Anti-trans nurses

Anti-trans campaigners are targeting nurses’ professional bodies with demands and misinformation. Are they a threat to trans people? How might we respond? The Nursing and Midwifery Council refused a demand that they disassociate themselves from Stonewall, but The Royal College of Nursing journal “Mental Health Practice” published propaganda to misrepresent and attack trans rights, and claim vulnerable [cis] women could find it “traumatic” to be with trans women.

First, let’s look at the misrepresentations of the article and the truth. Hundreds of nurses, it says called on the Nursing and Midwifery Council to withdraw from Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme. Well, there are more than 690,000 nurses in the UK. The anonymous writer says she will consider the need for safeguarding abused, traumatised [cis] women.

The article attempts to appear even-handed. It says “I understand that the transgender community is also vulnerable to abuse”. However it is grotesquely misleading. It says, sex is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act, Stonewall says access to single sex spaces is based on self-identification and gender identity, but that is not a “concept in law”. It does not mention the protected characteristic of gender reassignment.

Stonewall is right. When a trans person decides to transition, they should be treated as belonging to the gender they present as. “Gender reassignment” protects all trans people who have decided to transition.

The article does not use the term “trans women”. There’s an infallible guide to bigotry. Any impartial account will refer to trans women. Anti-trans propaganda will use other phrases: “biological men”, “those who identify as women”, etc. If someone cannot bring themselves to call us “trans women”, the clearest term for us, which many of us choose for ourselves, then they are prejudiced or phobic.

The writer says, “Stonewall’s advocacy for access to single-sex spaces based on gender identity rather than sex has led to many NHS accommodation policies that undermine the ability of nurses to advocate for and safeguard women in our care.” Then comes the main argument: vulnerable [cis] women need single-sex spaces, but because of Stonewall these include “those identifying as women”, which the vulnerable [cis] women find traumatising.

If there is anyone coming fresh to the campaign of vilification, exclusion and hatred against trans people, they might find that shocking. But, shorn of all the circumlocution, the writer is saying because cis women can be offended or even traumatised when they see trans women in women’s spaces, trans women should be elsewhere. Where that might be is someone else’s problem, she wants to advocate for “[cis] women in our care”.

Many things might trigger a traumatised woman. If trans women, seen as male, might trigger them, male employees might trigger them too. I want not to trigger traumatised people, but don’t see what good removing trans women would do. I know anti-trans campaigners want not to see trans women in women’s spaces, and may get themselves worked up when they do, but that is not the same as being retraumatised.

The writer says she “fears seeming bigoted or being classed as judgemental”. Well, she is bigoted. She wants trans women excluded from women’s wards, where we are usually treated, because she and others do not like us there. She says the NMC should listen to bigots, but even if they have “experienced years of trauma and abuse”, saying all trans women should be excluded is a bigoted reaction. She is frightened for her name to appear, because her ability as a nurse would be questioned. Well, a nurse who says a specific group of her patients should be removed from her ward, for bigoted reasons, breaches the professional standards of practice and behaviour for nurses which state that nurses must “Treat people [even trans women] as individuals and uphold their dignity”, not judge us as a class and advocate that we be driven away.

I have no clear idea how I would answer the anti-trans campaigner’s article. The person who drew it to my attention wanted to find statistics of trans women attacking cis women, to show that most of us are not dangerous, but I would hope that should be assumed except by the most bigoted anti-trans campaigners. No minority should have collective responsibility for crimes committed by its members, and anyone who fears the whole group because of those crimes is a bigot.

I feel deeply uncomfortable to be reduced to pleading. Please don’t judge us! We’re not bad people! We can’t help it, we’re born this way! I could explain how self-ID is at the heart of the Equality Act, and why.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council’s response to an anti-trans campaign group demanding that it leave the Diversity Champions programme is a very different style. It is not a self-righteous harangue like the magazine article, but corporate-speak- we recognise your concerns, but have decided not to change anything.

They say equality, diversity, inclusion and human rights are at the heart of their professions, the codes of practice, and the NMC. The Diversity Champions programme helps them create a welcoming environment for LGBT staff, but provides no legal advice. Separately, Stonewall is one of the bodies consulted when they revise their regulatory standards, as part of wide ranging open consultations with many stakeholders, professionals and the pub-zzzzz.

I have tried to write about trans for cis people. Here’s an example. I am dissatisfied. It spends too much time answering the ranting of anti-trans campaigners, and so pays them more attention than they deserve. A Jew introducing and explaining Jewish culture and traditions could speak for a long time, and should not be expected to spend too much time on the rampant antisemitism in Britain- the vandalism to synagogues and graveyards, the casual prejudice. That is what I would like to write: a positive “This is who we are” article, paying no more attention to bigots and the trauma we face than those subjects deserve. Possibly, attempting it would show how my self-acceptance is developing, and how far it still has to go. But also, being in a society where bigotry is called reasonable opinion, I would have no alternative but to address it. And there is structural transphobia, which people are blind to- waking them up to it is difficult.

