The story of the LGB Alliance should concern us all
- First published in : Visit Website
- First published on: 07th Jul 2023
IN October 2019, two women organised a meeting to set up a new gay rights organisation. One was a former Stonewall fundraiser; the other had been a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front in the 1970s. Their names are Kate Harris and Bev Jackson and I am proud to call them my friends. Their intention was that their organisation would campaign for the rights of those who are same-sex attracted.
Those rights are protected under the Equality Act and the Human Rights Act. They are freestanding and not conditional on accepting the belief that gender identity should supplant biological sex. The rights of those who believe in the immutability of sex are protected under the protected characteristic of religion or belief. Equally, the rights of trans people are protected under the protected characteristic of gender re-assignment. There is no hierarchy of rights. Equality and human rights are universal. Both Kate and Bev had become very disillusioned with Stonewall and other organisations originally set up to campaign for gay rights. They were concerned that these organisations had become almost wholly focused on trans rights and would only give voice to gay people who accepted gender identity was more important than sex, and that this was fuelling a new homophobia. They had tried on many occasions to have a dialogue with Stonewall etc about their concerns but they had been rebuffed. So, they set up a new organisation called LGB Alliance.
Today, I am going to devote my column to telling the story of LGB Alliance. Even if, like me, you are sick of identity politics please read on because this is a cautionary tale of what can happen when there is a concerted attack on the freedom of expression and those with the power to stop it fail to speak out and, worse, participate. It could happen to a cause dear to your heart, maybe our shared endeavour of independence for Scotland, so this is a story which should concern us all.
Within 12 hours of its launch, LGB Alliance was branded a hate group by a gender identity campaigner who tweeted: “LGB Alliance is a hate group – pass it on”. This happened before LGB Alliance had made a single public statement and was followed by a flurry of slogans such as: “No LGB without the T”. The implication was clear – all LGB people must campaign for gender identity and think alike, that there are the right sort of gays and the wrong sort of gays – a horrible echo of the past. Some politicians abused parliamentary privilege to make defamatory attacks on LGB Alliance. Many media outlets carried misleading stories about it and refused it a right of reply. Campaigners tried to prevent the organisation from finding space to hold its annual conference. At its first conference, delegates had to cross a picket line of protesters including a straight married MP protesting the right of lesbians to meet and talk about their rights. Again, it felt like going back in time.
Despite daily attacks on its honesty and integrity, LGB Alliance has grown fast. Thoughtful LGB people around the world welcomed it and many said how excluded they felt from the new “LGBTQIA+ community”, where people whose sexual orientation is exclusively towards the same sex have been derided as “genital fetishists” or compared to racists and antisemites. The abuse was hard for Kate and Bev and their many supporters to endure, particularly as so many of them had fought decades ago for the rights now enjoyed by some of their attackers who were themselves safely in the closet at the time. Also, the constant fight to defend themselves from attack undermined their ability to pursue their wider objective of furthering the case of LGB rights and combating homophobia.
Allison Bailey, a lesbian barrister who tweeted about the new organisation, found herself the victim of a campaign to take away her livelihood and had to take her Chambers to an employment tribunal. The Arts Council of England withdrew a grant to LGB Alliance to make a film about gay life in Britain during the Queen’s reign and its employees harassed a colleague, Denise Fahmy, who called out the underlying homophobia. Both Allison and Denise won their tribunal claims for discrimination. Yesterday, in another court case, the LGB Alliance had another significant victory when it successfully defended itself against an attempt to have its charitable status removed.
In 2021, the Charity Commission accepted LGB Alliance’s application to register as a charity. A virulent campaign to overturn its decision culminated in legal action to have LGB Alliance struck off the register. The case was brought by Mermaids and the Good Law Project. Mermaids is a charity which was set up to support children and young people questioning their gender identity. It fails to countenance the possibility that not everyone who questions their gender identity is trans – and that there could be other reasons for doing so, for example, sexual orientation. It says those of us who do question this are transphobic. We fear that if not actually homophobic, it is encouraging homophobia. A Charity Commission inquiry into Mermaids was launched last year after concerns were identified about its governance and management.
Mermaids’s legal action meant that as the only charity in the UK that stands exclusively for the rights of LGB people, LGB Alliance had to defend its charitable status at a costly six-day tribunal. While the tribunal’s judgment turned on the narrow issue of whether the law gave Mermaids the right to challenge LGB Alliance’s registration as a charity, it held it didn’t. In political terms, this is a major campaigning win for LGB Alliance.
It has, however, come at a considerable cost. While Mermaids is a wealthy charity, LGB Alliance has had to rely on small donations from ordinary LGB men and women to fund its case. Its legal fees amount to more than £250,000 – money that would have been better spent on projects such as its helpline for young people, its LGB Archive and its Friends Network. The litigation was also very stressful. Kate broke down in tears under cross-examination about the right of lesbians to be same-sex attracted. On the upside, the case provided a welcome opportunity to talk about the LGB Alliance’s work in a public forum. Media bids flooded in yesterday and the decision is another nail in the coffin of the era of “no debate”.
It is to be hoped the Alliance will now enjoy fairer and more balanced coverage. Perhaps it will also mean opponents such as Mermaids will actually have to engage with the arguments. Although – predictably – a witness in the case and a campaigning lawyer from the Good Law Project took to Twitter yesterday to misrepresent the tribunal’s decision.
They would do well to pay attention to what the tribunal said, when it quoted the widely respected jurist Lord Bingham: “The fundamental rationale of the democratic process upon which our society is founded is that when competing views, opinions and policies are publicly debated and exposed to public scrutiny, the good will over time drive out the bad and the true will prevail over the false. Only when differing views are expressed, contradicted, answered and debated will the legislature be able to obtain the fullest picture of the views held by those they represent.”
We have heard a lot about toxicity in politics this week. On Monday I am due in court, again, to give evidence in a criminal trial about frightening threats made against me. This has become a regular occurrence because of my activism for women’s and lesbian rights and my support for the LGB Alliance. I am glad that the police in Scotland take these threats seriously. Two MPs have been murdered in recent years. To all who complain of toxicity in our politics, I say disagreement and debate is not toxic – abuse and threats are. It should not be hard to tell the difference. The toxicity in our politics will only stop when those who have the privileged platform afforded to them as parliamentarians show leadership and engage with the issues of the day respectfully rather than participating in or condoning the demonisation, intimidation and abuse of those with whom they disagree.