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Artillery Row

The gender wars have not been won

“No debate” has been defeated — but the debate is still ongoing

Sir Keir Starmer’s recent acknowledgement that Rosie Duffield was right to say, “Only women have a cervix” is a landmark moment – signalling a return to responsible government after years of discourse dominated by radical gender ideology. It is fashionable to assert, as the polling group More in Common often does, that no-one cares about “culture wars”. Twenty points ahead in the polls, what does Sir Keir Starmer know that they don’t?

His statement came shortly after Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting admitted that he had been ‘wrong’ to say that “trans women are women”; while Gillian Keegan, a senior “One Nation” Tory, said she would “no longer use the phrase”.

Indeed, since the publication of last month’s Cass Review, which exposed how ideological capture of the NHS had led to thousands of gender-distressed children being given unevidenced life altering treatment, we have seen a veritable flurry of the great and the good falling over themselves to get back on the “right side of history”.

There is, however, a real sense that the tide has begun to turn

For the many brave individuals, predominantly women, who have been vilified, abused and fired, it may be galling to see those who stood by now triangulating to present themselves as the reasonable adults in the room. On X, J. K. Rowling sharply rebutted TV presenter Kirstie Allsopp, who had claimed “it always has been possible to debate these things” by saying, “I’m astounded by this comment. One of the gender ideologues’ favourite slogans is ‘no debate’. Opponents have been attacked, vilified, subject to discipline at work, had their lives overturned and lost their careers, all for the crime of wanting a debate.”

There is, however, a real sense that the tide has begun to turn. Almost a year after Policy Exchange revealed that only 28 per cent of secondary schools would reliably inform parents if a child wanted to switch gender, the Department for Education is consulting on new guidance to protect children in schools. The Health Secretary, Victoria Atkins, announced a consultation on reforms to the NHS Constitution which propose ensuring women have the right to same-sex wards and intimate care. And even before Sir Keir’s Damascene moment, Labour had retreated on its former surrender to gender ideology, acknowledging last July that single-sex spaces for women must be protected.

Perhaps most encouragingly, a series of employment tribunal cases have clearly demonstrated that people cannot be sacked, bullied or harassed for holding gender critical views. Rachel Meade, a social worker, who won £58,000 last month, is merely the most recent of a string of high-profile examples.  

Shockingly, in this case, as in many others, the defendants were public bodies: Westminster City Council (at the time of the incident, controlled by the Conservatives) and Social Work England. Both were found at fault, resulting in an unprecedented award of exemplary damages. The size of the pay-outs, alongside the no-doubt substantial costs, will be giving pause for thought to the employers who have heretofore allowed gender activists to operate within or to influence their organisations, thinking, perhaps, that there was little harm to it.

In the wake of this undoubted progress, we have seen a number of commentators rashly declaring victory, or proclaiming that we have reached “peak trans”. We empathise: after so long crying in the wilderness, that gender critical voices are now being readmitted to the company of the righteous is no small matter.

But triumphalism in the “gender wars” would be premature. We stand at a tipping point but, as Churchill once said of a far greater conflict, this is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end — but it is perhaps, the end of the beginning.

Despite some high-profile disaffiliations, dozens of public and private organisations – including NHS Trusts, universities and FTSE 100 companies — remain signed up to Stonewall’s controversial “Diversity Champions” scheme. Gender ideology is embedded in thousands of schools; the Government’s guidance, though welcome, will be non-binding, and the promised review of Relationships and Sex Education has yet to materialise. As Policy Exchange demonstrated last Christmas, many grassroots sport organisations do not guarantee fair participation for women — despite receiving taxpayer funding.

Will the welcome and proposed reforms to the NHS Constitution have any impact? The NHS Constitution has no legal effect after all.  As Policy Exchange exposed last year, despite instructions to the contrary from Ministers, NHS Trusts have repeatedly compromised same-sex intimate care and amended biologically accurate definitions in their communications, effectively “writing out” women. How, and by whom, will these changes to the Constitution be enforced throughout the sector?

