How do you debate when one side believes no debate can exist, that to ask questions is hate speech and must be silenced even with force? [Last week] the trans activist Tara Wolf, 26, was found guilty of assaulting the 60-year-old feminist Maria MacLachlan in Hyde Park before a meeting on the GRA. I witnessed it. A young, angry 6ft-plus hooded person punched her around the face. After the verdict police warned Ms MacLachlan’s supporters not to leave court because masked activists were waiting outside.
On Thursday the Mercure Hotel in Cardiff cancelled a longstanding booking for a meeting to be held that day by the group A Woman’s Place, on the grounds it “does not tolerate any form of racist, sexist or bigoted behaviour”. Bigoted? The speakers, including a feminist writer and a former Welsh Assembly member, were there to defend existing law. It is hardly a far-out position to uphold the 2010 Equalities Act which permits female-only exemptions for rape crisis and domestic violence refuges.
A Woman’s Place has six demands, including “respectful and evidence-based discussion” and for impact assessments on how proposed changes to the GRA, allowing natal men to self-ID as women, will affect data-gathering on crime, health and the gender pay gap. Pretty extreme stuff. This was the latest event to be cancelled after trans activists bombarded venues with intimidation and abuse. Glasgow, Lewisham, the Conway Hall . . . even Millwall FC, famed for their slogan “fear no foe”, withdrew a recent room booking after their switchboard was jammed and protests threatened. A Woman’s Place must ticket an event without revealing its location until a few hours before the start. Even then, as in Cardiff, it must secure a back-up venue. (A primary school whose governor activists are now hounding).
How does this happen? This is a complex debate but on the phone to meek receptionists and scared middle managers, trans activists keep it simple. They say: “These evil women are social conservatives who hate trans people. They’re like Tory bigots who brought in Section 28 and hated gays. They want to eradicate trans women; they incite violence against them. They deny their humanity and want them dead. Do you want your company to be part of that?”
It is ludicrous, of course. The feminists, including many lesbians, have fought for LGBT rights: without exception they believe trans people should live free from violence, indignity or discrimination. (A Woman’s Place has trans members and speakers.) Moreover gay people sought only the right to love who they wished and for that love to receive equal recognition: gay rights had no impact upon the rights of anyone else.
Gender self-ID has serious implications for women’s rights, yet the Tory minister Maria Miller led an inquiry that proposed it should become law without hearing from a single women’s organisation. Hundreds of women have contacted me expressing concerns they daren’t raise in public. They were incensed that self-ID would allow a rapist with intact male genitalia into a women’s prison; infuriated that male-bodied athletes, like the New Zealand weightlifter, Laurel Hubbard, can enter women’s sporting competitions; fearful that predatory men (NB not genuine trans women) will exploit self-ID to prey upon them in changing rooms or dormitories; outraged by an ideology that insists a penis can be a female organ. Above all they are sick of being told, mainly by left-wing men who love lecturing feminists from presumed moral high ground, to shut up and make way for “progress”.
Yet the simplified trans version cuts through because it plays to a company’s worst fears: being hounded on social media. Mumsnet is a rare forum where feminist anxiety about trans ideology is allowed to be aired. The website takes no position, it merely upholds free speech. However, activists are now threatening Mumsnet advertisers, telling them to stop “funding bigotry” or face a Twitter storm and possible boycott. They hope that, fearful of losing revenue, Mumsnet will delete and ban the debates.
Even the police have leapt in to silence feminist dissent. A Wiltshire woman, Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull, was questioned under caution by West Yorkshire police. They had received a complaint that Ms Keen-Minshull had tweeted that Susie Green, chief executive of Mermaids, a trans charity for children, had her son “castrated” when he was 16. Ms Green complained of hate speech and Twitter had handed over Ms Keen-Minshull’s location to police.
Ms Green has often spoken publicly about how she took her child to Thailand for genital surgery at an age when it is illegal in Britain (and indeed is now illegal in Thailand). Perhaps Ms Keen-Minshull’s tweet was unkind and crude but was it hate speech? Or, given that Ms Green campaigns to lower the NHS age limits for prescribing cross-sex hormones and surgery, is it a matter of public interest? The Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute.