Sonia Sodha

Sonia Sodha of the Guardian understands online radicalisation and obsession. Why does she not see her own?

She had a rare sensible article in The Guardian on Sunday 6 February. She said that people talking nonsense double down when corrected. Myth-busting backfires because it reinforces myths. Tribal arguments where rhetorical flourish scores points does not produce understanding. Expressing reasonable-sounding doubts can persuade people of falsehood, where extremist ranting and raving fails. Mocking the extremists makes less extreme doubters feel mocked and sneered at. It is not true to imagine that there are people persuaded on both sides, and a persuadable group in the middle: people might appear to be on one side or the other depending on how a debate is framed. Social media platforms make money out of hardening our views by making us angry, so good rational argument will not always win.

On 7 November 2021 she argued that social media narcissists for social justice might make less right-on users feel guilty, rather than build alliances. So we move to extremism, only listening to those closest to us in view. The morally certain dehumanise those they disagree with.

All these are good points. I agree. So why does she not realise she is entrapped by the extremism she skewers here? Sodha is a militant anti-trans campaigner, insulated from rational argument by the same forces she explained.

On 2 January, she wrote an article supporting the chair of Laurence Fox’s “Reclaim Party”. The Macpherson report recommended investigation of “non-crime hate incidents” as a way of overcoming institutional racism, but Sodha objects because she opposes overcoming institutional transphobia. She claims single-sex spaces and sports, the “reasonable-sounding doubts” the anti-transers obsess over, could be “wholly replaced by gender identity”. She then repeats other extremists’ claims of martyrdom, already repeated endlessly.

On 6 June 2021 she used domestic violence statistics- one in three women experience domestic violence, a woman is killed by her partner or ex-partner every four days, seven in ten women are sexually harassed in public spaces- to demand trans women were excluded from women’s services. Trans women are victims too, and excluding trans women will not protect from violent men. Just as, the effects of covid are far more damaging than any side-effects of vaccines. But Sodha is blind to her own extremism, and all the arguments she makes for listening, explaining carefully, and about the risks of echo-chambers are forgotten.

Sodha alleges Stonewall campaigns “to abolish legal provisions for single-sex spaces”. She puts her argument in the most extreme form imaginable. Of course Stonewall do not campaign to abolish single-sex spaces, only to tolerate and accept trans women, a tiny minority. Sodha claims accepting trans women means believing womanhood is “solely based on a feeling”. That trivialises trans people’s experience, and ignores that in a trans-inclusive society the overwhelming majority of women are cis.

The EHRC is a transphobic front organisation for the Conservative Party after politicised appointments to its board. It now downplays racism in the UK. But Sodha’s fingerprints are on this Observer editorial of 30 January. As Nicola Sturgeon says, gender recognition reform does not affect single-sex spaces, but the editorial echoes uncritically the EHRC claim that it does, and even claims the new leadership of the EHRC has made it fair and impartial.

Even the New Statesman has published an article on how the single-minded obsession of the anti-trans campaigners makes them ignore any other feminist issue. It quotes some of the abuse a trans-inclusive feminist suffers. Anti-trans campaigners memorise arcane details about trans women in women’s prisons, many of them inaccurate, but ignore the problems of women prisoners completely. Meanwhile Sodha is aware of the dangers of all internet extremism except her own.

6 March: Sodha disfigured a derivative but otherwise unobjectionable article about male violence against women by referring to “single-sex” prisons, hospital wards and domestic violence shelters (which do not exclude sons). She will take any chance for a sly sideswipe against trans women.

29 May: Sodha wrote an article on Allison Bailey’s vile tweet attacking Stonewall and its employee Morgan Page as coaching trans women (“heterosexual males who identify as lesbians”) to “coerce” lesbians into sex. Morgan Page was involved in the unfortunately named “cotton ceiling” seminar. Sodha used the article to claim trans women are male as if gender does not matter, and that there is gender ideology saying gender is more important than sex, rather than gender-critical ideology claiming transgender does not exist. She also claimed that gay children are having trans identities “foisted on” them, as if anyone who is homophobic is not also transphobic.

