The Charity Commission must step up to protect single-sex charities 

To protect charities, the Charity Commission and EHRC need to step up

Single-sex charities play an important role in meeting the needs of one sex or the other in many areas, including healthcare, mental health, social issues, sport and education. 

Although charities are a form of voluntary action, the state requires that charity trustees pursue the charity’s objects, including when those objects are limited to supporting just women or just men. The legal framework for charities exists to protect charities’ beneficiaries against charities being captured by interlopers or incompetents who divert the resources to some other purpose. 

Charities can change their mission and their beneficiary group by changing their objects. The Scout Association, for example, allowed girls to join in 1976. This was undertaken through an open process of consultation and decision among members, and then agreed with the Charity Commission. 

But in recent years some long-established charities set up for the benefit of women and girls, such as Girlguiding UK and the Women’s Institute, have simply reinterpreted the word “women” in their governing documents to claim that it includes men who identify as women. Other charities such as the Girls’ Day School Trust have stuck to their original mission and have not reinterpreted the words women and girls to include men and boys. 

To date, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Charity Commission have not intervened either way, but have allowed charities to make their own choice. The EHRC said about Girlguiding in 2019

“We have written to @girlguiding about their website but not to say they are a mixed sex organisation. Like any membership organisation, the Equality Act allows Girl Guides UK to restrict membership on the basis of sex. We support their choice to have a trans inclusive policy.”

When the regulator takes this laissez-faire approach, trustees are left without the support they need to do their job and comply with the law. Does the law require women’s charities to accept men who identify as women as being part of their beneficiary group, while pretending that nothing has changed? Or, to the contrary, would that be a dereliction of their duty to focus on their purpose? 

When some of a charity’s trustees think that the word “women” in its charitable objects means one thing, and some think it means another, what should happen?

The La Leche League six

The issue has now come to a head because six of the trustees of La Leche League Great Britain (LLLGB), the UK’s oldest breastfeeding-support charity, have stood up for their charity’s purpose and faced a backlash from gender-ideology activists. 

LLLGB is a charity registered in the UK. But it is associated with La Leche League International (LLLI), which has headquarters in the US. LLLI’s mission is: 

“To help mothers worldwide to breastfeed through mother-to-mother support, encouragement, information, and education, and to promote a better understanding of breastfeeding as an important element in the healthy development of the baby and mother.”

But the international organisation has changed its policies to include “everyone who wants to human milk feed”. This change happened bit by bit over the past decade, and without any open discussion. Anyone who sought to question it, or even point out that it had happened, was shut down.

The six LLLGB trustees questioned the policy change, and said that biological men should not be included as part of the beneficiary group of the charity. LLLI has suspended most of them as Leaders, which means they can no longer support mothers to breastfeed under the La Leche League banner. They have been removed from an internal Facebook group where LLLGB’s Leaders communicate, and have no input into LLLGB’s social-media channels, which are entirely controlled by supporters of the policy shift. (Read more in The Telegraph and Daily Mail, with commentary from Milli Hill on her Substack, Victoria Smith in The Critic and Brendan O’Neill in Spiked.)

The faction that seeks to oust the six trustees has circulated a letter to all UK-based LLLGB group leaders. This wrongly claims that the issue is that these trustees want to exclude women who identify as transmen or non-binary, when all along they have said that they support all women and mothers, no matter how they identify.

In a letter to LLLGB group members seven whistleblowers, who form the majority of the board of trustees, have set out how gender-identity activists have shut down debate:

“Their stance has made any discussion, even in general terms, impossible. That minority has insisted that simply pointing out the difference between sex and gender identity is “harmful”. One person within that minority said it was “hate speech” to suggest that we have time to carefully consider these issues, since it is unlikely that we currently have males accessing our support.”  

After months of attempting to communicate internally with the other trustees and committee members, a majority of the trustees of LLLGB called on the Charity Commission to urgently intervene:  

“As a group of current trustees of LLLGB, we have exhausted every process available to us to defend sex-based services. LLL International and a small number of fellow trustees at LLLGB have undermined our efforts and left us with no choice but to alert the Charity Commission.”

They are determined to secure the future of LLLGB as an organisation true to its founding principles – that is, with mother-to-mother support at its heart. 

The minority group that wants to include breastfeeding men is calling for the removal of the suspended trustees through a vote at an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) later this month.

With the breakdown of governance and the EGM looming, the Charity Commission must act urgently and decisively to defend LLLGB from being destroyed by a minority group of local activists and an imperious international body that is ignoring UK law and seeking to covertly redefine the words that govern our institutions. 

This situation has implications far beyond LLLGB: what happens next will affect all other single-sex charities. The Charity Commission should step up to ensure that the LLLGB trustees who are true to the organisation’s purpose and beneficiaries do not lose control of the organisation. Together with the EHRC, it should issue guidance for the trustees of all single-sex charities about their responsibilities, and about the meaning in their objects of vital sex-based words such as “mother”, “male”, “female”, “man” and “woman”.