Maya Forstater wants UK’s Equality Act to protect people who say trans women are men

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A landmark appeal about whether equalities law should legally protect someone with transphobic beliefs will start in London today (27 April).

The appeal is being brought by Maya Forstater, who lost her case in 2019 when she tried and failed to convince an employment tribunal that her refusal to accept that trans women are women should be a protected “philosophical belief” under the 2010 Equality Act.

The judge said that her anti-trans views were “not worthy of respect in a democratic society“.

Forstater is a tax researcher whose employment contract at the Centre for Global Development (CGD), a Washington think-tank that researches international development, was not renewed in December 2018 after she upset colleagues with her anti-trans views.

She had worked for CGD on a consultancy basis since January 2015, and when her contract was not renewed she took the think-tank to an employment tribunal arguing that they had discriminated against her for holding “gender critical” views.

“Gender critical” is the preferred label of trans-exclusionary feminists, who, like Forstater, think that trans women should be sent to men’s prisons, men’s domestic violence refuges, and use men’s bathrooms.

In Maya Forstater’s case, she holds these beliefs even when a trans person has been through the legal gender recognition process and is legally protected under equalities law.

She believes that “it is impossible to change sex or lose your sex. Girls grow up to be women. Boys grow up to be men” and recently told The Telegraph that she thinks society has become “too inclusive”.

Trouble began for Forstater at CGD when she posted hundreds of tweets opposing government proposals to reform the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) and streamline the process of trans people gaining legal recognition of their gender. Her vocal opposition to trans rights reform in the UK were at first only viewed by her 2,000 Twitter followers.

However, she later tweeted about Pips Bunce, a senior director at Credit Suisse who is gender fluid and non-binary, making negative comments about Bunce’s gender expression. She also misgendered a non-binary activist and wouldn’t apologise or correct herself when they complained.

Forstater’s colleagues at CGD started raising concerns, and when Forstater refused to take down her tweets or apologise, the situation was investigated and this led to her contract not being renewed “with immediate effect”.

What happened at the original Maya Forstater hearing?

The 2019 employment tribunal ruled that Maya Forstater’s opposition to trans rights and refusal to accept trans people as the gender they say they are do not qualify as a protected belief because they degrade the rights of trans people.

“People are becoming more understanding of trans rights,” the employment tribunal judge, Mr James Tayler, ruled in December 2019.

“It is obvious how important being accorded their preferred pronouns and being able to describe their gender is to many trans people. Calling a trans woman a man is likely to be profoundly distressing. It may be unlawful harassment.

“Even paying due regard to the qualified right to freedom of expression, people cannot expect to be protected if their core belief involves violating others dignity and/or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.”

There was plenty of evidence that Forstater will not refer to trans people correctly, including in the case of the non-binary person who she misgendered.

“Rather than seeking to accommodate [their] legitimate wishes,” Tayler said in his December 2019 judgement, Forstater had said that “in reality” the non-binary person “is a man”.

“I reserve the right to use the pronouns ‘he’ and ‘him’ to refer to male people,” Forstater argued. “While I may choose to use alternative pronouns as a courtesy, no one has the right to compel others to make statements they do not believe.”

Taylor ruled: “I conclude from this, and the totality of the evidence, that the claimant is absolutist in her view of sex and it is a core component of her belief that she will refer to a person by the sex she considered appropriate even if it violates their dignity and/or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

“The approach is not worthy of respect in a democratic society.”

The Gender Recognition Act

Maya Forstater claims that demedicalising the process of legal gender recognition for trans people will “undermine women’s rights”.

Currently, adult trans men and women who want to have their gender legally recognised – a process governed by the 2004 Gender Recognition Act (GRA) and important for administrative purposes such as taxes, pensions and marriages – must have a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria.

But despite a huge public consultation on potential reforms in 2018 confirming overwhelming public support for modernising and streamlining the gender recognition process in the UK, including removing the need for a medical diagnosis, Tory equalities minister Liz Truss scrapped plans for reform in September 2020.

Legal gender recognition without the need for a medical diagnosis, known as self-determination, is already the norm in dozens of other countries including Ireland, Iceland, Switzerland and Uruguay – without any reported incidents of this harming women.

Moreover, the trade union for doctors in the UK, the British Medical Association (BMA), passed a historic motion in 2020 that trans and non-binary people in the UK should be able to legally self-declare their gender without the need for a medical diagnosis.

Forstater wrote on CrowdJustice, the crowdfunding website on which she has raised more than £120,000 to pay her legal costs, that “like most people I agree that transgender people should not face discrimination and harassment as they live their lives”.

“But I am concerned about the impact of self-ID on women and girls, and in particular on single sex spaces and services such as women’s refuges, hostels, prisons, changing rooms and hospital wards, as well as women’s sports.”

Her concerns about trans women in sports, prisons and hospitals were shared by former US president Donald Trump, and are echoed in the unprecedented number of anti-LGBT+ bills being pushed forward this year by US Republicans seeking to bar trans people from sports and accessing healthcare.

Maya Forstater and JK Rowling

British Harry Potter author JK Rowling tweeted in support of Maya Forstater in December 2019, giving Forstater’s case an international profile.

Following the outcome of the test case, Rowling issued a short statement on her Twitter saying: “Dress however you please. Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real?”

Rowling then added the hashtags: “#IStandWithMaya #ThisIsNotADrill.”

Rowling’s tweet came after she came under fire for a similar situation in which she followed a “proud transphobe” on Twitter alongside when she liked a series of tweets that called trans women “men in dresses”.

Her representatives told PinkNews in 2018 that the latter was down to a “clumsy, middle-aged moment”.

Rowling has since written a lengthy essay explaining her trans views.