Mass harassment in HM Prisons and Probation Service
As reported in The Telegraph today, HM Prisons and Probation Service’s Pride in Prison and Probation (PiPP) staff network has circulated documents for Trans Awareness Week telling MoJ staff to recognise a series of words and phrases as “transphobic dogwhistles”.
The PiPP is an official staff network, with a full-time member of staff and a Ministry of Justice email address and the email is marked “official: sensitive”. The network’s aims include to “provide confidential support and assistance to members and provide leadership, support and expertise on LGBTI+ issues” and to “devise ways to strategically influence policies and practices”. In previous years it received “highly commended” status from Stonewall, and it boasts that its work “helped skyrocket the MoJ up the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index” in previous years. Allyship and cooperation with the network has been promoted and signalled from the top.
The PiPP network is also a member of the LGBT Consortium (which is one of the organisations that is involved in the appeal against the Charity Commission‘s decision to award LGB Alliance charitable status).
The email states, under the heading “Being an active ally” that a guide is provided on the language surrounding “harmful debates and statements”, which it links to hate crime, discrimination and malicious misinformation.
The contents of the email and full set of documents can be downloaded here, and the list of “coded language” is reproduced in full below.
The language guidance
This glossary of “dogwhistles” seems to be aimed at encouraging complaints against gender-critical staff members, and encouraging managers not to dismiss them. It states:
“Unfamiliarity with this language has been highlighted by staff and managers as presenting a barrier when handling complaints, due to not understanding the relevance of the context. The below table contains a glossary of commonly used coded language and the messages it is used to convey.”
It includes phrases such as adult human female, autogynephilia, gender critical, I stand with [JK Rowling], protect women’s spaces, trans-identified male, male-bodied, biological female, same-sex attracted and #womenwontwheest. It also smears gender-critical individuals and groups as “anti-trans” and “transphobic” and links to an online article presenting Julie Birchill, Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull, Jane Clare Jones, Graham Linehan, Harry Miller and Heather Brunskell-Evans as being linked to the far right, anti-semitism and neo-nazism.
It also warns against defining gay and lesbian as sexual orientations, based on sex.
|Coded language||What it conveys|
|Actual/Real woman||What is being conveyed is that the person saying this believes that trans women are not really women and should be excluded from womanhood. It seeks to paint trans women as being ‘other’ to dehumanise them, invalidate their existence and justify harassment in the form of critiquing their appearance against unrealistic stereotypical expectations of beauty/performance of femininity, which is deeply upsetting, offensive and undermines self-esteem and confidence. This viewpoint is often supported with arguments about biological functions such as menstruation and pregnancy, these are deeply misogynistic through reducing women to reproductive worth and is also deeply distressing to those who are infertile. Further assumptions of physiological “norms” e.g. levels of testosterone have led to attempts to police women’s bodies in sport through invasive medical testing and imposition of arbitrary measures in sport – the use of these at the 2021 Olympics disproportionately affected black female athletes who were banned from competing https://www.cbc.ca/sports/opinion-case-of-namibian-runners-further-exposes-half-baked-testosterone-regulation-1.6092033 The main focus of this coding tends to be trans women, however, occasionally actual/real man is used to infer similar about trans men.|
|Adult Human Female||This one started as anti-trans groups replacement for the dictionary definition of the term “woman; an adult female human being” to signal exclusionary attitudes towards trans women, who these groups do not regard as women. It has been used on billboards, posters and social media profiles. To those unfamiliar with those groups, it looks like people criticising it are being extremely unreasonable by “calling the dictionary transphobic” which manipulates people into supporting bigotry while creating hostility towards trans people and their allies.|
