UK equality watchdog insists it ‘promotes rights of trans people’ amid bullying investigation

An edited split image of EHRC CEO Marcial Boo and Commission chair Kishwer Falkner.

EHRC’s CEO has said he is “disappointed” in media coverage of an independent investigation into bullying allegations made against Commission chair Kishwer Falkner.

Chief executive Marcial Boo said on Tuesday (23 May) that the controversial human rights body has a “duty to deal with complaints in confidence” after Channel 4 published leaks revealed an investigation into a wave of “governance concerns” is taking place.

Several of the complaints accuse EHRC chair Falkner of transphobia, discrimination, bullying, and harassment.

One alleges Falkner described trans quiz show contestant Emma Laslett as a “bloke in lipstick” during an EHRC board meeting, a claim was denied by Boo.

“Staff welfare is of paramount importance to us,” he said in a statement. “Our recent staff survey confirmed that the EHRC is a positive and supportive workplace.

“We are also required to protect the integrity of internal investigations. We urge all media to avoid prejudicing the outcome.”

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Boo also addressed reports that staff turnover is incredibly high in the EHRC, with Channel 4 claiming one in four staff left in 2022.

He said it would be “inappropriate” to comment on “individual staffing matters,” but added that staff have left for multiple reasons.

“The departure of staff at all levels is driven by a number of factors, including opportunities for career progression elsewhere, retirements and secondments coming to an end.

“We are very grateful to all those who have contributed to the important work of the EHRC.”

Turnover among LGBTQ+ staff was considerably higher according to leaked figures, several of which have been attributed to a “toxic culture” that allegedly demonises the trans community.

A screenshot of EHRC Chair Kishwer Falkner during a video call.
EHRC Chair Kishwer Falkner. (Twitter)

Responding to the allegations, Boo said that the EHRC’s turnover is “in line with the average across the public sector and is improving.”

“We continue to work with our Staff Forum, Trade Unions and Employee Networks – including LGBTQ+ staff – to address issues as they arise,” he added.

“This work is properly led by the chief executive and executive leadership and is fully supported by the Board.”

Animosity towards the EHRC chair is said to have risen after she signalled the position that the Conservatives could redefine the term ‘sex’ in the 2010 Equality Act to mean ‘biological sex.’

In a letter responding to a request for advice by equalities minister Kemi Badenoch, Falkner said that the redefinition could result in “greater legal clarity” and would “exclude trans women from women’s sports.”

Since then, several senior officials have stepped down from the Commission after accusing it of becoming “more and more transphobic.”

‘We have repeatedly championed the rights of trans people’

Boo said in the statement that the Commission was designed to “protect everyone’s rights in Britain” and that he believes it includes the “rights of trans people” despite pushback.

“We have the power to take action against anyone who discriminates against trans people. We have done so.

“We also take action to promote the rights of trans people. This includes fair access to healthcare and gender reassignment services. We have repeatedly championed the rights of trans people to the Department of Health and Social Care.”

The growing condemnation by activists of the anti-trans statements made by the EHRC in the past has also brought with it accusations that the Commission is losing its independence.

Channel 4’s report noted that “governance concerns” included a “lack of trust in the impartiality and independence of our Board.”

Staff complaints also claimed that the EHRC has been “several politically compromised at the very top of the organisation.”

Boo reiterated in his response that the decisions at a senior level “are, and always have been, made independently of any government.”

“We take all decisions impartially, based on evidence and the law, both in the UK and internationally,” he continued. “Our independence is guaranteed in statute.

“We regularly receive letters from government ministers on matters relating to equality and human rights. We consider each carefully and respond as appropriate, as we do for all our stakeholders.”