Transphobic Quakers

Norwich Quaker Meeting do not intend to be transphobic. Apparently, they imagine they are not; but because they do not understand their  implicit biases their arrogance, ignorance and thoughtlessness produces transphobic results.

They don’t mean to be transphobic, and that is not good enough. Here is their account of their blundering encounter with transphobia. This is my interpretation of it.

They had a room booking from Women’s Place UK in January 2019. The booking said that “similar meetings had been targeted by activists, and organisers personally attacked”- it played the victim. Quakers like to be kind to oppressed people. It makes them feel good. They do not understand the reversing tactic, whereby victims are portrayed as oppressors.

“Our clerk looked at the WPUK website and found nothing that was at odds with Quaker values.” Well, their clerk did not understand and should have asked someone. Their website is more clearly transphobic now, though they try to cover it up, but at the time it at least had the demand “The principle of woman only spaces to be upheld and, where necessary, extended”. They mean, no trans women. They want to kick us out of the spaces where we have been, harmlessly, for years. If you look at their website as it was in January 2019 (Wayback machine) you will see a lot of obfuscation, but from their online speeches, you can see they were preaching that all trans women are dangerous.

When the venue was published, a Quaker warned that WPUK was transphobic and the meeting should not go ahead. They ignored the warning. They thought WPUK intended “legitimate discussion”. In the event, WPUK speakers spouted transphobic claptrap, intended to foment fear and hatred. However, though there were Quakers there, this seemed to have gone over their heads.

At the meeting, Quakers, arrogantly, wanted to make a statement. “We do not believe it right that intimidation should be allowed to silence discussion.” This accepts WPUK lies as truthful. It’s not intimidation, it is whatever people can do to stop hatred being spread. It’s not “discussion”, it is transphobic falsehood. They accept that there was no intimidation, just “a peaceful picket of eight or ten women”.

They don’t understand their own testimonies. “The testimony to equality reminds us that each person is of equal value, and has an equal right to a voice, and to be heard.” Well, no. The testimony to equality should mean working to achieve equality, which means acknowledging the structural barriers and implicit biases which prevent it. They don’t even see that hate speech suppresses free speech- WPUK hate reduces trans people’s ability to be heard.

“Then, just as the first speaker was about to begin, the fire alarm went off and many of the building’s lights went out. A Friend quickly restored quiet and light.” Well, objectors achieved something. I note, wearily, the claim of efficiency and good order. I can believe that Quakers would be unable to turn off their own fire alarm, but in this instance they managed it.

Only after the meeting, and further protests, did they bother to consult the central offices of Quakers in Britain, Friends House. Staff there drew their attention to the Young Friends General Meeting statement, which calls out transphobia and supports trans people. They could have left it there. They had been stupid, and allowed a transphobic meeting to go ahead in their premises. They could have just apologised. But instead, despite hearing from a Quaker who understood, they issued a statement: “We acknowledge that the proposed change to the Gender Recognition Act is both important and divisive”. Well, no. It is a minor technical matter of interest only to trans people, which those who glory in their transphobia are using to foment fear and hatred, particularly of trans women.

They said, “We are sorry that some members of the local LGBT+ community were hurt”. That misunderstands. All members of the LGBT+ community were hurt. That’s what happens when you spread hate: all the victims are hurt, even if they are unaware of your actions. The statement makes it appear as hurt feelings. No, it is hurt interests.

Their summary continues, “We understood that transphobia is a real… threat to transgender people”. That misunderstands. Transphobia is a threat to everyone, just as racism is. It reinforces gender stereotypes and kyriarchy. The testimony to equality requires that implicit biases towards transphobia be expunged. And, what could their next word be, except “But”? “But we also realised that there are genuine causes for concern among some natal women”. Even now they are echoing the transphobic lies.

The Equality Act governs access to women’s spaces. The Equality Act will not be affected. A Gender Recognition Certificate is entirely symbolic. Do the reading!

They considered doing some reconciliation work, but they thought trans people would be unwilling to listen to “individuals with different perspectives”. They decided to invite trans people to talk about our experiences. This is problematic. They are shocked at the angry responses which they say “showed a distorted interpretation of our invitation and revealed a marked unwillingness to speak to us”. They quote some, I think to gain sympathy, though I sympathise with the person who wrote, “Who the FUCK do they think they are to judge on this matter?” Some trans people nevertheless went- I was one of them. The trans people who spoke showed concern about the straights’ feelings and beliefs, and gave a rounded view of the issues, rather than a partisan one- for example, “Gender is not the same as sex. People should not be identified by their organs, but women menstruate and give birth. Quite a number of people have transitioned back, so we must be careful about taking absolutist positions.” A trans woman said some mollifying things, from which they conclude that they are entirely in the right: “This response to the actual meeting expressed a very different perception of the nature of the meeting from the prospective responses of the other protesters”. Now, I wish I had not gone.

Then, unfortunately, they met with Debbie Hayton. Hayton, a trans woman, speaks up for WPUK for some reason, thereby giving some camouflage to WPUK transphobia. Ben Carson is in Donald Trump’s cabinet, and they would not doubt that Trump is a racist (at least, I hope they wouldn’t), but being ignorant they take Hayton at face value.

They then quote over 2000 words of transphobic twaddle, without qualification: trans women are a threat to other women, doctors at the gender clinic are a threat to children, the usual boring rubbish. This is on their website. As a Quaker I am ashamed that they would publish this stuff.

They then give a list of “Lessons for Friends and Others”. I despair. They include the line “predatory and controlling men are a real threat to the safety of women”. Well, if they did not know that beforehand, I don’t know what planet they’ve been living on. However, it is quite irrelevant to issues of gender recognition reform.

Their final paragraph shows their self-righteousness and invincible ignorance. Here they are, the wise ones, platitudinously sharing what they have learned with the world. “Nobody benefits from the perpetuation of conflict. There is much more work to be done to take the hostility out of this sensitive and contentious area, to enable common ground to be explored, and to promote understanding of all perspectives.”

Are Quakers transphobic? Some are proudly and aggressively so, speaking at WPUK meetings, campaigning against trans rights, and claiming victimhood. Some aren’t: do read that Young Friends statement. And most just don’t know or care enough, so perpetuate the societal transphobia which drives trans people so often to misery, joblessness and suicide. These Quakers’ ignorance is no excuse. Any trans person wondering about attending a Quaker meeting would be well advised to check it out thoroughly beforehand.

2 thoughts on “Transphobic Quakers

  1. Clare – I share your anger and concern. A Trans-exclusionary group met at our Meeting House, the booking officer only saw “feminist” and assumed all was well. This caused a lot of disquiet in the Meeting. I fear that Quakers try to be too nice and seek to be welcoming to everyone, even haters. Perhaps we should get Quaker House to publish a pamphlet on transphobia to help educate the whole of Britain Yearly Meeting. I do hope that any future revision of Quaker Faith & Practice will include the Young Friends statement on transphobia.


    • Welcome, Rob. Thank you for commenting. I see you also commented on facebook.

      On facebook, I note that group is an American group where the range of religious belief and practice and how that affects political belief- there are US Quaker meetings who believe gay=bad because the Bible says so- is much greater than in the UK. So possibly their rule on “discussion” is reasonable- no multiple posting in a thread, no political posts.

      I don’t know when Quaker Life will respond to its consultation on trans, but its initial document claimed the excluders needed a hearing.


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