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In praise of reality

2021 turned the tide on the gender critical debate — and reality won

It’s been without a doubt a very exciting year in activism. January saw me suspended from Twitter as allegedly a transphobe and an anti Semite, only for my account to be restored without comment or explanation after I raised £20K in 48 hours to bring action in defamation, and instructed my solicitors to contact Twitter directly.

March saw Harry Miller’s appeal against the refusal to strike down the Hate Crimes Guidance and some hard questioning of the College of Police as to the exact circumstances in which female academics might find themselves liable for being reported and recorded for “hatred”. On the same day, the ONS crumbled in judicial review proceedings brought by Fair Play For Woman and conceded that it was unlawful to attempt to permit the self identification of sex in the census.

In April, Maya Forstater’s appeal was heard in the Employment Appeal Tribunal who gave their judgment in June. This was a clear victory, restoring those women who recognise biological sex as “worthy of respect” in a democratic society. Also the EHRC awoke from its long slumbers and intervened, making representations to support Forstater’s belief as protected under the Equality Act.

The Employment Tribunal then found that barrister Allison Bailey had an arguable case against her Chambers and Stonewall for their creation of a hostile working environment by discrimination against her for her protected beliefs. Her hearing will be in spring next year.

On 27 April, the Charity Commission granted the LGB Alliance charitable status, much to the dismay of Mermaids and other groups who launched their own legal challenge against  the registration, availing themselves of the Good Law Project’s “trans defence fund”. It will be interesting to see what this litigation reveals about what is really driving the Good Law Project in this area.

We saw what happens when a University is derelict in its protection of academic freedoms

In May 2021 the Reindorf report laid bare Essex University’s shameful mistreatment of female academics, after being mislead by misrepresentation of the law from Stonewall. Professor Jo Phoenix, one of those “no platformed” by Essex, announced at the FiLiA conference in Portsmouth in October 2021 that she was taking action against the Open University for “the public campaign of harassment that has made my working life unbearable”.  Meanwhile, James Esses has raised nearly £79K in his action against the university that expelled him for his “gender critical” views, and Raquel Rosario Sanchez will see her case against Bristol University heard in February 2022. The exodus of organisations supporting Stonewall continued, the most notable being the BBC in November 2021, given a nudge by its own excoriating “Nolan Investigates: Stonewall” podcast in October, which set out with disturbing clarity the dangers of allowing a political lobby group to “mark your homework”. Almost immediately we saw a cheering shift in the BBC’s willingness to platform those who think sex is real and it matters.

A variety of books were published in praise of reality. Professor Stock’s Material Girls: Why Reality Matters for Feminism in May 2021, Helen Joyce Trans: When Reality Meets Ideology in July 2021 and Julie Bindel’s Feminism for Women: The Real Route to Liberation in September 2021. Professor Stock was then driven out her employment at Sussex University by those who objected to her “transphobia” — while a terrifying experience for her, it was a wake up call for many others who could see first hand what happens when a University is derelict in its protection of academic freedoms. This led to probably the most economical and satisfying illustration of how things have shifted in one short year: after Professor Richard Dawkins offered praise for “Material Girls” on social media, he was warned against supporting Professor Stock as a signatory of the Declaration of Women’s Sex Based Rights — whereupon he promptly signed and urged his 2.9 million Twitter followers to do likewise.

In September 2021 the Court of Appeal overturned the guidance set down by the Divisional Court in the case of Bell v Tavistock, but by now the cat of dubious evidence base was out of the bag; the case attracted international attention and encouraged many other jurisdictions to begin reconsidering their promotion of medical transition for children, in places such as Australia, Sweden and Finland. Perhaps most significant of all, in October 2021, two of the leading experts in medical and surgical transition of children, Drs Bowers and Anderson (both trans women) spoke out against the many transgender healthcare providers who “were treating kids recklessly”.

Sonia Appleby was also awarded £20K in damages by an employment tribunal which found that she had been prevented from carrying out her role as Safeguarding Lead at the Tavistock as her concerns for children’s safety were seen as “transphobia”.  Dr Harrop, the brave crusader for trans rights on social media (or serial harasser of women depending on your perspective), was told that his behaviour on social media was “deplorable” and suspended from practice for a month; Dr Webberley remains suspended for prescribing testosterone to a 12 year old child.

In May 2021 World Rugby published its guidance about mixed sex participation in collision sports and was able to state the obvious — that women were at risk of serious harm if they played rugby against those with male bodies. This was followed by considerable unease at the participation of transwoman Laurel Hubbard in the female Olympic weightlifting category — 96 per cent of Daily Mail readers felt Hubbard had an “unfair advantage”.

Over the border, Marion Millar faced criminal charges for her social media comments, and was represented by Joanna Cherry who argued her human rights have not been respected by the criminal charges laid against her. These charges were then discontinued. Johann Lamont’s #SixWords amendment to the Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) Bill was passed after a campaign by Scottish women forced the SNP to accept it.

One end-of-year gift was the Law Commission’s final report and recommendations into hate crime laws. Although the report itself was a mixed bag, with some worrying conflation of “sex” and “gender”, it was a considerable relief to see clear recognition of both the Forstater and Miller cases, and recognition that it should not be considered “hateful” to discuss issues of biology, despite the urgings of many of those responding to the consultation.

The best Christmas present of all was the Court of Appeal finally delivering judgment in Harry Miller’s appeal, confirming that the Hate Crimes Guidance sanctioned a disproportionate interference with article 10 rights of freedom of speech and was hence unlawful. As the Court of Appeal remarked, the Guidance was so extra-ordinarily broad, and based on no rational consideration of any evidence, that what it permitted was in fact the recording of non crime, non hate incidents. While this victory was sweet indeed, it remains a deep concern that it took one private citizen to bring the police to account.

Thousands of highly organised angry people will bury it again

I could continue for thousands of words, and still not cover all the individuals, campaigns and events that have led to such a significant shift in our political climate. We came very close to losing our rights to protected political speech in the arena of gender identity, and thus our ability to speak up to safeguard children and protect them against unnecessary and harmful medical intervention. All those who have contributed, in whatever way, ought to feel proud.

Looking ahead to 2022: Having died, “no debate” will stay dead. If it does attempt to rise from the grave, there are now thousands of highly organised angry people who will bury it again. I predict that those with cases against their Universities or Chambers for discrimination on the basis of their protected belief will win. The damages they are awarded will hopefully act as an effective prophylactic against any further unlawful discrimination.

The Hate Crimes Guidance will need to be rewritten; otherwise scores of people will find they have a remedy in injunctions and damages under the Human Rights Act. Hopefully we will have answers to what will happen to the many thousands of people already recorded under an unlawful policy. I will also know if my application in judicial review will proceed, as the Court of Appeal did not deal with arguments on issues of data protection. The Cass Review will report and will support greater intervention via talking therapies for children confused and unhappy about issues of gender identity.

I predict that many people will feel quietly ashamed and wish they had been braver. A large number of men will begin to join the debate, professing surprise that no one else has spoken out before them and asking “where were the feminists”? Feminists will grit their teeth even harder.

Hopefully by the end of 2022, having turned our energies to making positive change, rather than a desperate scramble to protect our existing rights, we can work to create and maintain a society where people are not abused or harassed for their gender identities or their sexualities — but where we can all accept challenge and discussion as a vital part of a healthy democracy and a healthy life, we can accept that sometimes rights exist in tension and we have to talk about this, and where no child is told they have to abandon their fertility and adult sexual function in homage to regressive gender stereotypes.

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