26 June: Sodha excelled herself: the overturn of Roe v Wade is trans people’s fault. “Women are a sex-based class,” she thundered, but “women” is called an offensive word. The headline called abortion a “sex-based right”.

2 October: Sodha wrote an attack on the Labour Party and its support for trans rights. Here is a refutation.

Transphobia in the EHRC

The Equality and Human Rights Commission echoes transphobic propaganda to undertake transphobic acts. On Wednesday 26th it wrote to the Scottish government to oppose gender recognition reform.

It suggests there is a distinction between “a small defined group” of trans people who should get GRCs because they have demonstrated their commitment and ability to live in our true gender, and others who might identify as the opposite gender at some point.

If gender is cultural, to talk of the “opposite gender” is meaningless. There are more than two. And, that is a tougher test than the current one. I have lived in my “acquired gender” for the past two years, but Kishwer Falkner seeing that I rarely go out might think I was not really capable, and might even suggest reverting. But I would get a GRC if I did not have one already, having the psychiatric diagnoses, and credit card statements in my female name.

Internalised transphobia holds many people back from transition. We worry, are we trans enough. Then we transition. We are clearly trans. The EHRC perpetuates the myth that people who are not trans really need protection from unwise transition.

Then they quote transphobic myths. No, GRCs will not affect sport, as who is entitled to participate in women’s sports does not depend on gender recognition, but on safety and fairness. No, counting trans women as women does not affect data gathering, as there are so few of us. They have swallowed these myths circulated by transphobes.

Their response to the Conversion therapy consultation is equally transphobic. They want to go ahead with a sexual orientation conversion ban but delay a trans conversion ban to get an evidence base. They want scrutiny to show that a ban has no harmful effect. They accept the idea of banning converting someone from cis to trans, as if that were possible, or anyone wanted to. “Forced feminisation” is a sex game, not a serious attempt at conversion. But therapists might fear any encouragement of transition in case someone reverted and accused them of conversion.

“Of course you are transsexual” is the single best thing any counsellor ever said to me, and I fled. I did not see him again for six months. Therapists will fear helping with internalised transphobia, which is a huge problem for pre-transition trans people. Support groups may fear admitting anyone who expresses doubt about transition. The concept of conversion from cis to trans is potentially terribly damaging.

They fear a ban on anti-trans CT would “prevent appropriate support” for people with gender dysphoria, that is even when we are trans we should “explore” whether transition is right, and therapists should make us do so rather than just affirm our gender identity, as if any therapist ever did that. They affirm “attempts to reconcile a person to their biological sex”.

They accept that someone should be able to consent to CT, even someone under 18. They say parents should be allowed to oppose transition because of the right to family life. In Canada, they look after the child’s rights.

They say encouraging people to follow religion banning gay sex or transition should be allowed. Preaching about sexual ethics and gender roles should be allowed, though it caused me great harm.

Paragraph 23 took my breath away. The EHRC suggests that banning CT might be discrimination against LGBT people.

The EHRC is threatening guidance for “single-sex service providers”. It can no longer be trusted to work for the interests of trans people.

The EHRC letter to the Scottish government is available here. As I could only find its response to the CT consultation on a hate site, I have uploaded it as a .docx file here.

Sex, gender, and the EHRC

Has the Equality and Human Rights Commission kept its promise to tell businesses they can exclude trans women from women’s services? It’s doing its best.

The Core Guidance for businesses is not yet changed, and the Statutory code of practice still applies, but the note on Gyms, health clubs, and changing rooms claims a difference between Sex and Gender, and could affect us in changing rooms. It was last changed on 13 July 2020, and was still visible- see web archive- on 6 April 2022, after the new, trans-exclusionary, guidance came out.

For anti-trans campaigners, trans women change gender, but not sex. Sex-based rights are for cis women. Therefore No Transwomen in Women’s Spaces! It’s a simple syllogism. But that’s not the difference between sex and gender.

Sex is physical and gender is cultural. If you want to reproduce without medical help, you need a couple with a functioning womb and functioning testicles. If any trans person has a genital operation, or takes hormones, that’s a matter of sex- their fertility is affected. But whether people wear high heels, skirts or makeup is cultural.

