Are gay people allowed to meet and organise in defense of their interests? A hard yes, you might have thought. But some apparently disagree.
Witness the response to the London-based LGB Alliance, a newly created British group that asserts “the rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual people to define themselves as same-sex-attracted.” The group’s creation has sparked vitriol, not from the traditionalist Christians or social conservatives who might have opposed such groups in the 1980s or 1990s, but from the self-described progressive left.
Readers who aren’t steeped in the most fashionable iteration of identity politics might now be scratching their heads. Unless you’re taking cues from Leviticus, what could possibly be wrong with saying it’s okay to be gay?
The answer is that, in acknowledging the reality of same-sex attraction, you are indirectly acknowledging the reality and importance of biological sex as a driver of attraction. You are also indirectly acknowledging that members of the opposite sex are not members of your dating pool—even if they tell you that they share your gender identity. Which means you have effectively pled guilty to that grave modern thoughtcrime, transphobia.
If you are not on Twitter, have not set foot on a college campus in the last few years, and don’t read woke web sites such as Teen Vogue, where this sort of thing is taken very seriously, you may imagine that I am engaged in some kind of Swiftian send-up of identity politics gone amok. After all, just about every single person reading this knows quite well how sexual attraction works. But I am quite serious: Activist groups that brand themselves as mainstream representatives of the LGBT community not only preach the idea that true attraction is based on gender, they also have sought to de-platform and mob anyone within their ranks who points out that this idea is completely divorced from the way the human brain actually works. In this make-believe world, to be gay—in the way gay people actually experience being gay—is to be a transphobe.
This is not an entirely new development. As gay-rights groups pivoted to become “trans-inclusive” in recent years, this de facto homophobia has emerged in plain sight. Rather than simply combat violence, bullying and discrimination against trans people, and press for better health care and representation for them—all noble and important goals—those groups have taken on an ideological mission. One might even call it quasi-spiritual: They have replaced biological sex with gender identity—an indefinable internal essence that one demonstrates outwardly by adherence to masculine or feminine stereotypes—throughout their literature and activism.
Stonewall UK, for example, was set up in 1989 to fight Section 28 of the Local Government Act of 1988, which banned schools from “promoting homosexuality” and “pretended” (i.e., gay) “family relationships.” But that same group now defines gay and lesbian people as those who are “attracted to the same gender” (my emphasis), and that evidence of transphobia shall be taken to include “the denial/refusal to accept someone else’s gender identity.” The logical consequence of these distorted definitions is to define same-sex-attraction as bigotry. In 1988, it was conservative homophobes in government claiming that homosexuality was a dangerous, counterfeit identity. Now the homophobes are the progressives running organizations that claim to champion the interests of lesbians and gay men.
Of course, doctrinaire trans-rights activists might attack straights with equal vigour—since straight men and straight women are just as focused on the reality of biological sex as gay men and lesbians. But all bullies seek out the weak and vulnerable, which is why they now rail against the LGB Alliance with more fury than they direct at society as a whole. That’s why the LGB Alliance’s launch meeting was an invitation-only affair, held at a secret location—the sort of security precaution that one might implement when moderate Muslims break away jihadists. “This is an historic moment for the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual movement,” tweeted Allison Bailey, the criminal-defence barrister who chaired the event. “LGB Alliance launched in London tonight, and we mean business. Spread the word, gender extremism is about to meet its match.”
This is an historic moment for the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual movement. *LGB Alliance* launched in London tonight, and we mean business. Spread the word, gender extremism is about to meet its match.
— Allison Bailey (@BluskyeAllison) October 22, 2019
Based on the reaction from defenders of the new gender orthodoxy, you would have thought Bailey were a Cossack leader announcing a pogrom. “This is frightening and nasty. There is no LGB without the T,” tweeted Owen Jones, who is perhaps Britain’s best-known gay journalist. (This is not new behaviour for Jones, who often starts pile-ons against anyone he regards as transphobic—especially women.) Anthony Watson, an advisor to the opposition Labour Party, said he was “horrified and disgusted,” and described the Alliance as a “#hategroup.” Linda Riley, the editor of Diva, a lesbian magazine that proclaims itself “trans-inclusive,” adapted Martin Niemöller’s famous 1946 confession, First They Came, Tweeting, “First they came for the T…”—thereby suggesting that refusing to prioritize the artifice of gender ideology over inborn sexual orientation is the first step toward some kind of real or metaphorical Holocaust.
This is frightening and nasty. There is no LGB without the T. Trans people are an integral part of our community and movement. And the attempt to divide LGBTQ+ people – aided and abetted by right-wing media outlets – will not succeed. https://t.co/P0hbyVw9Ld
— Owen REGISTER TO VOTE Jones? (@OwenJones84) October 23, 2019
Trans activists also used a despicable tactic that now has become a common feature of these cultish campaigns: attempting to beggar those they disagree with. Gendered Intelligence, a non-profit group that works exclusively with trans people (and apparently sees no irony in attacking an organisation focused exclusively on the rest of the LGBT grouping), urged followers to write to Bailey’s law chambers in London, “expressing your concern with the barrister in question and with the new group.” This same mob also sent equally spurious complaints to JustGiving, which hosted the Alliance’s fundraising page. The company panicked and temporarily suspended the Alliance’s account.
