Pragna Patel Signs Letter Supporting Need for Free and Open Debate on Gender Politics
Nearly 200 prominent figures have signed an open letter raising concerns that public and private bodies are helping “close down discussion” about government plans to make it easier for trans people to have their preferred gender legally recognised.
Writers Marina Strinkovsky and Beatrix Campbell, actors James Dreyfus and Frances Barber, and Pragna Patel, the founder of the Southall Black Sisters Centre, are among 195 people to put their names to the letter, published in the Observer. “We believe the right to discuss proposed changes to the law is fundamental in a democratic society,” they write.
A government consultation on reforming the 2004 Gender Recognition Act (GRA) closes at the end of this week. When she launched it last month, the minister for women and equalities, Penny Mordaunt, said the government particularly wanted to hear “from women’s groups who we know have expressed some concerns about the implications of our proposals”.
But, according to the letter’s signatories, there have been a “series of attempts to close down discussion among women about GRA reform”.
Last month, Leeds City Council cancelled a booking by Woman’s Place UK, a group formed “specifically to ensure women’s voices are heard in the debate around proposals to change the Gender Recognition Act” after complaints it was giving a platform to transphobic views.
Earlier this year, the Mercure Hotel in Cardiff and Millwall Football Club cancelled bookings made by women’s groups who wanted to hold panel discussions about proposed changes to the law. In Bristol, a meeting was picketed by masked activists in an attempt to prevent it going ahead.
Women’s rights groups say that both online and real-world harassment of those organising, speaking and attending meetings is now routine. In one case, a woman had the details of her children’s school posted online, in an attempt at intimidation.
Last year, a 60-year-old woman was violently assaulted when she was part of a group gathered at Hyde Park Corner waiting to be directed to a meeting to discuss the GRA. There are also concerns about the intimidation and ostracising of female academics who speak out on the issue.
“Public authorities, academic institutions, unions and NGOs should be facilitating discussions and protecting the rights of people to take part in them without harassment or intimidation,” the letter states. “We find it troubling that institutions have not condemned these actions and in some cases have expressed support.”
On Saturday the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said that he had refused to sign the letter, condemning it as “one-sided” and “totally devoid of compassion for the suffering of trans women and men”.
“It does not acknowledge and condemn the abuse, threats and intimidation by some feminists against trans people and their supporters, including really vile abuse directed against me personally because of my support for trans human rights,” he said. “I always stand with the oppressed. Trans women and men are certainly some of the most vulnerable and oppressed people. They deserve our support, but this letter does not offer even a shred of solidarity.”
Those campaigning for greater transgender rights say that the reforms to the act are long overdue. But Woman’s Place UK has a number of concerns, including how they might affect women-only spaces. The group calls for a “respectful and evidence-based discussion about the impact of the proposed changes”.
Below is the aforementioned letter, published in the article ‘Letters: Theresa May’s siren words don’t fool anyone‘ published in The Guardian on Friday 14th October 2018.
On 28 September, Leeds city council cancelled a room booking by Women’s Place UK, which was planning a meeting that night to discuss government proposals to change the Gender Recognition Act.
When the consultation on changing the GRA was launched by the minister for women and equalities, Penny Mordaunt, she said: “We particularly want to hear from women’s groups who have expressed concerns about the implications of our proposals.” However, the action by the council is only the latest in a series of attempts to halt discussion among women about GRA reform. Harassment of those organising, speaking at or even attending meetings is now routine; one woman had the details of her children’s school posted online with a view to intimidating her into desisting.
Earlier this year the Mercure hotel in Cardiff and Millwall football club were successfully pressured to cancel bookings made by women’s groups to hold panel discussions about proposed changes to the law. In Bristol a meeting was picketed by masked activists blocking attendees’ entrance in an attempt to prevent it going ahead.
In September 2017, a 60-year-old woman was violently assaulted when she was part of a group gathered at Hyde Park Corner waiting to be directed to the venue of a meeting to discuss the GRA.
Professional intimidation and attempted ostracising of, in particular, female academics is also rife. In September this year the Sunday Times revealed an orchestrated campaign, coordinated by a lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, to report academics who had questioned some aspects of transgender ideology to their institutions for “hate crime”.
On International Women’s Day, a trade unionist was hounded off a picket line by activists because she had attended a meeting. Girlguiding has removed two guide leaders from their posts for questioning policies that anticipate changes to the GRA.
We believe the right to discuss proposed changes to the law is fundamental in a democratic society. Public authorities, academic institutions, unions and NGOs should be facilitating discussions and protecting the rights of people to take part in them without harassment or intimidation. We find it troubling that institutions have not condemned these actions and in some cases have expressed support for them.
