As you know, we’ve been thinking hard about sex and gender issues. We launched our Radical campaign last November, with the aim of searching out the truth, from a position committed to freedom, tolerance, and equal respect.
As planned, we’ve engaged with people from across the political spectrum, and learned lots from researchers, activists, practitioners, and more. We’re writing to you now to share our latest thoughts, ahead of your expected announcement on the outcome of the consultation on reforms to the Gender Recognition Act.
Our initial instincts haven’t changed much, although our concern has grown, greatly, the more we’ve learned. Our view remains that people who choose to act in ways stereotypically associated with membership of the opposite biological sex should be treated just as respectfully as anyone else, all other things being equal.
But also, that this doesn’t equate to believing that the law should mandate that biological men must be treated as women, and vice versa, solely on their demand – via ‘self-ID’. That would not only risk a downgrading of the value of truth in our society, it would have serious detrimental consequences for the policy prescriptions that seek to ensure equal opportunity, and the social-science research and records that inform these policies. It would also constitute a safety risk to girls and women, by effectively outlawing single-sex spaces and services.
Our view also remains that, if adults wish to seek medical intervention to make their bodies resemble those of members of the opposite sex, they should be free to do so. But, that in the case of children, such interventions are always wrong: over the past year, we’ve grown even more committed to fighting against these interventions, which equate to child abuse.
We’ve been grateful to write for ConservativeHome, once a fortnight, about why we hold these views — sharing what we’ve learned with the conservative community. We were aware that many people on the centre-right weren’t engaged with these matters, and we’ve sought to change that.
On that topic, as you’ll know, there’s been a recent flurry of polling and campaigning on sex and gender matters. We believe that the results of recent polls – and how they’ve been reported – serve to illustrate public confusion about relevant current laws, and the reforms that’ve been proposed.
This confusion is persistently manifested in mainstream-media reportage, in policy documents published by state bodies, and in statements by high-profile commentators and politicians. This confusion, as we’ve written here many times, has been propagated by a set of powerful activists, who’ve seized on the uncertainty they’ve sown, to advance their political cause.
Pink News – the chosen media outlet of many of these activists – recently published, with great fanfare, the finding that most women in Britain support the right of transpeople to self-identify. This, they proclaimed, means that the law must be changed to remove the current procedural requirements for obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate (the document that legally changes a person’s sex).
However, what Pink News has actually done, is to highlight – inadvertently, no doubt – the reason why maintaining these controls on changing legal sex is so important. And also, how the retention of these controls is not only expected by the public, but that these controls are not generally seen as illiberal, or as ‘denying the existence’ of transpeople.
More detailed polling, subsequently released by YouGov, does indeed show high levels of support for people being able to self-identify their gender. But it also shows much lower levels of support for the idea of transwomen using women-only facilities, and serious disagreement — from almost all sections of society — with the idea that the legal ‘gender’-change process should be ‘made easier’.
It also shows widespread opposition to people who’ve not had gender-reassignment surgery using facilities reserved for the opposite sex. This is a crushing blow to those claiming that self-identified gender identity should solely determine one’s entitlements regarding single-sex services. It reflects the traditional understanding that ‘sex’ relates to membership of the biological sets of male or female, and that ‘gender’ relates to stereotypical societal understandings of masculinity and femininity.
As you know, we’re fully committed to free expression, and we’ve stressed many times that we’ll die on the hill for people to be allowed to dress and act however they like. But that doesn’t mean that men – adult human males – should be housed in women’s refuges or prison wings.
Now, you’ll be aware of current siren calls for ‘compromise’, rippling through Conservative Party circles. Common to these is the claim that a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) is ‘just a piece of paper’ – and, that, if a GRC makes a vulnerable transperson feel more secure and validated, then what’s the harm in making GRCs available, on demand?
Well, those making such calls simply cannot be aware of the realities of the current relevant laws – and the repercussions such a change would have. It would not only make it much harder to exclude men from women-only spaces, it would also destabilise all manner of legal structures, from equal pay to sex discrimination law to criminal law.
Sadly, the truth is that, as a society, we’ve moved beyond the opportunity of dealing with these matters at the level of individual choice and decency. We urgently need laws that clearly prevent men seeking residency in women’s refuges and prisons; that prevent men rendering women’s sport null; and, yes, that even help to prevent men using women’s toilets.
This is an extremely depressing, yet fully accurate conclusion. And, yes, the current laws are imperfect. In an ideal world, they would be torn up and rewritten, but – unless you have the time to do that (!) – then we are where we are, and the inevitable negative effects of changing these laws must be accepted.
So we urge you to resist the calls for so-called ‘compromise’, and to see through your commitment to protecting single-sex spaces, and to maintaining checks and balances in the gender-recognition process.
Neither of those commitments can be honoured by allowing self-ID. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to help support transpeople, and those suffering from gender dysphoria. Aside from small, genuine, unharmful direct compromises — such as removing the fee from seeking a GRC — foremost in these positive actions should be to improve resources for young people.
It must be ensured that children and teenagers get the proper support they need — and they must be protected from being instrumentalised and abused by political activists and politicised medical professionals.
Beyond that, we believe your priority should be to meet the urgent need for the review and clarification of formal guidance around relevant law. On all the YouGov questions, between 21 and 30 per cent of people answered ‘don’t know’. This is unsurprising, given the arcane nature of much of the debate, and — as previously emphasised — the confusing and often seriously manipulated advice that government departments and local authorities have been publishing and endorsing.
With very best wishes,
Rebecca Lowe and Victoria Hewson