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Staff at UK equalities watchdog 'quitting over transphobia'

One person has said: "It’s like working for a different organisation now"

2022-02-07

Words: Alastair James; pictures: 

Staff at the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) are leaving the organisation over an increasing transphobia, according to reports. 

It follows other reports that the UK's equalities watchdog has been meeting with anti-trans groups such as the LGB Alliance, which has been revealed through leaked documents and Freedom of Information requests. 

The EHRC has also faced backlash recently over two statements suggesting that legislation to reform the Gender Recognition Act in Scotland and the 'conversion' therapy ban in England and Wales be paused.

"It was awful"

According to Vice World News, which has been approached by a number of current and former employees of the EHRC, staff are leaving over the organisations increasing hostility towards trans people. All have spoken anonymously.

Morale is described as being low with some staff leaving without new jobs to go to. Meetings with the staff's union have reportedly been attended by over half of the employees. 

Vice's Ben Hunte has spoken to three people who still work at the EHRC, as well as six former members or those on their notice period about an "anti-LGBT" culture being adopted by senior leaders which they say is forcing people to leave.

Some mention documents being changed to become more "transphobic and seriously inaccurate" and being disciplined when they've complained. 

A former employee has told the publication: "I was seeing our upcoming publications and guidance pushing for trans rights being changed – or completely scrapped and shelved permanently – meanwhile the Board was building links to anti-trans groups. It was awful."

"When I started in 2018, we were all celebrating LGBT rights and the EHRC was pushing to make the UK better for LGBT people. It’s like working for a different organisation now," another says.

"Trans rights don’t personally affect me, but it’s the fact that I have to look into the eyes of my trans friends and they know that I’m a part of something damaging them," they continue.

One former employee took aim at the EHRC's current chair - Baroness Kishwer Falkner, who was appointed by the government in 2021 - saying, "Falkner is incompetent when it comes to LGBT rights. She’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing and has no credibility in this space."

That employee, who left at the end of 2021, said Baroness Falkner changed a paper to make it more critical of trans people and that it was so transphobic people were left "speechless". 

In response to Vice, the EHRC denied that it or its leaders were anti-trans, and the increase in staff turnover was due to other factors. Regarding the alleged altering of documents it said its papers were "rigorous and balanced," and wasn't biased. 

The spokesperson also affirmed that the organisation was "committed to upholding the rights of everyone, including those with the protected characteristics of sexual orientation and gender reassignment."

In a public statement following the leaking of information about the EHRC meeting with anti-trans groups, the EHRC said that "On trans rights issues, we operate an open door policy and will listen to and engage with stakeholders with a wide range of differing and opposing views."

It continued: "We take the same, balanced and meticulous approach in our work on trans rights as we do in every other area, and to suggest otherwise is wrong."

Attitude has contacted the EHRC for comment. 

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