Marina Strinkovsky, feminist organiser; Beatrix Campbell; Graham Linehan, writer; James Dreyfus; Pragna Patel, Southall Black Sisters; Abigail Rowland, retired head of faculty (English); Professor Adam Swift, UCL; Alice Bondi, psychotherapist; Dr Amanda Maclean; Amina Lone, secularist and women’s campaigner; Anoma Jacobs, N Surrey Green party; Councillor Amy Brooks; Ann Day, musician; Ann McTaggart; Ann Sinnott, former Labour councillor and author; Professor Ann Stewart, University of Warwick; Anna Bluman; Annabella Ashby; Anne Morch, social worker; Annie Gwillym Walker; Annie Thomas; Andy Healey, play worker; Angela Stewart-Park; Anya Palmer, barrister; Ashlee Kelly (Rose of Dawn), social commentator; Betsy Stanko, OBE, emeritus professor; Bronwen Davies, Labour party member; Caroline Spry, TV producer; Dr Catherine Butler, Bath Spa University; Catherine Muller, business adviser; Cathy Devine, former senior lecturer, University of Cumbria; Celia Wangler; Ceri Tegwyn; Ceri Williams; Charlotte Ayres, student; Chetan Bhatt, LSE; Chris Holt; Claire Graham, intersex advocate; Clare B Dimyon MBE (L-GBT), educator and broadcaster; Clare Davies, PhD student; Clare Davies, PhD student; Dale Rapley; Darren Johnson; Dawn Furness, opera singer and film-maker; Debbie Hayton, teacher and transgender activist; Professor Deborah Cameron; Dr Deborah Dean, University of Warwick; Dr Diane Brewster; Diane Jones , teacher, Labour party member;
Donna Stevenson, school librarian; Elizabeth Mansfield, North Surrey Green party; Emma Aynsley; Emma Flynn; Eva Poen, University of Exeter; Dr Fiona English, academic author, former branch chair (Labour) Tottenham Green; Fiona Montgomery; Fionne Orlander, transperson; Frances Barber, actor; Frankie Rickford; Freda Davis, poet, artist, feminist;
Gemma Aitchinson, Yes Matters; Georgia Testa, University of Leeds; Harriet Wistrich, lawyer; Hazel Pegg; Hazel Turner-Lyons; Dr Heather Brunskell-Evans; Helen Gibson, former Labour councillor; Helen Jackson; Helen Mary Jones AM, National Assembly for Wales; Dr Helen Mott; Helen Raynor; Helen Saxby, writer and campaigner; Helen Steel; Helen Watts, former leader, Girlguiding UK; Helena Coates; Hilary Adams; Holly Sutherland; Ivy Cameron; Jack Appleby, web developer; Jacquie Hughes; Dr James Harrison, University of Warwick; Jane Galloway, autism parent advocate; Dr Jane Clare Jones, writer and philosopher; Jalna Hamner; Janet Veitch OBE; Jayne Egerton, radio producer; Jean Bartrum; Jeni Harvey, writer; Jenny Randles, author and broadcaster; Jessica Goldfinch
Jill Mills, Green party member, retired nurse; Jill Nichols, film-maker; Joan Smith, journalist and human rights activist; Joan Scanlon; Jonathan Best, former director, Queer Up North international festival; Josephine Bartosch, Critical Sisters; Judith Green, co-founder, Women’s Place UK; Judith Jones; Judy Maciejowska; Julian Norman, barrister; Julia Pascal, playwright, director; Dr Julian Vigo, writer and anthropologist; Julie Armstrong, Gateshead CLP; Julie Bindel; Justine Potter, producer; Karen Ingala Smith, CEO, nia; Katheen Stock, University of Sussex; Kay Green; Kim Thomas; Councillor Kindy Sandhu; Kiri Tunks, co-founder, Women’s Place UK; Kristina Harrison, trans campaigner; Kym Barlow; Laura McGrath
Leonora Christina; Lin Harwood, lecturer; Linda Oubridge; Lisa-Marie Taylor, CEO, FiLiA; Professor Liz Kelly; Lolly Viv Willowes; Lorraine Roberts; Lorenzo Obi Abadinas, Barnet Green party; Louise Evan Wong; Councillor Louise Paine; Louise Somerville, Women’s Voices Matter; Lucy Masoud, firefighter and FBU London regional official; Lynn Alderson, Totnes CLP; Councillor Lynne Caffrey, Gateshead; Maggie Saxon, arts manager; Maire Smith; Marina Strinkovsky, feminist organiser; Marion Gow; Councillor Mary McGarry; Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson, director, Women’s Budget Group; Marta Garcia de la Vega; Maureen O’Hara, Coventry University; Michael Biggs, University of Oxford; Professor Michele Moore, Patient Safety Academy, Oxford University; Mike Shon, ex-mayor of Stafford; Miranda Yardley, transsexual rights activist; Dr Miroslav Imbrisevic, philosopher; Nick Rogers; Dr Nicola Williams, Fair Play 4 Women; Pam Isherwood, photographer, former lecturer; Dr Patrick Turner, Bath Spa University; Paula Dauncey; Peter J Hughes, N Surrey Green party; Phil Rose; Phillipa Harvey; Pilgrim Tucker, academic researcher and community campaigner; Professor Rosemary Auchmuty, School of Law, University of Reading; Professor Selina Todd, University of Oxford; Professor Victoria Rimell; Rahila Gupta, Southall Black Sisters; Raquel Rosario Sánchez, feminist writer and campaigner; Rebecca Gill, consultant; Rebecca Lush, environmental campaigner; Richard Byng, University of Plymouth; Rosa Freedman, law professor, University of Reading; Rosey Bennett, councillor; Rupert Jackson; Ruth Conlock, social worker; Ruth Serwotka, co-founder, Women’s Place UK; SJ Atherton, writer; Samira Abdi, accountant; Sarah Jay, consultant; Sarah Tanburn, writer; Shahida Chudhry; Sheila Jeffreys, University of Melbourne; Sian Sullivan; Sioned-Mair Richards; Solange Hughes, N Surrey Green party; Dr Sophie Allen, Keele University; Stephanie Davies-Arai, Transgender Trend; Steve Trafford, writer, N Surrey Green party; Sue Parrish, Sphinx Theatre; Susan Matthews, Roehampton University; Tania Glynn; Tom Farr, human rights researcher; Tony Green, freelance writer and tutor; Tracey Smith; Veronica Quilligan, actor; Wendy Sarah Davis, Rooms of our Own; Wendy Savage, MBBch FRCO; Wendy Wheeler, professor emeritus, science and culture studies
Image credit: The Guardian