Skip to main content

When I wrote about discrimination, I didn’t expect to be next

  • First published in : Visit Website
  • First published on: 05th May 2023

When last week I wrote about the discrimination against gender critical women in public life I had no idea that I was about to join their ranks. For all the column inches, tweets and vox pops expended this week what has happened to me is really quite simple. In January of this year after an approach from my colleague and friend Tommy Sheppard MP, the Stand Comedy Club invited me to appear as one of their guests in a series of ‘In Conversation’ events at this year’s fringe. I said yes.

There was no financial gain in it for me, but I thought it might be fun. What was envisaged was a wide-ranging chat about my career in politics. I did a similar event with Matt Forde at last year’s Fringe, and it was a sell-out. I enjoyed it, the audience seemed to do so as well and there was no problem. So, to be clear, the event is not about trans rights, it is not my event, it’s the Stand’s event and I agreed to do it at their invitation albeit through an intermediary.  

Now they have cancelled it because some of their staff don’t feel “comfortable” working with me because of my views about Self-ID and are refusing to work at an event at which I am platformed. I understand they think I am transphobic. They are wrong about that. I support equal rights for trans people as afforded under the Equality Act’s widely drawn protected characteristic of gender reassignment. However, I don’t support the notion that any man should be able to self-identify as a woman and certainly not without any safeguards. Although some people claim that it is “best practice’ there is no legal basis for saying that self-identification is a human right. Indeed, the current system of Gender Recognition that applies across the UK and the safeguards it contains have been held to be compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights. The European Court on Human Rights has said that where somebody wishes to change their legal identity ‘stringent’ procedures aimed at identifying the underlying motivation are justified. So, my beliefs are grounded in international human rights law.

As a Gender critical lesbian feminist, I believe that sex is immutable, a biological fact and not the same thing as gender, which is a social construct. I do not believe that a man can become a woman simply because he says he so and I don’t think lesbians have penises. That those beliefs are worthy of respect and protected under the Equality Act protected characteristic of ‘religion or belief” is a matter of law, settled now in a number of cases thanks to a woman called Maya Forstater who took the test case.

To discriminate against someone including refusing them a service on the basis that they hold these beliefs is unlawful just as it would be if the staff at the Stand refused to work at an event platforming someone who was Catholic, disabled or from an ethnic minority.  Also, as well as being wrong, it is very damaging to my reputation and to my personal safety to allege that my beliefs are transphobic. I know that to my cost because wrongful allegations of transphobia against me have led to both rape and death threats. Public misrepresentation of my position has consequences for me and those close to me.

Anti-discrimination law is quite clear that companies such as the Stand cannot hide behind the discriminatory views of their staff in order to avoid a claim of discrimination. Otherwise, someone who owns a bar could say, for example, that they would love to welcome black customers into their pub but cannot do so because their staff would not serve them.  

It is amazing how many people, particularly how many politicians and at least one trade union do not seem to understand this. It is also surprising how many people including politicians think that the right to free speech stops as soon as someone is offended by a view with which they disagree. And it is astonishing how many people fall back on the argument that because I get to air my views elsewhere such as in the pages of this newspaper or on the radio or in a podcast, its ok for the Stand to no-platform me. I wonder if the same people would say to a Catholic who got refused a pint in a pub on account of their faith, oh cheer up I am sure another pub will serve you? It is really very, very silly.

Last year when the committee I chair at Westminster was looking at the issue of Human Rights reform and recommending resisting Tory attempts to roll back human rights protections, we also recommended that there should be better civic education on human rights law to ensure people understood that human rights are universal. I am starting to think the same recommendation should be made in respect of Equality Law because it is alarming to hear that a Cabinet Secretary such as Lorna Slater is so ignorant about both the extent of the protections under the rights to freedom of speech and freedom of belief and the extent of the protections afforded by anti-discrimination law.

Unfortunately, her ignorance of the law seems widespread and already the Stand’s actions are having a knock-on effect and emboldening bullies such as the ironically named “Cabaret Against Hate” who are now campaigning to get another Edinburgh venue to cancel an event featuring female poets who hold the same views as me.

For all these reasons, but particularly to protect other women who don’t have the same voice as me, it is important that I as a public figure take a stand against this sort of discrimination.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has written to me. I have been quite overwhelmed by the number of messages of support. Someone asked me what the ratio was between messages of support for my stance and messages supporting the Stand and I can tell you it is about 99:1. I am also very grateful to SNP colleagues and other politicians who have spoken up in my support and for the pastoral support I have received from the leader of the SNP Westminster Group and the Chief Whip.

The anonymous operator of the Cabaret against Hate twitter account wondered how I am managing to get my other work done this week. I was happy to reassure him, for I am pretty sure it is a he, that I am used to working long hours and like most women I am reasonably good at multi-tasking. This week I have been primarily focused on preparations, including the presentation of a parliamentary petition, for my meeting with the PM to put pressure on him to make sure the UK offers safe sanctuary to female judges and prosecutors left behind in Afghanistan who are now in mortal danger from the Taliban. This took place on Wednesday. It was a good meeting, and I am hopeful he will act. I also found time to host an event at Westminster about health and safety in the workplace on behalf of the Association for Project Safety who are based in my constituency, to meet with the UN Special Rapporteur on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity who is currently visiting the UK and to chair a lengthy meeting of the Joint Committee on Human Rights as well as overseeing my constituency staff team’s work on constituency casework. So, life goes on.

Many readers of this newspaper and fellow Yessers have been very supportive. I look forward to meeting with some of you at the Independence March in Glasgow tomorrow. We are marching in support of the sovereignty of the Scottish people and for a better Scotland. That will mean a more tolerant Scotland where yes, we can disagree, but respectfully. I would hope that is what most of us want.