UK’s so-called equalities watchdog ‘held private meetings with anti-trans groups’

EHRC chair Kishwer Falkner speaks to the camera

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) held multiple “private meetings” with anti-trans groups and leaders worked to demolish trans rights, leaked documents have revealed.

The EHRC is a supposedly independent equalities watchdog, which says it works to “promote and uphold equality and human rights ideals and laws across England, Scotland and Wales”.

But according to leaked emails and documents obtained by Vice World News, senior members of the commission have fought hard against trans rights, and have held meetings with anti-trans lobby groups.

The commissioners of the EHRC are appointed by minister for women and equalities Liz Truss, who in 2020 appointed Baroness Kishwer Falkner as chair of the watchdog.

Following Falkner’s appointment, several meetings were held between the EHRC and anti-trans groups like LGB Alliance and Fair Play For Women.

Fair Play For Women’s founder Nicola Williams, who believes “the trans movement has been hijacked by gender extremists”, was invited to meet with Falkner, and emails show that Falker and Williams arranged a private phonecall.

In one email Williams wrote: “With a new chair installed, I hope this can be a moment for change.”

The EHRC also met with LGB Alliance founders Kate Harris and Bev Jackson on multiple occasions.

They were personally invited in February last year by the EHRC’s executive director Melanie Field to participate in a “debate” about “issues relating to trans people”.

Field told Harris and Jackson in an email: “I’m really keen that our board gets a balanced picture of the different issues being raised in this debate.”

LGB Alliance were asked to produce a three-minute video outlining their stance on trans rights, in which they described transitioning as “horrifying” and said the NHS was performing “medical experiments on children”.

The only other participants in this “debate” were Stonewall and Fair Play For Women. No groups with a specific focus on trans rights were involved.

Vice also reported that Alasdair Henderson, another EHRC commissioner, was also the lawyer that represented Keira Bell in her case to stop young trans people in the UK from accessing life-saving puberty blockers.

While the case was luckily overturned last year, it left trans youth without gender-affirming medical care for almost a year.

If the idea of someone like Henderson holding the country to account on equalities wasn’t concerning enough, documents also revealed that he initiated the EHRC’s support of Maya Forstater in her case to have her “gender critical” views protected as philosophical belief.

Documents show that on at least two occasions Henderson’s “conflict of interest” was noted by the EHRC when discussing trans rights, however he was still approved to participate in the discussions.

A spokesperson for the EHRC told Vice: “We exist to protect, enforce and promote equality and human rights laws for everyone, including trans people… We are an independent statutory body with a specific responsibility to ensure equality across the nine ‘protected’ characteristics of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and belief, sex and sexual orientation.

“Sometimes this means balancing rights, and we understand that this issue in particular evokes strong views.

“As we have said, the current polarised debate is causing much harm and distress to people on all sides. Everyone’s concerns should be discussed and addressed carefully, openly and with respect, to avoid further damage and division.”

The EHRC commissioners have been chosen to do Liz Truss’s ‘bidding’, its ex-chair has said

Minister for women and equalities Liz Truss’s attitude towards appointing EHRC commissioners has cast doubt on the independence of the commission.

Truss also appointed various other commissioners to the EHRC, and she said in a speech at the time that they were “ready to challenge dangerous groupthink” in an effort to “drive [her] agenda forward”

Falkner’s predecessor, David Isaac, said last month in an interview with The Guardian: “She says, ‘I’ve appointed a new chair and these new commissioners’, and she doesn’t say ‘they’re going to do my bidding’, but it’s pretty implicit in what she’s saying that they are people who are supportive of her approach to equalities, which is a focus on white working-class people and the north of England and the levelling up agenda.

“My view is that an independent regulator shouldn’t be in a position where the governments of the day can actually influence the appointments of that body to support a particular ideology.”

The EHRC has face huge backlash for its stance on two LGBT+ rights issues in the last week alone.

Last week, despite the Scottish government already conducting two consultations on its plan for Gender Recognition Act reform, EHRC chair Kishwer Falkner told Scotland’s social justice secretary Shona Robison that “more detailed consideration is needed” before the reform goes ahead.

Falkner insisted: “Concerns centre on the potential consequences for individuals and society of extending the ability to change legal sex from a small defined group, who have demonstrated their commitment and ability to live in their acquired gender, to a wider group who identify as the opposite gender at a given point.”

Stonewall described her remarks as “deeply troubling”, but in the same week, the EHRC was accused of launching yet another “attack on trans equality”. 

In a written response to plans from the Government Equalities Office, led by Truss, to ban conversion therapy, the EHRC said there was a “lack of evidence” that trans people were being subjected to the barbaric practice.

It suggested that a conversion therapy ban should go ahead without protecting trans people, and added: “We consider that these matters require further careful and detailed consideration before legislative proposals are finalised and the implications of them can be fully understood.”