If a trans man needs a cervical smear test, that’s sex, and if he has bristles on his chin that’s sex too. But his choice to shave them is a matter of culture- gender, not sex. And who are the victims of violence, and whose violence is condoned, is cultural. Who needs, and who deserves protection from violence, and whose protection matters less? Culture decides.

The Equality Act says we have the protected characteristic of “gender reassignment” once we decide to transition, and calls us “transsexual persons”. It makes no distinction between sex and gender.

So, what about changing rooms? Last year, the EHRC was confused about the difference between sex and gender, and this year they are confused in a different way. Before, they wrote we should be treated as belonging “to the sex in which the transsexual person presents”. But I “present” or express my sex with my feminine hairstyle, clothes, and perhaps makeup. That’s culture. I don’t have to prove my fertility or infertility.

Now they say we should be treated as belonging to “the gender they identify with”. But, I’m wearing high heels, a skirt, and makeup. If gender is cultural rather than physical, that’s my gender. It’s not a matter of “identifying with”, it’s just who I am. Or, I’m in jeans and a T-shirt, but my breasts (sex) change my visible shape, and I use the name Clare. My sex is ambiguous, if you really want to do a chromosome test, but my gender is female.

There’s another change, and it relates to those “visually indistinguishable” trans women which we should all, apparently, aspire to be. Do you pass, girls? No? Work harder!! Deportment and voice are so important, and if your frame is too masculine you should probably not transition at all.

(Irony alert)

Possibly none of us are visually indistinguishable. Justice Ormrod thought April Ashley looked like a “female impersonator”. Before, the EHRC wrote about these paragons’ “preferred gender” and “acquired gender”. Gender, cultural, even though having breasts- physical, a matter of secondary sexual characteristics- is part of passing.

Now, the EHRC refers to “the gender they identify with” and their “gender identity”. Are you “visually and for all practical purposes indistinguishable from someone of the gender [you] identify with”? That makes no sense. I and a cis woman are both glammed up, make-up, evening gown with a slit up to here, “fuck me” shoes, very different from the second wave feminist in her DMs and crew cut.

If gender is cultural, the feminine woman and the second wave feminist exhibit different gender. And allowing trans people to go out into the world and thrive shows that we can express our true gender, so increases freedom for that second wave feminist, and everyone else.

Claiming gender is cultural does not help the trans-excluders make sense.

I am worried about the EHRC. It has been captured by Tory appointees, several of whom are trans excluders: Akua Reindorf, Lady Falkner. But this page, last updated 22 December 2021, is unobjectionable- it says trans women should use women’s services except “in very restricted circumstances”. The EHRC still has a lot of employees supporting trans rights, despite their board.

Akua Reindorf

“Judge who accused Stonewall of misrepresenting the law” is appointed to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, says the Telegraph. The University of Essex asked her to report on their exclusion of anti-trans campaigning academics, and her condemnation was a clarion call. “The policy states the law as Stonewall would prefer it to be, rather than the law as it is. To that extent the policy is misleading”. (Paragraph 243.12 of the Report pdf).

Her recommendation 28 was that if the University continued using Stonewall, it should devise a strategy for countering potential illegalities, including excluding gender critical academics, affecting freedom of expression.

Reindorf is in with the anti-trans campaigners. She said (para 249) excluding one might be indirect sex discrimination against women, as women were more likely to hold gender critical views. Her footnote 140 says this argument is about to be used at an employment tribunal, that of an LGB All Liars founder, Allison Bailey. So, they should not exclude anti-trans campaigners.

Well, all sorts of legal arguments can be tried at an employment tribunal, but that does not mean they have any weight.

The University’s LGBTQ forum, whose letter is quoted in full at appendix 4, objected because an anti-trans campaigner proposed to claim there were “conceptual and political problems with the trans rights perspective” at Essex University. They showed evidence she was hostile to trans inclusion, and that her speech would be harassment of trans people. They claimed “The safety and wellbeing of our trans/nonbinary community, is paramount above that of the need to express bigoted views”. Such bigotry impedes the freedom of speech of trans people, as it silences us.

