LGB Alliance and Trans Rights: should LGB Alliance have been awarded charitable status?
The Charity Commission has recently registered the controversial group LGB Alliance as a charity, despite receiving many formal objections. We sat down with Dr Mike Homfray, who leads Sociology module 'Sexualities in Society', to discuss this decision and to learn a little more about the history of the Trans Rights movement.
In late 2019, a group called the LGB Alliance was formed, and that group has recently been awarded charitable status by the Charities Commission. You may think, given the relative ease of gaining this status by a range of organisations, that this was a relatively uncontroversial decision, but this is not so. Critics of the LGB Alliance have argued that far from promoting the rights of LGB people, the organisation exists solely to differentiate between LGB (lesbian, gay and bisexual people) and Transgender people, who make up the ‘T’ in the usual acronym of ‘LGBT’, and that the aim of the organisation is not to advance the rights of LGB people, but to attack and restrict those of the Trans community.
The broader debate about Trans people is nothing new, and hostility to the concept of transitioning has been a part of the radical feminist agenda since the publication of Janice Raymond’s “The Transsexual Empire” in 1980. As part of the lesbian feminist or ‘separatist’ agenda of writers such as Sheila Jeffreys, a biologically determinist view of sex meant that it was not possible for anyone part of one ‘sex class’ to become part of the other. Trans women (male to female transitioners) were viewed as men even after full surgical and medical transition, and trans men (female to male) as self-hating, repressed lesbians. This view still exists, and while others opposed to many aspects of trans rights claim to accept the idea of transition, the language used on discussion forums such as the women’s rights section of the Mumsnet website rather belies this claim.
I recall, when I researched for my doctorate in the early 2000’s, that the issue of trans rights was hardly on the agenda, and while there was no obvious expression of hostility, the predominant view was that sexual orientation and gender identity were two different things, and so the main national campaigning and lobby group working for LGB equality, Stonewall, did not include trans rights as part of their campaigns. There was no obvious hostility, but they were, initially at least, viewed as different issues. This was something which at the time, was largely accepted by trans rights groups, who feared that trans issues may get ‘lost’ and that it was important that trans people were able to speak for themselves, rather than be subsumed into an LGB-dominated professional organisation such as Stonewall.
In the meantime, campaigning outside the national arena and Stonewall was moving towards inclusion of trans people under the LGBT umbrella. This was partially because of the influence of queer politics, and queer theory, with an emphasis on diversity and fluidity, and a recognition that there were many issues where LGB and T people shared similar experiences, such as in relation to hate crime, or employment discrimination. The bulk of the immediate legislative changes which Stonewall had campaigned for had been won, and Stonewall’s lack of inclusion of trans issues appeared to be more difficult to justify. In 2015, after consultation with trans communities, the mandate of Stonewall was extended to LGBT, and given the legal situation, much of their work has focused on questions related to trans recognition.
This was encouraged by the work of Parliament’s Women’s and Equalities Committee, who, with initial Government backing, proposed reform of the legislation enabling the reform of the Gender Recognition Act. In particular, making the process of registering gender transition both cheaper and less medicalised, with a legal recognition based on self-definition of gender identity by the trans person themselves, rather than external verification or diagnosis of gender dysphoria. This became known as ‘self-ID’. It was, and remains, a relatively small part of trans concerns, where issues such as the waiting list for access to treatment or employment discrimination are more urgent. However, the proposal, which has since been abandoned, led to a resurgence of anti- trans campaigning, focusing on issues which were not themselves affected by the self-ID proposal, and which were covered by the Equality Act and the requirements for medical transition, such as the ‘real-life’ experience, where the trans person lives full-time in the gender to which they are transitioning. The use of ‘single-sex spaces’ were a particular focus.
While radical feminist groups were the initial opponents of change, it was notable that Stonewall became a particular target for criticism, and some groups of LGB people who had never approved of the shift of Stonewall towards an inclusive pro-trans position started to mobilise. Lesbian feminist groups demanded removal of the ‘T’ from LGBT Pride events, and resurrected the arguments of older theorists, claiming that transitioning was eradicating lesbianism and encouraging butch lesbians to seek transition.
However, another development was the emergence of new organisations, set up by individuals who had links with Stonewall in its early days and who aim to sever the link between LGB and T. The LGB Alliance is one such group who oppose the inclusion of trans people, arguing that gender is a social construct, and that as gay men and lesbians they are attracted only to people of the same sex. They oppose what they define as ‘gender identity ideology’ and support much the same agenda as the radical feminist groups. They do so from a stance which claims that trans rights damage the rights of LGB people and in doing so explicitly reject any support for queer identities. They argue that gender identity and sexual orientation are unrelated issues and that trans and LGB people face entirely different challenges, so should organise separately.
While this is a political position genuinely held, the concerns expressed about the LGB Alliance have been whether their aims are primarily to promote positions which benefit LGB people or to attack trans people and their rights. The guidelines for receiving charitable status limit the ability of organisations to “demean or denigrate the rights of others” and while the Charity Commission did note that the LGB Alliance had taken positions where “inflammatory” language had been used on social media, charitable status was still awarded. In consequence, a wide range of LGBT groups responded by noting that there was no evidence that LGB rights were under any threat from trans people, and that the LGB Alliance had been founded purely to oppose trans rights and had done so in a way which overtly attacked Stonewall and other inclusive LGBT groups. Manchester’s LGBT Foundation stated that “We are shocked that the Charity Commission has registered the self-styled LGB Alliance as we do not believe that any organisation which actively targets and campaigns against trans communities should be granted charitable status” and Stonewall themselves noted that the Alliance had been formed primarily as a reaction to their decision to include trans rights in their remit.
While the Commission have said that their decision was only made after a change in their social media policy by the LGB Alliance , and that “the purposes of LGB Alliance, as properly construed in accordance with the legal framework, are charitable and beneficial to the public”, PRIDE groups have disagreed, noting that the LGB Alliance has campaigned against the Gender recognition Act, and called for a review of the Equality Act to focus on what it calls ‘same-sex rights’ excluding trans people from sexual orientation protection. Groups and individuals have been encouraged to let the Charity Commission know of their concerns via https://forms.charitycommission.gov.uk/raising-concerns/ and a campaign asking the Charity Commission to reverse its decision has been launched, making MP’s and the Commission aware via social media.
At Liverpool, the University is aware of discrimination experienced by trans people and has recently consulted on the issue of the use of names and pronouns. The LGBT staff Network is inclusive of all four categories and has actively promoted the inclusion of trans people and their needs within the University’s equality and diversity policies. This is in line with the spirit and direction of the Equality Act, where both gender reassignment and sexual orientation are among the protected characteristics covered by the legislation. There is ample evidence that the LGB Alliance, far from respecting the existence of trans people, has as a central aim their isolation and separation from LGB people. It raises the more profound question of whether some of these organisations would ideally obliterate the right to transition altogether, following the views of authors who view transitioning as a ‘fantasy’ and reflecting their biological determinism, does not actually exist. It certainly appears that the stated position of the Alliance is to actively oppose the further extension of trans rights and so those who seek, instead, an inclusive approach, and wish to ensure that the T remains part of LGBT should oppose not only the charity status they have been awarded, but also their political aims.
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