|Autogynephilia / autogynephilic / AGP||Autogynephilia is sexual arousal at the thought of oneself as female. It’s used primarily as a tool to negatively and falsely label trans women’s reason for transitioning (to be able to live as their selves) as being motivated entirely by sexual reasons. This purposely misconstrues trans identity as being a fetish and fuels a fearmongering narrative to wrongly paint trans people as being sexual predators. This theory is frequently disputed and a number of studies discredit it entirely, including some studies which show that a significant number of cisgender women would also meet the criteria of being an autogynephilic. The theory is also completely debunked by the existence of trans men and non-binary individuals.|
|Cis/cisgender is a slur / Do not call me cis||The claim is that someone is being discriminated against by being called “cis” or “cisgender,” as a label thrust upon them by others. The reality is that cis is derived from Latin meaning ‘on the side of’, while trans is from Latin for ‘opposite of’, both are used in prefixes before gender to denote that persons relationship with their gender, similar to how hetero, homo and bi are used as prefixes to sexual to denote attraction. These terms have been used in sex and gender studies for over 3 decades in previous incarnations as cis/trans-sexual.|
|Erasure of women and girls||This is a similar tactic to the “white genocide/extinction/replacement” theories purported by white nationalist groups to oppose equality through unfounded claims that minorities seeking equality and inclusion are forcing assimilation, which threatens the existence of majority groups. It’s designed to stoke fear and attempt to justify calls against support for that minority group. The existence of trans/non-binary people doesn’t erase anyone else’s existence and using inclusive/neutral language also doesn’t erase anyone because they are covered under inclusive terms e.g. parent covers; mothers, fathers, those who’ve adopted or fostered and are step-parents.|
|Gender Critical||This doesn’t mean that the person is critical of oppressive gender binary stereotypes or is critical of sexism. It is a self-selected label to denote holding anti-trans views, it’s a term used to make anti-trans discrimination sound palatable or a respectable opinion. On social media this is often accompanied by a red square or black and white racing flag in the username or bio. This indicates that the profile owner believes there are only 2 sexes/genders.|
|Gender / transgender ideology||The reason people use the phrase “ideology” is because it distances their hate from the people it impacts. It sounds more acceptable to aggressively campaign against “trans ideology” whereas it would be seen as abhorrent to campaign against “trans people”. Next time you see “trans ideology” replace it with the words “trans people” as this reflects the truth of ‘gender critical’ intentions and unmasks the reality of anti-trans rhetoric.|
|Hygienic||This is a more recent one which has started on social media with ‘gender critical’ people referring to themselves as ‘hygienic’ or as ‘hygienic feminists’ linking their particular ideals as being pure. While it looks innocent on the surface, it’s not. This is derived from terminology around racial hygiene, which was the theoretical backbone of eugenics and Nazi policies of racial superiority, which led to genocide. There is a rapidly increasing overlap developing between Gender Critical and Far-Right Extremist figures/groups as detailed here: https://irr.org.uk/article/feminism-biological-fundamentalism-attack-on-trans-rights/ and this has seen recent events in America where gender critical targeting of trans-inclusive businesses has led to violent demonstrations including hate groups such as The Proud Boys Alleged Trans incident at upscale LA Spa may have been staged (losangelesblade.com)|
|I identify as (insert inanimate object)||Comparing non-binary identities to inanimate/random objects is designed to portray those who do identify as non-binary as deserving of ridicule, or to portray that identity as farcical.|
|Intact / Male-Bodied||The use of intact is also dehumanising language as it is used to refer to un-neutered animals. What is being referred to when talking about being intact or male-bodied is the perception of whether or not someone has had bottom surgery and if they haven’t, the assumption that the person can’t possibly be trans and must be faking it to gain access to vulnerable people. Even if someone has had bottom surgery, people using this terminology still won’t accept them as a man or a woman, claiming that their body hasn’t changed. An important side note here: having surgery or not doesn’t make a person any less trans or nonbinary.|
|I stand with (insert name)…||Pretty much what it says on the tin. It’s a show of support for individuals, specifically in the context of their stance on trans people, which has been deemed transphobic. It’s literally saying “I like this person on account of their anti-trans behaviour and do not think they should be subject to consequences for their actions”|
