Sex and Gender

Simon Callow is right: Stonewall’s position on self-identification for trans people is ‘dangerously prescriptive’

Callow is right, Stonewall has indeed taken a ‘dangerously prescriptive position’. But, worse, it is a position that tramples over the rights of vulnerable groups.

Stonewall was established in 1989 to oppose the now-infamous Section 28 – which prohibited local councils from intentionally promoting homosexuality. It then spent 25 years campaigning for lesbian and gay equality.

But, speaking to The Times, actor and gay rights campaigner Simon Callow said that the charity has taken a ‘a strange turn to the tyrannical’. Callow was talking about Stonewall’s push for self-identification for transgender people . He added that an ‘extraordinarily unproductive militancy’ now surrounded its position.

Callow claims that the organisation’s stance on self-identification for transgender people risks infringing women’s rights and ‘could put pressure on young gay people to transition’.

Transgender people like me became part of Stonewall’s remit as recently as 2015 but we rapidly took over the agenda. In its 2019 annual report, ‘trans’ had 22 mentions, ‘lesbian’ had three, and ‘gay’ only two.

Stonewall has also become big business. It now pulls in over £8 million annually, with much of it coming from their Diversity Champions programme. Hundreds of employers each hand over thousands of pounds every year. In return Stonewall offer to review their policies for ‘LGBTQ+ inclusion by our in-house team of experts’. Important, presumably, to write policy the Stonewall way, in order to rank highly on Stonewall’s own Workplace Equality Index.

It sounds like a racket to me, and a dangerous one at that. Stonewall promotes the message that ‘Trans women are women’ on Twitter and insists we all ‘get over it’. But the rhetoric lacks any explanation, probably because it is nonsense. Transwomen like me are biologically male, while women are biologically female. I am transgender but I am also a science teacher, and I know that male and female are not the same.

However, if you keep saying it enough, people will eventually come to believe it.

But the consequences of this – that biological sex does not matter – are potentially devastating to three vulnerable groups.

Callow identified two of them: women and children. He added that he felt nervous about the reaction he would stir up, simply for expressing his views. ‘I shouldn’t have to fear in that way,’ he said. ‘This is just tyranny and that’s what we’ve fought against all our lives, people saying, ‘this cannot be discussed’. Yes, it can be discussed.’

I would say that these things must be discussed. The self-identification campaign calls for anyone to be able to change their legal sex just because they want to. That might sound very liberal but boundaries – established to protect the vulnerable – become meaningless when anyone can step over them.

Stonewall were explicit that this is what it wants in its submission to the Women and Equalities Select Committee on Transgender Equality in 2015: ‘Remove exemptions, such as access to single-sex spaces’, it said, as well as calling for ‘a process for people under 18 to access legal gender recognition’.

The third vulnerable group are transsexual people, like me. I use that word deliberately, rather than transgender, because it implies that we actually do something when we transition. In 2010 ‘gender reassignment’ was established as a protected characteristic within the equality act so that, for example, we could no longer be dismissed from our jobs or denied services because we had transitioned or were perhaps considering transitioning.

Stonewall wants to risk those protections also. To that same inquiry it called for gender reassignment to be replaced with gender identity. Our right to do something – without being treated less favourably as a result – was to be replaced with our right to identify with a gender, whatever that might mean.

Callow is right, Stonewall has indeed taken a ‘dangerously prescriptive position’. But, worse, it is a position that tramples over the rights of vulnerable groups. They now need to take another turn: turn back to what they once did well or turn off the lights and shut up shop.

Debbie Hayton

Debbie Hayton is a transgender British secondary school science teacher and political activist.

* This article was first published by Mail+ on 27 August 2021: Simon Callow is right: Stonewall’s position on self-identification for trans people is ‘dangerously prescriptive.’

By Debbie Hayton

Physics teacher and trade unionist.

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