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UK equalities watchdog met with anti-trans groups, according to leaks

The Equality and Human Rights Commission's website states it's committed to "freedom, compassion and justice."

2022-02-02

Words: Alastair James; pictures: Wiki

Leaked emails and documents from the UK's equality watchdog have revealed that some of the organisation's leaders have been meeting with anti-trans groups, as well as pushing back against trans rights. 

The information obtained from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) also shows that people at the organisation have been directly involved in legal cases which have had a negative impact on the lives of trans people in the UK.

Set up in 2007 under the then Labour government, the EHRC is not run by the government but the government does appoint its senior leaders. 

"We exist to protect, enforce and promote equality and human rights laws for everyone"

Vice World News has seen information showing a meeting between the EHRC and the group, Fair Play For Women, which says it advocates "for the sex-based rights of women and girls". The founder of FPFW, Nicola Williams, says in one email "I hope this can be a moment for change" following the appointment of Baroness Kishwer Falkner as chair of the EHRC in 2020.

An email exchange shows the two women setting up meetings directly. According to Vice, four leading LGBTQ organisations were not offered the same. 

Vice is also reporting that Alasdair Henderson, another appointed lead at the EHRC, has helped challenge the NHS' use of puberty blockers. In 2020, the NHS had to remove the treatment but it was restored last year. Documents also show Henderson suggested that the EHRC intervene in Maya Forstater's case, which then happened. 

Maya Forstater lost her job over tweets saying people can’t change their biological sex and won an appeal against the original case last year.

Henderson was also allowed to continue attending meetings discussing trans people despite flagging a conflict of interest given his legal work. 

Meetings with the LGB Alliance were also held. The LGB Alliance was set up in 2019, purportedly to "advance the interests of lesbians, gay men and bisexuals", has publicly campaigned against reforming the Gender Recognition Act to make it easier for trans people to gain legal recognition."

Communication also indicates the EHRC asking for a 3-minute video outlining the LGB Alliance's stance on policy prior to a meeting in February 2021, which Stonewall was also at. 

The video, seen by VICE World News, describes transitioning as "horrifying" and that it "leads to a life of infertility, loss of sexual feeling, continuous medication and appalling surgery. We’re so glad that we were not growing up in this kind of ethos which we have today."

The video also says the NHS is carrying out "medical experiments on children". Three months after that meeting the EHRC pulled out of Stonewall's Diversity Champions programme. 

Reacting to Vice World News' report, The Director Stonewall in Scotland and Northern Ireland says, "I’m heartbroken at how much it has lost its way & for the many good people who work there who I know will no longer feel safe. There is now something very rotten at the core of the Commission. It is not fit for purpose."

Trans woman and ex-army officer, Hannah Graf says: "For those of us fighting for own existence, this comes as no surprise. I just hope that the many people who see the EHRC as an authority, have their eyes opened to the biases within and just what trans people are up against #TransRightsAreHumanRights"

The EHRC posted its response to the report on Twitter. A spokesperson calls the claims "unsubstantiated and incorrect" and a argues that they "rely on information taken out of context."

It maintains that it is an independent body and is "committed to upholding the rights of all people in Britain." It continues: "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.

"We have long-standing relationships with trans-led organisations and LGBT bodies, as well as religious groups, women’s rights organisations and campaign groups.

"This is important to ensure that we are protecting and promoting the rights of everyone in this emotive and complex area. 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."

It closes by adding, "Sensationalist reporting on human rights is harmful. We need a balanced and respectful conversation to avoid further damage and division."

Vice World News' report comes a week after the EHRC faced a strong backlash over two statements it made regarding LGBTQ legislation in the UK. In the first, it advised the Scottish Government to halt its reform of the Gender Recognition Act. The second suggested pausing the ban on conversion therapy, especially for trans people. 

Stonewall says it is "deeply troubled" by the statements while the LGBT Foundation said it was to "sever all ties" with the EHRC. 

The Attitude February issue is out now. Get your copy here