As we reflect on the Keira Bell case last week, spare a thought for another young person who is challenging an authority that has been bewitched by gender identity ideology.
A 14-year-old schoolgirl, known only as Miss B, believes sex is distinct from gender identity. Many others agree with her. But unlike those who have been silenced or learned to self-censor in what is so often a malicious and nasty debate, this teenager is not prepared to stay quiet. She is taking a stand against the College of Policing’s guidance on ‘hate incidents’, because she fears that the vague definition of ‘hostility’ used on the College’s website – that even includes the perception of ‘ill will’, ‘unfriendliness’ or ‘dislike’ – could leave her with a police record.
She is right to be cautious; views like hers, which are nonetheless still mainstream, can be dangerous to hold in 2020. They cost Maya Forstater and Sasha White their livelihoods. They led to vicious campaigns against JK Rowling and Rosie Duffield. More recently, Suzanne Moore was hounded from her job at the Guardian after she defended Oxford professor Selina Todd.
All these people are, of course, female. But while they had (in most cases) high profiles which at least allowed them to respond publicly to their detractors, others – like Miss B – are not so fortunate. The teenager has an auditory processing disorder and dyslexia, and worries that her words or tone might be misunderstood. At 14 years old, she should be free to debate, critique and discuss issues openly with her teachers and her peers. Instead she feels she must self-censor in the classroom. Her fears are justified, and for her there is more at stake than a social media storm.
What she might say, or means to say, in the classroom is of little consequence. If someone else thinks her words were even partially motivated by hostility, she may be deemed, under the guidance, as having committed a ‘hate incident’.
Miss B thinks that it is unfair that biological boys should be able to compete against girls in sport. That is hardly a radical view. But should someone else perceive it to be expressed in a hostile or prejudiced way, Miss B, who is crowdfunding an appeal to challenge the guidance, risks finding herself ‘recorded and flagged’. That could be a powerful weapon in the wrong hands.
While the guidance does talks about ‘a proportionate response’, the police are advised to record non-crime hate incidents for intelligence purposes, ‘to identify patterns of behaviour’ and log ‘behaviour that falls short of criminal conduct’ but which might be cited as evidence of motivated hostility in a future hate crime.
That matters when DBS checks made by potential or current employers can include records relating to non-crime hate incidents. Miss B’s future employment opportunities could be blighted simply because she thinks that biology, rather than gender identity, divides the sexes.
I spoke to Sarah Phillimore, a barrister working in child protection law, whose own tweets had been reported to the police and then logged as a transphobic and religiously aggravated ‘non-crime hate incident’.
Phillimore denies she had ever been hateful about anyone. But that doesn’t seem to matter; it is enough that someone else thought otherwise. When the police refused to delete the record, she also resorted to crowdfunding to challenge the decision.
‘If I felt sick and horrified on realising my local force had recorded me for ‘hate,’ Phillimore told me, ‘then the impact of this upon a child must be considerably more serious. I have the confidence and maturity of 50 years and can stand up to injustice, not many children can. To suggest that we will blight our children’s futures by labelling them as ‘hateful’ for doing no more than seeking to inquire and challenge is a disgraceful indictment of our society.’
A key characteristic missing from the list of ‘monitored strands of hate crime’ is, of course, sex. As a transwoman, when I am offended I can ask for it to be reported as a ‘hate incident’. But do women have such redress? If not, what’s worse is that bullying ‘trans allies’ might exploit this new advice to go after women who don’t toe the line on the new gender orthodoxy.
Maybe we need to listen again to Salman Rushdie, a man who caused offence when his book ‘The Satanic Verses’was published in 1988. ‘Nobody has the right to not be offended,’ he said. ‘That right doesn’t exist in any declaration I have ever read. If you are offended it is your problem, and frankly lots of things offend lots of people.’
We certainly should not be leaving it to a 14-year-old girl to defend her right (and our rights) to express legitimate views without suffering a blight on a record should someone else take offence. Phillimore only found out about the mark against her name when an anonymous user boasted about it on Twitter. We might not know her real name, but Miss B deserves our praise for being brave enough to speak out. For all our sakes, let’s hope she is successful.
Debbie Hayton is a transgender teacher and journalist.
* This article was first published by The Spectator on 8 December 2020: Should it be left to a teenager to fight back against gender ideology?