Victoria Hewson is a solicitor and co-founder of Radical, a campaign for truth and freedom in the gender recognition debate. She and Rebecca Lowe, her co-founder, alternate authorship of this column on trans, sex and gender issues.
During the last few weeks, we heard more lurid and shocking outcomes from the pernicious influence of gender ideology.
An incident at the Wi Spa in San Francisco brought home the practical consequences of allowing people to use whichever (nominally sex segregated) spaces they feel most comfortable in or that accord with their gender identity. A video that went viral showed women upset and confused at having encountered a naked male in the women’s area of the spa.
As is now customary, the incident sparked protest and counterprotest – at times violent, as those seeking to defend the legal right of the transwoman to use the women’s spa attacked those who would rather transwomen didn’t, and were upset at the laws in California that seem to give trans identifying people this right.
Trans rights activists in the UK defended the spa and the trans person, and some went as far as blaming women and girls for impolitely looking at male genitals in their changing rooms. The tone shifted when it emerged that the transperson in question is a convicted sex offender, who has been charged with indecent exposure in connection with the incident.
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Here at home, Mridul Wadhwa, the head of Rape Crisis Scotland (a leading charity that supports victims of rape and sexual assault) , said in an interview discussing the charity’s approach to women who preferred to be assisted by a female counsellor that “sexual violence happens to bigoted people as well”.
Wadhwa generously conceded that the charity was there for these so-called bigots too, but warned rape survivors that “if you bring unacceptable beliefs that are discriminatory in nature, we will begin to work with you on your journey of recovery from trauma’” adding, “but please also expect to be challenged on your prejudices”.
To this end, she urged them to “reframe their trauma” and “rethink your relationship with prejudice”. Wadwha is a transwoman, and Rape Crisis Scotland has declined to confirm that women who need its services and wish to be assisted by a fellow biological woman will have their wishes respected.
Now, the Equality Act is reasonably clear that providers of services such as rape counselling and refuge are permitted to operate on a single sex basis and exclude males (including transwomen) from either accessing the service or employment in service delivery.
It also seems clear that facilities such as spas, changing rooms and toilets would fall within the scope of the exception that allows discrimination on the bases of sex and gender reassignment where it is proportionate in the pursuit of a legitimate aim.
For now, let’s put to one side that Stonewall and other activist organisations disagree with this interpretation of the law, and have, as we’ve reported many times, managed to propagate their self-serving and tendentious alternative interpretation through the public and private sector bodies they interact with, from universities to Marks & Spencer.
Regardless, the way the Act is set out – with a general ban on discrimination unless in pursuit of some legitimate aim – means that businesses and organisations that wish to maintain single sex services are forced to construct robust-sounding justifications.
This is why we hear so many lurid tales of flashers and voyeurs, and why examples concerning safety and sexual assault are used so often in the debate surrounding sex and gender. The definition of a ‘gender reassignment’ is so broad that it does not offer meaningful ways for women to exclude biological men, other than invoking the exceptions by raising highly emotive and serious risks.
This is not to downplay the seriousness of such offences in any way, and they are indeed extremely compelling reasons why sex-segregated changing rooms, dormitories and toilets are essential. Fear of male violence is a good reason for trying to keep (all) men out of spaces where women may be vulnerable for whatever reason, and it’s always been a strong reason to this end, to date. But it is not the only reason.
Sometimes, women (and men) simply prefer being away from the opposite sex for a time. Some women may be happy to include transwomen in their conception of a women’s association, but others may not. And this does not make them bigots who need to have their prejudices challenged and overruled by force of law. Sall Grover, founder of a female social network, noted on Twitter this week:
‘very few people stop to think “hey! Maybe women enjoy being in female-only spaces occasionally, for camaraderie, connection & conversation! Maybe it’s just fun!*” But no. Instead we’re forced to retell the worst things that have ever happened to us to justify them.’
This is the consequence of the Equality Act’s hectoring prohibition on discrimination unless it can be actively justified as legitimate, and the way in which the bar for legitimacy is being raised ever higher.
It seems too much to hope that the present government will amend the Equality Act to address the illiberal – and un-conservative – way it prescribes how private citizens and businesses are allowed to interact with each other.
But surely it’s time for the misconceptions about what is and is not legitimate to be addressed. Women should not be forced to assert their worst fears and experiences just to be allowed to enjoy female only spaces in peace.
*For the record, your columnist would also respect the interest that men have in single sex, men only association.