Are Norwich Quakers transphobic?

Norwich Quakers allowed their meeting house to be used by a hate group which foments fear against trans women. Will they apologise and pledge not to condone work against trans rights?

The hate group, calling itself “Women’s Place UK”, has published videos of the meeting, which may be seen on YouTube. They are a tissue of lies, half truths and exaggerations, which Norwich Quakers should take time to assess.

The first video is by Kiri Tunks. To someone completely ignorant of the situation, she sounds mostly measured and reasonable. At the end, she calls for dialogue, and a pragmatic solution that works for everybody. She has five demands which on the bare text of them I would support, except that they bear no relationship to her cause:

  • Women have the right to self organise
  • The law must work for women
  • An end to violence against women
  • Nothing about us without us
  • Sex is not the same as gender.

Unfortunately her reasonable words cloak unreasonable demands, hinted at in her rabble rousing speech.

She starts by thanking Quakers and praising Elizabeth Fry, and her prison work. The prison case Tunks’ group cites is Karen White, an appalling case; but meanwhile scores of trans women are held in men’s prisons, often in Vulnerable Prisoner units because of the risk of violence they face.

She then refers to the assault on Maria McLachlan. Her group has gained a great deal of mileage from this assault, which the judge said might not even have been prosecuted but for the context.

“Any law not properly consulted on is bad law,” she says. She appears to be referring to the enquiry of the Women and Equalities Committee of the House of Commons, chaired by a woman, to which Women’s Aid gave evidence. Yet she says “the enquiry did not include women”. She is using the word “women” to mean only women with her trans exclusionary views.

The enquiry recommended some increase in trans rights, but the government has not responded positively. A year after, Theresa May announced a consultation on gender recognition reform, but that consultation was not published for a year after that and the government has not yet responded to the consultation. The Scottish government has announced they will postpone any action on their separate consultation.

The government response said, “we believe that existing international and domestic legislation provides adequate protection for transgender people, and that those mechanisms already in place for ensuring effective implementation are adequate.”

In other words no change to Equalities law is necessary.

They pledged,

ď‚· A review of the Gender Recognition Act to tackle unnecessary bureaucracy and to assess the need for medical checks contained within the 2004 Act;
ď‚· Conducting a cross-government review on removing unnecessary requests for gender information, including in official documents;
ď‚· Improving the way people are supported by gender identity services through new training of NHS staff;
ď‚· Tackling harassment and bullying in higher education by working with universities;
 Assessing how to measure the size of the UK’s transgender population so that policy can be more evidence-based and we can track the impact of our work;
ď‚· Measuring and monitoring public attitudes towards transgender people.

So only Gender Recognition reform was ever on the table.

Gender Recognition reform is not widely understood. A year after WPUK started their campaign, one of their regular speakers texted me to ask,

“Quick question to you. no one seems to be able to know the answer With current GRC one can have birth certificate changed? I think this is the case? If so, Is it possible to have changed birth certificate without a GRC? ( I am only asking questions about things as they currently stand)”

The answer is that a GRC means almost nothing. I got a passport and driving licence indicating that I am female before the Gender Recognition Act was passed. My right to enter women’s spaces depends on the Equality Act 2010, and that specifies that I can be excluded if it is reasonable. Possibly, WPUK have ceased to emphasise gender recognition and turned their fire on the Parliamentary report because they realise the reform proposed has only symbolic and no practical effect. However the Government refused to carry out the law reform the committee recommended.

I can still be excluded. So Tunks’ claim of the “removal of sex based rights” is a lie. My friend’s GRC got her her state retirement pension early, when women could claim it earlier than men, but all mine has got me is an extract birth certificate no one else has seen. Originally it affected marriage- it meant in 2005 that I could marry a man, though not in church, but after marriage reform that no longer makes a difference.

Tunks is fear-mongering. The only change which even reached the consultation stage was GRA reform, on which no proposals are likely two years after the consultation was announced. Yet she uses an obscure report on which the Government will not act to foment fear and anger against trans women.

When Tunks complains of the “removal of sex based rights” she is lying. I can still be excluded from women’s spaces, where I have been on suffrance since 2001, harmlessly. She complains of changes in such strong terms, when no changes are happening.

Tunks goes on to complain about widespread hostility to her hate group. She mentions Leeds city council cancelling their meeting, which Leeds did in pursuance of their Public Equality duty, to further the aims of the Equality Act. She mentions a few publications which have opposed her group, such as Red Pepper, but acknowledges that the Times, Spectator and the tabloids enthusiastically support her position. She complains that the Guardian does not, and indeed the Guardian has published some articles in favour of trans rights, but also the most transphobic article I have seen, comparing us to a murderer.

She tells falsehoods to spread hate and fear. This is not an organization you should tolerate in a Quaker meeting house.

In a long rambling speech Linda Bellos, previously my feminist hero and exemplar, makes a number of false allegations. She claims she will uphold rights of gender reassignment under the Equality Act, but then suggests the law may be changed. There is only the slightest possibility of a law change as I have explained, but she does not acknowledge that. Perhaps she does not understand the position.

She makes specific allegations about lesbians. “Lesbians have been taken out of LGBT.” “The government was minded to make amendments to law detrimental to lesbian well being.” “LGBT has dropped the L.” This is not what Diva magazine says, nor Ruth Hunt, chief executive of Stonewall.

