Artillery Row

Sex is real – and it matters

On the first day of Maya Forstater’s appeal, Sarah Phillimore says it is wrong that women continue to risk being sacked for their opinions

There is an unusual degree of interest and excitement about the Employment Appeal Tribunal today and the Twitter hashtag #IStandWithMaya is trending at number two in the UK.

This is because today and tomorrow will see the appeal of Maya Forstater against the 2019 Employment Tribunal judgment which found that her opinions about the immutability of biological sex were “not worthy of respect in a democratic society”. 

Forstater’s contract had not been renewed after she joined discussion on social media about issues around sex and gender. She thinks sex was real, it matters and should be kept distinct from a person’s claimed “gender identity”, and that women’s legal right to single-sex spaces for their safety and dignity should be protected by the law. Forstater also believes that it should not be possible to allow a man, on his simple declaration alone, to declare himself a woman.

These discussions alone made her colleagues “uncomfortable”. Forstater had never “abused” or “harassed” anyone at work, and made it clear she would use a trans colleague’s preferred pronouns out of courtesy. Nevertheless, she maintained she had a right to believe that sex was real and a right to talk about this belief publicly.

You can read the judgment here.

As Forstater comments, what is at stake here goes far beyond internet “spats” about sex and gender. 

“What is at stake is the ability to have open debate, and the integrity and effectiveness of organisations that enable democracy and an open society.

A positive judgment would bring some protection. Robust protection for those who hold and express beliefs that are unpopular are important to democracy.”

As her legal team recognise in their skeleton argument, the Employment Tribunal finds itself seriously at odds with the decision of Knowles J in Miller v College of Policing, which gives “ringing emphasis” to the strong protection afforded the expression of views on sex and gender as protected political speech.

The commentary of various employment and human rights lawyers gives me hope that the EAT will allow the appeal. If I am wrong then Forstater and the many thousands of us who share her wish to recognise the reality and importance of sex as a protected characteristic will find ourselves condemned as “unworthy of respect in a democratic society”. We will continue to risk being reported to the police, being sacked from our jobs, or otherwise “no-platformed”. 

I think that would be very wrong. So that’s why #IStandWithMaya.

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