What did Reindorf find so objectionable? Stonewall had approved the university’s “Supporting Trans and Non Binary Staff policy”, paras 224-5. It aimed to promote “inclusion, well-being, resilience and empowerment”. It said “It is unlawful to discriminate against or treat someone unfairly because of their gender identity or trans status”. Reindorf claimed this was inaccurate, because only “gender reassignment”, not trans status, is protected in law. This is a distinction without a difference. Trans people are protected from the moment we decide to transition. A decision to transition at some point in the future, if ever you felt safe enough to do so- perhaps when you retire in twenty years’ time- would be sufficient to be protected.

Anyone whose trans status was known would almost certainly come under this protection. Discrimination based on perceived gender reassignment is unlawful. Further, it would be harassment to challenge a trans person using single-sex services as to the precise nature of her intention to transition. As the policy said, the University “will not tolerate staff being questioned inappropriately about the facility they chose”.

Reindorf (para 226) attacks this, calling it problematic, and giving an argument that trans women could be excluded from all women’s toilets. She says toilets should be provided on a “single-sex basis”. She uses anti-trans campaigners’ jargon rather than the words of the statutory instrument, which says there should be separate toilets “for men and women”. I was a woman, even before my gender recognition certificate. That is the ordinary use of the English word.

That is, Reindorf states the law as she would like it to be, rather than it actually is.

Reindorf claims the Equality Act contains “specific ‘sex-based exceptions’” to the right of trans women to use women’s services. If I nit-pick as much as she does, I point out that this is not the case. The Equality Act allows a trans woman to be excluded if it is “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”, whether her sex is female, because she has a gender recognition certificate, or male, because she has not. “Sex-based” is the jargon of the trans-excluders.

Reindorf’s report is the case for the trans-excluder challenging the University’s decision, and not appropriate for an impartial judge or a member of the board of the EHRC.

As for gender-critical views, an employment tribunal judge decided that they were “not worthy of respect in a democratic society”, and the Employment Appeal Tribunal decided that in the specific case of that claimant, they were. The law protects erroneous beliefs, such as young earth creationism. But this does not mean that anyone claiming to be “gender critical” is protected. A court would look at evidence of that person’s specific beliefs. From twitter, it would often be easy to find a belief expressed that trans women were contemptible, which would not necessarily be protected. For example, the slogan “Women’s safety comes before men’s feelings!” indicates a belief that trans women are a threat, and that it is just a matter of our feelings. The settled conviction that leads us to transition, and exposes us to hatred organised and fomented by the Conservative Government, is more than just a “feeling”.

Reindorf’s appointment is an example of institutional capture by the hard right. The EHRC is no longer fit for purpose. It should only include people who are committed to equality and human rights.

A Complaint to the Equality and Human Rights Commission

Will trans women be excluded from women’s toilets in Britain?

Kishwer Falkner, Chair of the EHRC, has announced that they will issue new guidance claiming that businesses and organisations can exclude trans women from services including toilets and changing rooms. Before such guidance is issued, it is worthwhile complaining to them about Falkner’s comments, referring to the Code of Practice and existing Guidance. Continue reading

The Equality Act code of practice

Trans women are entitled to enter women’s services by self-identification. Under the Equality Act s7, we are treated as trans women- “transsexual persons”- from the moment we decide to transition, and entitled to use services according to the gender we present. That decision is before we see psychiatrists- years before, with the current waiting lists. So we self-identify. We have been entitled to do this since regulations in 2008. Self-ID is no new threat, but the ordinary law.

The EHRC introduced guidance in April 2022 contradicting the Code, but the Code still takes precedence. The code of practice on Services, public functions and associations reads as from a different time. It says, “The Equality Act 2010 sets a new expectation that public services must treat everyone with dignity and respect.” Continue reading

EHRC guidance on trans exclusion in 2021

Getting Equality enacted was not an end in itself. What matters is that businesses and public services should act and plan more thoughtfully and responsibly, that people will be treated fairly as they go about their everyday lives. The EHRC would advise and model this fairness, and enforce the law where necessary. Continue reading