“I will fight,” says Bellos. “I am treated like a n—er.” What can I say? Many lesbians and lesbian organizations support trans rights. There will be no change to the law affecting women’s rights, and I can be excluded at any time from the women’s spaces I have entered harmlessly on suffrance since 2001. Yet these people foment fear of me and people like me in a Quaker meeting house. I hope the meeting will apologise and undertake to spread the truth of the matter.

In June the meeting stated on Facebook, “we acknowledge that the proposed change to the Gender Recognition Act is both important and divisive,” which suggests they do not understand the legal position. WPUK appear to recognise it is not, which is why they have dug up the earlier report.

So, are Norwich Quakers transphobic? Possibly some are; but the meeting has condoned a hate-filled anti-trans propaganda session on their premises. Their ignorance is no excuse: many Quakers can inform them of the nature of that group, and Brighton Quakers apologised a year ago for considering letting a room to them. When I went to Norwich Quaker meeting house to explain my experiences, this is what I said.

This month Norwich Quakers published this image. I wish they would live up to it. 9 March 2020: Unfortunately, they have published a screed about their experience of hosting WPUK, which is epically transphobic.

7 thoughts on “Are Norwich Quakers transphobic?

  1. I read this with the honest but overworked concern that I imagine is common in the current febrile political climate. I just don’t have the level of knowledge to make the judgements that I’m being requested to make. I realise this may sound like a cop out but I wanted to convey my hope that I will be able to learn to support in finding points of agreements between friends.

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  2. This item is inaccurate. Quakers have a testimony to truth, and some LGBTI people have made many innaccurate claims about these matters. Brighton Quakers will not have apologised for letting a room to WPUK, but they will have expressed regret for any pain arising from such a letting. Norwich Quakers did NOT “Invite” or “Host” WPUK as LGBTI people have claimed, and we did not, as a community, discuss the WPUK letting in advance. So even if you think it was immoral or an error, the decision to allow the letting was made by just 4 Norwich Quakers, of which I am one. Some trans activists do not help their cause when they distort the truth, and misuse language. Phobia is a fear, not a hatred, and Critique is not the same as Criticism. Attempts to characterise people as hateful are unhelpful.
    The government has failed miserably to provide proper info on proiposed changes to the GRA, and most people – not even most trans people – don’t know the details of these proposed changes. The current government is using the language of division and of fascism to divide people. Whether you agree on changes to the GRA or not, separating people into opposing camps is not the answer. It is very difficult to know what the right balance is between the rights of people whose interests are not the same. Gender Identity is not so simple that it can be just divided by 2.

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    • Here is the Brighton statement:

      “Brighton Quakers were asked to hire out one of its rooms to a campaign group set up to ensure that women’s voices are heard in the debate around proposals to change the Gender Recognition Act.

      Having considered the issue further and having consulted with other interested parties we have decided to cancel the booking. We have not come to that decision lightly.

      The meeting which was to have taken place in our building was advertised as including spoken contributions from people active in the area of natal women’s rights who have expressed concern about the implications of the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act. The meeting was to have been open to anyone who had bought a valid ticket via an internet booking site. As such, the attendance was not limited to members of the campaign group and we believe it likely that many tickets have been bought by people, including Trans women, strongly opposed to the views being expressed by the event’s organisers.

      Similar events have been run in other parts of the country and have resulted in acrimony and discord. The organisers of the meeting planned to be held in Brighton were made aware that they would need the services of a private security company to maintain public order. We are also mindful that Brighton Trans Pride is being held in the same week (including events taking place close to Brighton Quakers’ premises on the same evening) as well as the annual Trans, Non-binary and Intersex Conference is due to be held at Brighton University on July 19/20.

      We are extremely uneasy that our decision may result in the suppression of free speech and in particular suppression of natal women’s voices. However, we do not believe that a meeting of this kind (open to all with a purchased ticket but focused on one particular viewpoint) will enhance the wider debate or a mutual understanding of the very strongly held concerns of different parties. We think it more likely to aggravate the situation.

      Instead we intend to work with local groups and agencies to set up one or more meetings at which the differing views and concerns can be addressed with the help of people skilled in mediation. If it is appropriate to all concerned we would be happy to offer our Meeting House as a venue for these fora. We will ensure that all voices are heard in a safe, respectful and thoughtful atmosphere. We believe this approach reflects our Quaker commitment “to respect that of God in everyone though it may be expressed in unfamiliar ways or be difficult to discern”. It will also align with our historic commitment to work for peace.”

      So no, it is not an apology, but an acknowledgment that it would have been wrong to have the meeting in the Meeting house.

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  3. I don’t accept your interpretation Clare. Brighton Quakers appear to have made their decision to avoid a meeting which may have included angry exchanges, especially considering trans and non-binary events happening around the same date.
    We decided to allow WPUK to let a room, and there were objections by local trans activists.
    We tried later to host a reasoned debate on the GRA, but this proved impossible. Instead we scheduled 2 listening meetings so that those in favour of/against GRA changes may be heard separately, in private, by Norwich Quakers.

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    • Rereading, I think you are right. I had been overly kind to Brighton Quakers in my interpretation. They seem to be blaming trans people standing up for our rights, rather than the mendacious and hate-mongering propagandists of WPUK, for the confrontation.

      So, alas, do you. A reasoned debate is not possible with these people when they advocate taking away my Equality Act rights. You seem to treat them as reasonable people, rather than propagandists. Have you read my post? Did you not see the fear-mongering?

      And now the hate comes from the government.

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