The attack on Stonewall

Stonewall, the LGBT charity, supports trans rights, and helps companies by advising on discrimination law. This gets it an income of millions, which it spends on charitable campaigning. Because it supports trans rights, it is under sustained attack from well-funded anti-trans campaigners, and any mistake it makes is exploited.

In response, it should rigorously divide its campaigning from its advice arms. When advising, it should take a more judicial position, rather than advocating for LGBT rights. It should invest in technical expertise to make clear the legal underpinning of its advice. Rather than saying “You should do this”, the advice section might say, “If you do this, these are the risks”. There are risks in all courses of action.

In Winter 2019/20, Essex University cancelled the invitations of two transphobe academics to speak. One was to speak on trans women in prison. The other was to speak on a panel on “The state of antisemitism today”. It is worrying that the report of barrister Akua Reindorf bleeps out the ordinary descriptive word terf, quoting “’Shut the **** up, ****’.” Terf is simply a word for trans excluder or anti-trans campaigner. Treating it as a slur or rude word reduces the language trans people can use to oppose the removal of our rights, and attempts to drive us out of ordinary society.

[Update 2 July 2021: The Vice-chancellor of Essex University, Anthony Forster, has apologised to trans students and staff and committed to working with Stonewall.]

Reindorf makes Stonewall’s imprecision on the law look far worse than it is. She writes, “In my view the [Supporting trans and non binary staff] 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.” (Para 243.11)

However, when we consider the actual imprecisions she names, it does not look nearly so bad. For example, Reindorf explains that the policy protects “gender identity” rather than “gender reassignment”.

The Equality Act is well enough drafted, but capable of attack by non-lawyers. Reindorf explains “gender reassignment” clearly enough, but merely quoting the name might make people think we were protected only from my gender reassignment surgery, rather than our decisions to transition. In effect, gender identity is protected, because no-one knows it until we decide to transition, the moment our protection starts. Non binary is protected, as the employment tribunal has decided.

The policy, on Stonewall’s advice, says that denying a trans woman access to women’s loos is discrimination”. Reindorf states this is inaccurate, because “the protected characteristic is gender reassignment”, but that is a distinction without a difference.

Reindorf mentions the provision allowing a trans woman to be excluded from women’s spaces where it is a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”, but does not suggest that anywhere in the University of Essex there would be such a legitimate aim. If anyone wanted to argue such an aim, possibly the university might have a moral obligation to hear them out, but no legal obligation under the Equality Act or anywhere else to argue such an aim or exclude trans women. It has a positive legal obligation not to unlawfully discriminate against trans women.

Reindorf also mentions health and safety legislation, which in 1992 required employers to provide toilets on a single-sex basis. But insofar as that might prevent trans women from using women’s toilets and changing rooms, it is superseded by the Equality Act.

Any organisation which wishes to exclude trans women from women’s spaces must identify and prove both a legitimate aim, a reason for doing so, and that excluding a trans woman is a proportionate means to that aim. If they cannot, they are discriminating unlawfully and could be liable for damages. Stonewall is entitled to advise that. There are no cases where a legitimate aim has been found, so it is hard to argue what such an aim might be, but the distress of a traumatised woman on seeing a trans woman whom she sees as a man in a women’s changing room may not be, because the trans woman’s feelings and needs are of equal value to the alleged traumatised woman.

There is huge glee in transphobe circles about Stonewall’s advice to exclude the transphobic speakers being called in question. A former Tory MP and regular columnist for The Times wrote there that Stonewall should stop working for trans rights. Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he? The Times publishes a barrage of anti-trans propaganda.

In any case, as Neil Gorsuch so clearly explained, discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity is discrimination on the grounds of sex.

The terfs (no need for ***) will continue assaulting trans rights and claiming trans women are dangerous. Generally, all Stonewall need do is make clear the technical basis of its advice.

Dropping “Trans women are women”?

“I’m really focused on the idea that we don’t have to convert everybody to our way of understanding gender,” Nancy Kelley said in her first interview since taking up the position as head of the UK’s leading gay rights charity. “For Stonewall to succeed, it doesn’t have to make people believe as it believes. What it has to do is make people support changes that make trans lives easier.”

Kelley said that her priority was to reach a broad consensus that trans people need protection and that reforms to the administrative process – “which makes little difference to anybody apart from trans people” – are treated as just that.

