As Chair of the EHRC for four years and a former Chair of Stonewall for nine years one might have thought that David Isaac, partner at law firm Pinsent Masons had the experience and position to influence or even set the tone of the discussions around the proposed reforms of the GRA 2004, which were rejected by Liz Truss in September. Or at least to engage with some of the points which were causing conflict. Because after all sometimes equality strands are in tension. He chose instead to say nothing. Until the time of his departure in August.
In his outgoing interview he suggests that “We need to move beyond that toxic debate so talking to each other, engaging in respectful listening even if you disagree, that’s the way forward.” As if the EHRC was an impartial bystander instead of the government body on all equality issues, with the power to intervene at any stage over the past four years. He also says that the EHRC supports the reform of the GRA which has been pretty obvious for these past four years and the reason perhaps why he and they chose to say nothing until now. Indeed the EHRC under his leadership is in part responsible for causing confusion by issuing guidance which was not in fact legal and had to be corrected in 2018. But it had been in existence for ten years!
It has also promoted the concept of gender identity (not a protected characteristic over sex). EHRC advice on trans rights from their website was “We suggest employers and service providers consider the recommendations in this (Women and Equalities Committee 2016 report) when setting their trans policies.” These recommendations which include the legalisation of Self Identity have not been approved and are not law. However thousands of organisations are now under the illusion that they are.
Hardly had the door shut after his departure than the EHRC was presented with a legal challenge over its guidance to organisations on trans matters.
In his newpaper interview the outgoing EHRC Chair acknowledged some tensions exist between the demands for reform to the GRA 2004 and as he put it ‘some feminist groups’. This is disingenuous. The proposed reforms would have meant allowing male bodied people to self-identify as women for legal purposes. Even if there were provisos to protect women’s spaces in certain circumstances what it means to be a woman would have undergone a fundamental change without any discussion with women. Trans women would have been able to enjoy the protections and spaces reserved for the female sex, merely on their say so. That is the bottom line and if put that simply the tension between the two protected characteristics is obvious. It isn’t just ‘some feminist groups’. It is the feminist groups protesting on behalf of all women. Because of the strength of the lobby and the promotion of incorrect advice from the EHRC and the EO we already have men self -identifying as women going into women’s single sex spaces e.g. hospital wards, refuges, changing rooms, prisons, short lists, and importantly sport.
So when Mr Isaac says the debate has been toxic … he really needs to go back and look at the reaction the trans lobby – and yes there is one and it is very powerful – had to some of the concerns that women have been voicing over the past three years. He needs to acknowledge that it is women who have been blackballed, cancelled, de platformed, driven off Twitter and lost their jobs for the crime of asking for women’s rights to be protected. Brands have been targeted by trans activists to keep in line with their demands and ideology. It is women who receive the most intolerable misogynistic violent and sexual verbal abuse on social media. It is not feminists who do this to trans activists. Feminists’ great crime is to want the reality of biological sex acknowledged and in certain situations to be given priority over a subjective and therefore unverifiable internal feeling of gender identity. Yet these perfectly reasonable concerns are still met with cries of transphobia and wanting to erase trans people. Yet by their silence the EHCR along with other ‘responsible’ organisations have given credibility and legitimacy to this behaviour which has further encouraged it. And it has enabled a culture of fear to develop around saying anything which may result in a reaction/ accusation of transphobia. Isaac knows full well that misogyny is not a hate crime and that transphobia is. However it needs to be carefully defined and given context. The EHRC could have done this. It could have set an example and it could have spoken up for women and girls’ rights. After all it is the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Instead it turned a blind eye and Isaac as Chair must take responsibility for the mess he has left behind.