If you heard of a country that passed a law banning lesbians from creating formal associations based on their sex and their sexual orientation you would think that it was an authoritarian regime, stuck in the dark ages of gay rights. You would expect Stonewall and Amnesty International to be up in arms.
But it happened here in the UK.
Last year, our survey of users of single-sex services got many responses from lesbians telling us about losing their associations. They told us about groups that were previously women-only coming under pressure to include men who identify as women. They said that women who dissent are excluded. They reported how events and meet-ups including book groups and cycling clubs, discos and drinking nights have disappeared, or gone underground. Venues cancel events; posters are defaced; women are harassed and bullied unless lesbian events are “inclusive” of males who identify as women. All this is mirrored online: even lesbian dating sites include men who claim they are women, and those who try to state a preference for biological women get thrown out.
We collected the stories into a report: Lesbians without liberty, published today:
The report also includes an analysis of the state of the law. This builds on work done by LGBA Cymru who commissioned a legal opinion from Naomi Cunningham on the defence of lesbian spaces.
Forced back into the closet
Joanna Cherry KC MP has written the foreword. She says:
“Women who love women are being forced back into the closet because we are being told we cannot meet or socialise without including men who identify as women. Lesbians feel betrayed by politicians, who seem happy to stand by as lesbians are erased from public life unless we accept the mantra of the gender ideologues who believe that we should be same-gender attracted rather than same-sex attracted.”
It seems very clear that what is happening to lesbians, who are being forced to meet in secret or to allow males into their groups, is an abuse of their human right to freedom of association.
What is most shocking is that the government and the Equality and Human Rights Commission both say that this is how the law should be interpreted: that if a male person has a gender-recognition certificate he has a right to join an association set up by lesbians for lesbians.
In its recent statement of reasons for blocking the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Act, the government states:
“Where an individual has changed their sex for the purposes of the 2010 Act by obtaining a full GRC, the association is therefore not able to refuse membership on the grounds of their previous sex. They also cannot restrict membership to people who are not covered by the gender reassignment characteristic because an association’s membership can only be based on a shared protected characteristic and not the absence of it.”
The Equality and Human Rights Commission also argues that the effect of a gender-recognition certificate is to change a person’s legal sex for the purposes of the Equality Act.
We think it is wrong: this is a misunderstanding of the law
The Human Rights Act says that so far as it is possible to do so, legislation must be read in a way which is compatible with the Convention rights. Freedom of association, the right to form groups and meet together to express or defend common interests, is a fundamental human right, protected by Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The interpretation of the meaning of sex in the Equality Act which destroys lesbian and gay rights to freedom of association might be overturned in court, but it does not have to wait for that. The government has the power to issue a statutory order to clarify that a gender-recognition certificate does not change a person’s sex for the purposes of the Equality Act. If you have not signed our petition, sign it today.
This would protect the rights of lesbians and gay men to freedom of association, as well as the right of men and women in general who wish to form single-sex associations. It would not prevent those who wish to form groups based on gender self-ID from doing so.