Artillery Row

Trans activist’s car crash interview

Repeating “no debate” for years has left these organisations unable to answer questions

May 2021 has seen the beginning of the end for Stonewall’s “Diversity Champions” scheme. Many have left — including the Ministry of Justice and Channel 4 — presumably questioning the wisdom of paying £2,500 a year for “training” that puts them at risk of breaking the law.

Simon Fanshawe, a founder member of Stonewall, and Benjamin Cohen, CEO of “Pink News”, appeared on the Today programme on 8 June to discuss this curious state of affairs. Karen Ingala Smith has helpfully provided a transcript. The question posed was whether the concerns about Stonewall were real, or was this simply an example of an orchestrated campaign by those hostile to its support of trans people? 

Simon Fanshawe dealt with questions calmly and informatively, pointing out that there were real issues of concern that needed to be discussed sensibly about the extent to which trans rights impacted on the rights of women to single sex spaces and services.

Ben Cohen decided to handle the interview rather differently. He asserted that “gender critical” views were a “polite way” of saying “transphobia”. This was immediately and quite rightly challenged by presenter Justin Webb. This does not reflect the position of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission which recently intervened in Maya Forstater’s appeal to the Employment Tribunal, stating that a belief in immutable biological sex is a reasonable belief that should be respected and protected.

Cohen was asked about Stonewall’s campaign to change the Equality Act and remove single sex spaces. He was firm in his reply. Stonewall were not campaigning for this; to suggest otherwise was “misinformation being spread by homophobic and transphobic media”. This is a curious statement which is not, as I first thought, an outright lie, but rather a significant misrepresentation of the true position. 

We can track Stonewall’s campaigning on this issue from its own website and its contributions to the Women and Equalities Select Committee over the years.  

In 2015 Stonewall were explicitly campaigning to remove single sex spaces: 

  • A review of the Equality Act 2010 to include “gender identity” rather than “gender reassignment” as a protected characteristic and to remove exemptions, such as access to single-sex spaces

Stonewall repeated this goal in 2017

Their position appears to have shifted in evidence before the Select Committee in 2020 where Stonewall no longer sought reform to the Equality Act because of concerns that this will increase hostility towards trans people:

While Stonewall has advocated for reform to the Equality Act (due to concerns about the terminology used, whether the Act sufficiently covered all trans people, and if Equality Act exemptions could be used to exclude trans people from a wide range of settings), we are concerned that, given the dramatic growth of the anti-trans movement and the concerted attacks on the rights of LGBTI people across Europe over the last 5 years, any move to review the Equality Act at this moment holds a significant risk of regressive change.

The irony remains that it is largely because of the aggressive campaigning of organisations such as Stonewall, alongside a refusal to explain or justify their position, that we have seen an increase in polarised views, confusion and fear. 

The years of repeating the mantra “no debate” has left these organisations dangerously exposed and ill prepared for actual questioning. Some better media training might help to handle interviews, but to continue to obfuscate and misrepresent such central issues, suggests deep-rooted problems with integrity, which no training in the world can ameliorate.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover