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Why employers should reconsider Trans Day of Remembrance

Is this a display of compassion or an opportunistic politicised event?

Trans Day of Remembrance (TDoR) is coming up on Monday, 20 November. This day to remember those who have died of anti-transgender violence comes at the end of Trans Awareness Week, part of a calendar of events that employers are encouraged by activists to observe, along with Trans Day of Visibility, Trans Pride, Non-Binary People’s Day, IDAHOBIT (International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia) and Pan Visibility Day.

Vigils are held, candles lit, poems read, songs sung, flags raised, tears shed. In the workplace, articles and videos are circulated on staff email lists, internal networks and social media.

These are not just spontaneous expressions of emotion by individual employees. Employers competing for rankings in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index are told to submit evidence of promoting the event and the message to all.

Is this a harmless display of inclusion and compassion, or an employment tribunal claim waiting to happen? Given the successful belief discrimination cases of Forstater v CGD Europe, Bailey v Stonewall and Garden Court Chambers, and Fahmy v Arts Council England, should employers rethink hosting TDoR events?

Employers do not as a rule do anything similar to commemorate the far greater number of women who are killed by men in the UK (in 2022, 108 women in the UK died violent deaths in which men were the principal suspect). Nor do they hold special events to commemorate the youths who are victims of knife crime.

This year the rhetoric is likely to ramp up. In February, transgender teenager Brianna Ghey was stabbed to death in Warrington. Police said there was no evidence that this was a transphobic attack and urged people not to speculate, but the tragedy was followed by a wave of hostility towards people who are critical of gender ideology. On social media and at vigils, JK Rowling was blamed for the teenager’s death. Journalist India Willoughby tweeted: “British Media, The Government, JK Rowling, Ricky Gervais, and the whole hideous, stinking Gender Critical movement have blood on their hands.” A teacher apologised after telling an education conference that Rishi Sunak was “supporting the murder” by blocking gender self-ID in Scotland.

Employers should be wary of weaponising narratives about suicide in the workplace

Following Fahmy v Arts Council England, employers who allow such rhetoric in the workplace clearly risk harassment claims from employees who have these horrific accusations levelled at them.

TDoR events may encourage an irresponsible approach to suicide.The Samaritans advise not attributing suicides to a single cause, as this risks suicidal ideation in others experiencing similar problems. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has published guidance warning employers against oversimplification and romanticisation.

Yet employers are getting ready to hand over their official communications channels to LGBT+ networks to do just this, ghoulishly commemorating the deaths of young people with complex mental health issues as victims of “transphobia”. Suicide threats (“would you prefer a dead daughter or a live son?”) are an all-too-frequent feature of communications by organisations promoting childhood transition. This is despite the NHS child gender clinic in London, GIDS, having emphasised that suicide amongst children referred to it is “extremely rare. Suicidal ideation in this group is “similar to that of young people referred to child and adolescent mental health services”.

During a debate in Parliament this summer, Kirsty Blackman MP quoted a trans constituent who had written to her. “When they heard about biological sex being included in the Equality Act and this change being made, they said, ‘What hope is left? Should I just kill myself now and be done with it?’”

Every untimely death is tragic. Employers (and politicians) should be wary of allowing narratives about suicide to be weaponised in the workplace, however.

TDoR risks being a day of emotional blackmail that creates a hostile environment for gender-critical employees. HR managers should review the risks and reconsider whether workplace events to mark TDoR are appropriate — or whether they risk encouraging harassment by one group with a protected characteristic against another.

Finally, employers should consider whether by allowing believers in gender ideology to proselytise for their beliefs in the workplace, they are treating that group more favourably than they treat others. Would they allow a gender critical staff network, or an evangelical Christian staff network, to send communications to all staff expressing their particular beliefs as they allow the LGBT+ groups to do? If not, they are at risk of a claim for direct discrimination on religion or belief grounds. The safer course might be to avoid permitting some groups, but not others, to distribute all-staff communications or hold identity and belief-based celebrations in the workplace.

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