|“it’s not transphobic to say xyz”||Just like we do not enable people with racist views to decide what is racist, or people with homophobic views to decide what it homophobic, we shouldn’t enable people with anti-trans views to dictate what is transphobic – It’s key to acknowledge the impact of their behaviour on others.|
|Judicial Capture||Over 2019 – 2021 anti-trans groups have crowd-funded and raised a number of judicial reviews seeking to overturn Equality Act protections for trans people, which have been rejected by the judiciary. Rather than accepting the judgments, anti-trans groups have taken to claiming that the Judiciary is wrong and inferring that the Judiciary have been “captured” by interest groups who they are rubber stamping the wishes of,rather than applying the law.|
|Natal/biological man or woman||This is used by gender critical individuals to refer to the gender they were assigned at birth and that they identify with. This often stems from refusal to use the term cis or cisgender because of their belief they are ‘normal’ and trans people are ‘abnormal’.|
|Peak Trans||“Peak Trans” is a term used by someone to denote thinking that trans people have ‘gone too far’ as justification for actively opposing/campaigning against trans inclusion and encouraging others to do the same – essentially shifting blame for their actions onto those they’re targeting. It plays into an ‘us vs them’ mentality of labelling any trans inclusion measure as too much and an infringement on cis lives to stir up division and opposition. Examples of this includes; Opposing use of neutral language such as parents/guardian claiming it erases mothers/fathers (claim levelled at Manchester University)Organising coordinated online attacks (“pile-on”) of organisations seeking to reduce barriers faced by trans people (such as The Practicing Midwife Journal who did a feature on transmasculine maternity care and Mind mental health charity who mentioned supporting trans mental health)Searching for and publishing private information about an individual (”doxxing”) in order to intimidate and harass them (as demonstrated by a university Professor who published a complaint email from a student of theirs in the national press and online revealing their personal contact information).|
|Protect women’s spaces/protecting women and girls||This is a frequently used coded term which means that a person believes trans women do not belong in women’s spaces. It heavily relies on equating trans women with being predatory men, to play on unfounded fears and convince people that supporting trans inclusion threatens their safety – Often this dog-whistle is accompanied by citing a particular individual in a UK female prison in 2018 and the MoJ figures on assaults in prisons, showing 5 cases of sexual assault in female prisons perpetrated by trans prisoners over a decade. To those who are unaware it makes a convincing argument, despite the obvious that one individual isn’t representative of an entire community and only selective information is being quoted, especially in relation to the MoJ figures which showed that over the same decade 11 cases of sexual assault a year were committed against trans women in male prisons. In June 2021, Gender Critical groups raised a judicial review attempting to change Prison Service Policy to exclude trans women from female prisons, which was based on the above arguments: FDJ, R (On the Application Of) v Secretary of State for Justice (Rev 1)  The judge specifically referred to the “misuse of the statistics, which in any event are so low in number, and so lacking in detail, that they are an unsafe basis for general conclusion” and concluded that the Prison Services trans-inclusive policies are “capable of being operated lawfully, and in a manner which does not involve unjustified or disproportionate interference with the Convention rights of women prisoners”. Furthermore, gender critical groups and individuals have targeted trans-inclusive Women’s and Children’s services with transphobic harassment on twitter including; Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre, Women’s Aid, Liverpool Women’s Hospital and NSPCC – which has had a detrimental impact on ability to deliver services.|
|Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria / ROGD||This is a method to delegitimise the very notion of being trans, by claiming it is something people suddenly decide to become as a coping mechanism for other social disorders. The term originated from an American academic paper which has been widely discredited and was withdrawn by Brown university for failing to meet academic standards in research design and methods – It coined the term ROGD from the outset of the research proposal, featured no trans subjects or medical professionals working in the field and only surveyed parents recruited from 3 websites where they’d made posts about their adolescents ‘suddenly’ wanting to transition.|