“There is a lot of debate on the theory of gender and sex, it’s all terribly interesting and there are a million PhD theses to be written about it,” said Kelley, “but for the experience of trans people’s lives to be more positive, and for them to have lower levels of hate crime, better access to health services and more inclusive schools and workplaces, we don’t need people to agree on what constitutes womanhood.

“We must come back to the basics of building empathy for the idea that we want our fellow humans to experience a dignified, positive life,” said Kelley. “And there are things that as a society that we can change to make that more likely.”

What does that mean? I fear it means making trans people more uncomfortable. I don’t think it means taking the edge off hate groups’ campaigns against trans people, or necessarily off Stonewall. It may confuse the general public.

In theory, I could agree. However when I say “trans women are women” I mean we are socially women, not necessarily that we have women’s brains or women’s souls or are in some way intersex, just that society grudgingly tolerates transition. Hate groups hate that simple phrase. Graham Linehan has just been kicked off Twitter for tweeting “Men aren’t women”.

What is “Stonewall’s way of understanding gender”? I searched Stonewall for “transgender” and did not find the page “the truth about trans”, though that page does not use the longer word. I fear Nancy Kelley is going to be changing the website, or changing their campaigning.
In their “glossary of terms” I found

Transgender woman
A term used to describe someone who is assigned male at birth but identifies and lives as a woman. This may be shortened to trans woman, or MTF, an abbreviation for male-to-female.
Often expressed in terms of masculinity and femininity, gender is largely culturally determined and is assumed from the sex assigned at birth.

I would like Stonewall, and Nancy Kelley, to make people believe that definition of gender, but I find the definition of “transgender woman”- not a phrase I would use- fairly non-threatening to trans excluders. We “identify and live as women”. This is alright so far as it goes, but does not say we are actually women. However on “The truth about trans” they say “Being trans isn’t about having (or not having) particular body parts. It’s something that’s absolutely core to a trans person’s identity and doesn’t alter – whatever outward appearances might be.” We don’t need to have surgery. I find that an absolute minimum on trans rights, as a demand we have to have had surgery excludes all those starting transition, but trans excluders fearmonger about our surgery. It also says,

So, could a lesbian have a trans woman as a lesbian partner, or a gay man be with a trans man?
Of course. If they fancy each other. First and foremost, we need to recognise that trans women are women, and trans men are men. After that it becomes a matter of who you are attracted to. Adults are free to have relationships with other consenting adults, whatever their sexual orientation or gender identity.

What would reforming gender recognition mean?

If you’re a cis person, it will barely affect you. All that will happen is that trans people in the UK will have a slightly easier life. However, it will mean you and your family are living in a fairer society, one where people – maybe including some people you love and care for personally – are free to lead the lives they want to live, without the abuse and discrimination that’s an everyday part of life for many trans people at the moment.

It says trans children should be supported, and trans women should be in women’s toilets, women’s refuges and women-only shortlists. It does not mention sport, but that may be an oversight. It’s fairly clear “The truth about trans” is written by a trans person, or an extraordinarily sensitive ally; the glossary probably not.

Having trans women “experience a dignified, positive life” means treating us for all social purposes as women. I am happy to say “Sex is real” as long as that is not taken as some sort of denial that socially I am a woman. I would like Stonewall to campaign against rigid gender stereotypes, as that would help free lesbians, gay men and even straights, as well as trans people.

I don’t know whether Stonewall under Ruth, Baroness Hunt, had one way of understanding gender. Gender is complex and can mean different things when discussing trans people and when discussing wider society. I am happy Nancy Kelley, another lesbian, wants to “make trans lives easier” and get widespread support for that. But I don’t know what changes Ms Kelley might make in trans campaigning, and fear the fairly meaningless words at the start of this post will encourage trans excluders and dispirit trans people. I would love there to be less heat in the trans debate, for anti-trans campaigners to build bridges with trans people and for both groups to find how we could work together, but at the moment both sides have a “with us or against us” mentality, prone to analysing the words of prominent campaigners like Nancy Kelley like theologians analysing the words of Jesus. It ain’t like working for the National Centre for Social Research, as Kelley formerly did.

“I don’t know if the government is stoking a culture war,” said Kelley, “but they’re certainly not reassuring the trans community that they will make positive steps, and the trans community is incredibly distressed and worried.”

She is on our side. Cut her some slack. I am not sure she is ready for this, though.

I was bothered by this because trans people are worried by Keir Starmer. Rather than saying “trans women are women” he now says “trans rights are human rights”, and we get wound up. Recently LGBT Labour’s campaign for “progressive reform to the Gender Recognition Act” (as anodyne a name as anyone could ask for) was published under the heading “trans rights are human rights”. No trans person could disagree. Trans excluders might have difficulty disagreeing with the phrase, even if they might disagree on what our human rights should actually be. Maybe that’s the point.