Will the Welsh Government listen to women?

Welsh Government has just opened up its LGBT Action Plan to consultation.

With the drafting of the plan effectively outsourced to Stonewall Cymru and a commitment to gender self-ID in place, it’s likely to generate a strong response. The panel has been drawn exclusively from supporters of gender ideology. The chair has repeatedly used highly derogatory terms to refer to women she disagrees with on social media. There has been neither diversity of opinion nor debate in the formulation of this action plan.

Determined and effective women’s activism at a grassroots’ level has effectively staved off challenges to our rights in England, although a fierce battle remains in Scotland. In Wales, our ability to challenge policies based in gendered ideology has been hampered by an anaemic press response to the conversation, and a political class for whom the slogans ‘trans rights are human rights’ and ‘trans women are women’ have replaced the capacity for critical thought.

Like our sister organisations, such as Sex Matters, Women’s Place UK and forwomen.scot, Merched Cymru is working within the democratic and legal system to highlight the clash of gender ideology with women’s rights and the established protections of the Equality Act 2010. From the beginning, feminist and gender critical organisations have sought involvement in the debate. The work we – and organisations like us – have been doing to raise our concerns is entirely within the category of peaceful activism, using the mechanisms available to us as citizens. We have raised petitions, organised events, written articles, and responded to consultations.

Meanwhile, activists supporting gender ideology have aggressively campaigned against our expressions of free speech. This has included violent attacks on women attending meetings, the disruption of feminist events, and threatening people’s employment – in some cases successfully. In Wales, gender critical academics have been attacked. Merched Cymru’s members and supporters have repeatedly been silenced by organisations purportedly representing the interests of Welsh women. A meeting organised by Women’s Place UK in Cardiff was sabotaged.

With the consultation upon the horizon, Merched Cymru is again ready to engage in the gruelling work of coordinating our response, which we do without much confidence that our responses will be accorded the respect they deserve in a democratic society. Our attempts to intervene in this process have been rebuffed by Welsh Government. Other organisations have also found that Stonewall Cymru holds an effective monopoly on the Welsh Government’s policy, and have been locked out of the process despite their expertise in the area.

Our confidence in the process was even further diminished by this section in the Plan’s documentation:

We will not tolerate hateful comments about a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion or disability and any responses that contain hate speech will be passed to the authorities.

It seems rather unlikely that individuals would use a consultation response to level vulgar and dehumanising abuse at any category of people. If that had been the case, every consultation around women’s rights and provisions would need to be accompanied by warnings not to refer to women as sluts, whores, ‘Karens’ and, indeed, TERFs.

Gender identity activist Gemma Stone has compiled a list of language considered ‘transphobic dogwhistles‘. It includes such terms as ‘woman’, ‘transwoman’, ‘misogyny’ and ‘transsexual.’ Given that the consultation does not explain what language they consider might be offensive, there is a possibility that this provision will not be used to filter out abusive language, but to remove responses which do not conform to the shibboleths of gender ideology. This effectively erases everyone who does not subscribe to a particular discourse from the democratic process.

The threat to involve police is significant and chilling, given the use of policing to silence opposing viewpoints in the debates around gender. Many of these have been recorded by Fair Cop. Most significantly, the case of Marion Millar in Scotland shows the combined power of an ideologically captured devolved political system with a politicised police force.

Millar potentially faces charges for sharing a photograph on Twitter. The Times reported upon her activities:

The messages investigated by officers are understood to include a retweeted photograph of a bow of ribbons in the green, white and purple colours of the Suffragettes, tied around a tree outside the Glasgow studio where a BBC soap opera is shot. It is believed a complaint was made to the police suggesting the ribbons represented a noose.

As Lucy Blackburn Hunter noted, ‘Public servants should of course report clear cases of criminal offending witnessed while working to the police. But governments need to think very hard about implying that a response to a public consultation could constitute such an offence.’

If Welsh Government intend to mount a fair and democratic consultation, they need to reassure those of us who wish to respond to it that we will not be getting a knock on the door from the local constabulary for using everyday language to describe the biological realities of human existence.