Like many of us, Bailey saw parallels with the actions of an abusive spouse. “Just think about what this means LGB,” she Tweeted. “The T has said that this is a marriage that we cannot leave, even if the T becomes abusive. If we try to leave, we will be threatened. If we do manage to leave, we will be starved of cash.”
First, That you put aside the money you would like to donate because we will get our access back; Second, please write to JustGiving, demand that they put us back online, posting that request if you are able to. We are not anti-trans. We advocate for LGB rights./end
— LGB Alliance (@AllianceLGB) October 28, 2019
The original mover behind the Alliance was Kate Harris, a lesbian and veteran civil-rights campaigner, who a decade ago was a Stonewall fundraiser. She had become increasingly enraged by the harassment of lesbian women that was tolerated, even encouraged, by such groups. Harris and Beverley Jackson, another veteran campaigner, had been writing to Stonewall executives for months, seeking a discussion about the malign impact of gender-identity extremism. They asked Stonewall’s chief executive at the time, Ruth Hunt, whether she was worried about the enormous increase in the number of teenage girls attending GIDS, Britain’s gender-identity clinic for under-18s, and what she would say to the growing number of “de-transitioners”—people who abandon their trans identity and return to an identity corresponding to their biological sex. Many of these girls (as most of them are) describe themselves, with hindsight, as having been motivated by internalised homophobia.
“What upsets me most is that this is all based on the legitimacy we created,” Harris told me. It was this anger that inspired her to gather a group of notables, some of whom had been involved in Stonewall during its early days, to draft an open letter to the group’s current management and board for publication in the Times of London on October 4, 2018. The signatories included Simon Fanshawe, one of Stonewall’s founders, novelist Philip Hensher, actor James Dreyfus, feminist campaigner Julie Bindel, and several trans people who regard Stonewall’s divisive approach as likely to harm the interests of the trans community in the long run.
“We urge Stonewall to acknowledge that there are a range of valid viewpoints around sex, gender and transgender politics, and to acknowledge specifically that a conflict exists between transgenderism and sex-based women’s rights,” the authors wrote. “We call on Stonewall to commit to fostering an atmosphere of respectful debate.”
In response, Ms. Hunt pretended that the letter writers were inventing some kind of non-existent tension. “The petition also asks us to acknowledge that there is a conflict between trans rights and ‘sex based women’s rights,’” she wrote. “We do not and will not acknowledge this. Doing so would imply that we do not believe that trans people deserve the same rights as others.”
A year after this fruitless exchange, it had become clear no change of direction was forthcoming. Ms. Hunt had stepped down, and Stonewall was looking for a new CEO. One potential candidate who was approached by a recruiter disclosed that exploratory questions about whether it might be possible to soften the organisation’s dogmatic position on gender were dismissed out of hand. Many of the signatories of the 2018 open letter decided it was time for a decisive break from an organization that, while pretending to represent L, G,B and T alike, had come to prioritize the most extreme T faction.
Despite all the harassment to which LGB Alliance already has been subject, the group still got off to a flying start. Its JustGiving page has been reinstated, and is on course to hit a £25,000 initial target. The attacks on Bailey sparked widespread outrage and sympathy. Gendered Intelligence deleted its outrageous tweet about her. (Such a personal and highly politicized attack is unlikely to have gone down well with the Charities Commission, which regulates non-profits). Even fans of Owen Jones think a witch hunt against Bailey—a black lesbian from a working-class background—was a low blow. Several publications have written about the LGB Alliance, painting it as everything from a saviour of left-wing politics from its own worst elements, to a front for U.S. evangelicals seeking to export America’s culture wars. The articles in praise were pleasant to read; those lambasting the group neatly underscored the urgency of its mandate. All in all, the Alliance can be said to have arrived. So what next?
On its agenda will be protecting women’s sex-based rights—including the right to have certain services offered in spaces free of male bodies. The group will also be campaigning against legislative changes that would compromise female safety.
Stonewall and other trans groups frequently misrepresent Britain’s Equality Act of 2010, which states clearly that single-sex spaces and facilities are perfectly lawful provided they are a “proportionate means to a legitimate aim.” They insist, falsely, that separately stipulated protections against discrimination and harassment for trans-identified people ensure that they can access all spaces intended for the opposite sex. Under such false guidance, Girlguiding UK and Sport England have gone “trans-inclusive,” a euphemism used to describe policies that enable males and females to “self-identify” into spaces intended for the opposite sex. Anyone with even the faintest grasp of biological reality will see immediately why such policies impact most heavily on girls and women.
The Alliance also will lobby for a change of tack at GIDS, Britain’s gender-identity clinic for under-18s, which is under fire for being too quick to affirm children’s claims of a cross-gender identity. It will disseminate unbiased information on the risks of transition and the evidence that gender confusion in children usually resolves itself during puberty, so that young people and their parents have an alternative to a gender-identity narrative based wholly on mechanical affirmation of a child’s claims. It will also seek to give a voice to detransitioners, whom trans activists often accuse of never having been trans in the first place (a claim that completely contradicts these same activists’ insistence on a policy of unfettered self-identification, which equates thinking you are trans with being trans).
If the Alliance flourishes, it could help forge a new consensus on trans rights, one that doesn’t rely on a denial of the reality of biological sex or sexual orientation. And who knows? If sanity prevails, the LGB and T communities may one day find rapprochement.
Helen Joyce is finance editor for The Economist. She is writing here in a personal capacity. Follow her on Twitter @HJJoyceEcon