The Equality, Diversity and Inclusion industry remains fully embedded across the public, private and charitable sectors. In the courts, the Equal Treatment Bench Book is packed with contested and politically partisan statements. Whom did they consult in writing it? Much of the media remains cautious about speaking the truth on gender, even when referring to convicted, biologically-male sex offenders. And many unions, as well as, more seriously, professional or membership bodies from the NHS Confederation to Social Work England, continue to publish statements that derive from radical gender ideology.

Collectively, this means that should Labour win the next General Election, they would not need to actively push gender ideology for it to (re)gain traction. Without a continued effort by many organisations and across every front, the rights of women and children will continue to be placed in jeopardy. 

With a very small number of honourable exceptions in each party — such as Rosie Duffield MP, Baroness Jenkin, Joanna Cherry MP and Baroness Ludford — every gain so far has been won despite, rather than because of, the actions of politicians — who have rarely ventured a single step beyond the Overton window set by activists. Even worse, where Ministers have made a stand, they have found their levers to effect change compromised.

So, what more must be done? 

The greatest hope comes not from the statements of politicians, but from the British Social Attitudes Survey — which showed that the proportion of people who believe that a transgender person wishing to change their sex on their birth certificate should be allowed to do so had dropped dramatically, from 53 per cent to 30 per cent.  

This demonstrates that those who believe “Biology Matters” are winning the argument: the more that the public learn about radical gender ideology, the less truck they have with it. At heart, most Britons believe that adults should be able to dress how they wish and call themselves what they want – but that this should not be at the expense of women’s rights or the safety and well-being of children.

Most fundamentally, our public institutions must revitalise their commitment to impartiality — and explicitly recognise that in the 21st century, this refers to matters such as gender as much as it does to economic right and left, or adherence to particular political parties. This must be recognised, modelled and consistently communicated by our most senior public servants — and cannot be superseded by facile mantras such as “Bring your whole self to work.”

On a practical level, this must include disaffiliation from partisan campaigning organisations such as Stonewall, a severe curtailment of the activities of “staff networks” and ensuring that all staff understand that, whatever their personal beliefs, that work is no place for activism. In an ideal world — as Policy Exchange has previously recommended — the Public Sector Equality Duty would be repealed; failing that, guidance should be issued to clarify that organisations should not promote gender ideology, and that those with gender critical views must not be discriminated against. If senior leaders in arm’s length bodies are unwilling to enforce impartiality on this matter, they should be dismissed.

In a democracy, Ministers and Parliament remain the ultimate safeguard against institutional capture by activists and vested interests. The concept of operational independence is typically  associated with policing – but not only there, but in schools, NHS Trusts and regulators its application has been taken too far. Arm’s-length bodies rightly have autonomy on purely operational matters, but this must never compromise the ability of elected politicians to make decisions on the most contentious matters of the day.

In schools, the trans guidance should be made statutory and binding, and RSHE material that promotes unsafe practices such as puberty blockers or social transition banned from schools. Proposed reforms to protect women’s rights in the NHS must be implemented and enforced in every NHS Trust – if necessary, by law. Taxpayer funding should be removed from charitable organisations that promote gender ideology – including in sport, where Sport England should not fund any body that does not maintain a protected female single-sex category. 

Most importantly, any move to introduce a ban on “conversion therapy” should be resisted: a ban could easily cause major problems for therapists and parents seeking to support vulnerable and confused children, leaving vulnerable children open to being abused by those who would rather see a straight trans child, rather than a gay one.

There will continue to be laws to fight, guidance to shape, institutions to liberate and cases to crowd-fund

All of this will only come about if those who have stood up for biological reality, scientific truth and women’s and children’s rights continue to do so. If more now feel empowered to speak up, that is all to the good: this is a struggle that has been fought at the grassroots, and in the hearts and minds of the public as much as in the corridors of power. There will continue to be laws to fight, guidance to shape, institutions to liberate and cases to crowd-fund for months and years to come. “No debate” has been defeated — but the debate is still to be won.

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