to say this has no relevance to the UK in 2022.
Para 52 states
In the United Kingdom, anti-trans rhetoric, arguing that sex is immutable and gender identities not valid, has also been gaining baseless and concerning credibility, at the expense of both trans people’s civil liberties and women’s and children’s rights.
….. There is intense and ongoing social, political and legal debate about what constitutes harmful discourse when it comes to trans people and their rights, and arguments defending freedom of expression have been – and are still being – used as a tool to justify transphobic rhetoric, further penalising and harming already marginalised trans people and communities.
It is not explained how reliance on belief that sex is immutable, which is deemed worthy of protection in a democratic society - see the EAT ruling in Forstater - has caused harm to the ‘civil liberties’ of trans people, women and children. The report fails to provide any evidence to support this very serious assertion. What exactly is meant by ‘transphobic rhetoric’ is not explained.
The wider consequences of failing to acknowledge that rights exist in tension
We are concerned that the uncritical adoption by the Council of Europe of a report which offers no evidence for its assertions or definition of its terms, is providing fuel for those who seek to further denigrate the ‘gender critical’ in the UK and deny them their basic legal rights.
We note for example this commentary by Natasha Devon who describes those who express concern for gender variant children’s continued access to talking therapy, as promoting ‘torture’ .
Other commentary on social media refers to women who object to gender identity ideology as ‘cockroaches’. This dehumanising language, and its potential consequences ought to be very well understood by European Parliamentarians.
We have seen recently alarming attacks on the Equality and Human Rights Commission for doing no more than seeking clear definition of terms proposed in legislation around conversion therapy and calling for respectful debate. We have seen academic freedoms threatened by reliance on incorrect interpretation of the law pushed by trans rights lobby groups.
The reaction of individuals in the UK
We set out below those individuals who have sought redress in the UK courts for the denial of their fundamental human right to free speech or who have faced unlawful discrimination against their protected belief that biological sex is immutable.
These legal actions have raised to date £2,087,455. They have not been funded by ‘Far Right’ or religious groups; but by thousands of small donations from ordinary men and women. The Council of Europe should not be seen to support those who would deny these men and women their rights under law, while at the same time smearing them as ‘bigots’. To continue down this road is likely to have serious consequences for us all.
Maya Forstater - I lost my job for talking about women’s rights
Harry Miller - Challenging Thought Crime
Sonia Appleby - Safeguarding Concerns at GIDS
Keira Bell - Protect Gender Dysphoric Children from the Affirmation Model
Victoria Edwards - Challenge damaging Transgender schools guidance in Oxfordshire
Allison Bailey - The case against Stonewall (& my chambers)
Katie Alcock - Expelled from GirlGuiding because of my Gender Critical Beliefs
Rachel Ara - Fight for Academic Freedom of Speech to discuss Sex and Gender
James Caspian - Protect Freedom of Speech in our Universities (Bath Spa Uni)
Safe Schools Alliance UK - Teenage girl challenges CPS LGBT+ hate crime guidance
Safe Schools Alliance UK
Raquel Rosario Sánchez - Bullying and Harassment Permitted by Bristol University
Kate Scottow - Fight the Power
Mrs A and Keira Bell - Legal case to protect children from experimental medical treatment
Keep All-Women Shortlists Female!
Ann Sinnott - Official sources provide unlawful guidance on the 2010 Equality Act!
For Women Scotland - Stop the Scottish Government redefining "woman" to include men
Fair Play for Women - Needs Your Support
Graham Linehan - Stephanie Hayden
Sarah Phillimore - The police should not secretly record us as 'hateful'
Keep Prisons Single Sex
Transgender Trend - Putting it Right
Sarah Phillimore - Action in Defamation
Allison Bailey - I am suing Stonewall
Fair Play for Women - Sex and the Census
AEA wants to send a vital shout-out to the country
MBM - Researching Women’s Rights in Policy and Law
Natalie Bird Legal Fund
LGB Alliance - Defend our charity status
Lisa Keogh - Abertay Uni
Katie Alcock - My court case to protect girls in Girlguiding
Rosie Kay - fighting to protect women's rights and freedom of expression
KPSS - Fighting for sex-based rights of women in prison
Help defend freedom of speech: Sanctioned by Social Work England - Rachel Meade
Raquel Rosario Sánchez - Bullying and Harassment Permitted by Bristol University
Justice for Jenni Swayne
Shahrar Ali - Sex-Based Rights vs Cancel Culture (Green Party)
James Esses - Expelled from my university course for holding gender critical views
The Women’s Rights Network
Parents Across Scotland
Keep Prisons Single Sex
Women’s Voices Matter
Women’s Declaration International UK
Barton Gibbs Belinda
Busby Hicks Alex
Busby Hicks Kat
Ettinger Sophie Van
Hunter Blackburn Lucy
James Sheryl E
Livingstone Dr Ruth
McGary Marsden Anne
Quirk Dr Hannah
Robertson Dr A
Sandall Mrs J
Semmens Dr Lesley
Winfield Una Jane
I fully understand and respect the thinking behind this letter, and I have contributed to quite a few of the fund-raisers listed. But I'm not sure what it's intended to achieve in its current form, or indeed to whom it is addressed.
As I understand it, there are three branches of the Council of Europe - there's the Court (judiciary), the Committee of Ministers (decision-makers), the Parliamentary Assembly (PACE - advisory) and a permanent Secretariat that services these. PACE has adopted the highly contentious Resolution 2417 https://pace.coe.int/en/files/29712 which it has submitted to the Committee of Ministers for their consideration under cover of Recommendation 2220 https://pace.coe.int/en/files/29710#trace-4.
What's needed now is to stop the Committee of Ministers from endorsing the unacceptable bits of the Resolution, while encouraging the protection of the rights of LGBT people across Europe. There is a choice of addressing the letter to the Secretary-General, Marija Pejčinović Burić; the current Presidency of the Committee of Ministers, Luigi di Maio, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy; or the current President of PACE, the unfortunately named Dutchman, Tiny Cox. I'm really not in a position to know which would be most effective; it might be worth raising this with the relevant FCDO Minister, or approaching the UK Delegation to the Council of Europe direct: they should be well aware of these issues, and - given the Foreign Secretary's views - sympathetic. https://www.gov.uk/world/organisations/uk-delegation-to-the-council-of-europe
How do I sign?