|Real Lesbian / Gay||This is specifically aimed at trying to cause division among the LGBT+ community through implying that lesbian/gay people who recognise trans women as women and trans men as men aren’t actually lesbian or gay.|
|Same-Sex attracted||This is another coded term refusing to recognise trans women as women and trans men as men and aiming to trying to cause division among the LGBT+ community, by claiming attraction is solely based on genitalia. It is also coded language used by US based anti-LGBT+ organisations who claim same-sex attraction can be cured and support the use of conversion therapy aiming to do so – mapping of funding has revealed that these organisations finance gender critical groups worldwide Global Philanthropy Project – Response to the anti-gender movement|
|Self-ID is dangerous / a threat||This plays on a lack of general knowledge about the Gender Recognition Act (2004) and Equality Act (2010) and is used to claim that proposed reforms to the GRA to enable trans people to update their birth certificates more easily (which has no effect on Equality Act protections and spaces) present a danger to women and threaten their rights and safety in spaces by ‘opening the floodgates for men to claim they’re women to enter spaces’. No-one has to show government approved ID to enter toilets etc, and trans people have been using these facilities with no issues for years, they have also been able to obtain government ID and update records to reflect their gender via legal statutory declaration for decades (just not their birth certificate). The Equality Act (2010) created anti-discrimination legislation outlawing the exclusion of trans women from Women’s facilities and has operated with no issue since its implementation. In addition, other countries such as Ireland (2015) have had Gender Recognition on self-ID models to change birth certificates via a legal statutory declaration, with no reported issues or abuses of the system. This assertion directly mirrors tactics that have been used by anti-LGBT+ groups in the USA to oppose non-discrimination policies Christian Right tips to fight transgender rights: separate the T from the LGB | Southern Poverty Law Center (splcenter.org)|
|Sex is real / immutable||People say this to claim that trans women want to erase the realities of biological sex, when it is trans men and non-binary people (assigned female at birth- AFAB) who are fighting for gynaecological care. Trans and non-binary people are generally acutely aware of the reality of the sex characteristics of the human body; no-one is claiming that sex isn’t real, it is. However, it isn’t rigidly binary (it is probably closer to a bimodal distribution) as there are many variations. This binary view of sex is also harmful to Intersex individuals by denying their existence and variations outside the sex binary model.|
|Sex not gender||The use of this term expresses a person’s intention to only view people as the sex they were assigned at birth rather than as their gender identity. It is rooted in biological essentialism which purports that ‘human nature’, an individual’s personality, or some specific quality (such as masculinity, femininity, or a propensity to aggression) is an innate and natural ‘essence’ rather than a product of circumstances, upbringing, and culture. The concept is used to invoke a focus on difference, framing females as essentially different from males|
|“Show me where x said something transphobic”||This is a common tactic to reinforce the success of coded language and afford plausible deniability to the person repeating the transphobic statement. It relies upon claiming not to be aware of why a statement has caused offence, knowing that a person unfamiliar with the issues may not understand what has been conveyed.|
|Stonewall Law / Captured by Stonewall||Stonewall Law/Captured by Stonewall is a coded term aiming to defame organisations who support trans and non-binary staff by falsely claiming best practice advice shared by Stonewall was based on a misinterpretation of the law and organisations using it are acting unlawfully. The advice given by Stonewall is in line with the EHRC’s code of practice in applying the Equality Act 2010. Gender critical figures attempted to force a judicial review of the EHRC code of practice to try change these to enforce mandatory exclusion of trans women from being able to access appropriate single-sex facilities – the application for a judicial review Authentic Equity Alliance C.I.C., R (On the Application Of) v Commission for Equality And Human Rights  was heard on 6th May 2021 and dismissed by the judge within on the grounds claims were “absurd”, “unarguable” and that its interpretation of the Equality Act 2010 was “wrong in law”.|
|Super Straight||The concept of “super straight” originated on 16 year old boys TikTok video, where it was promptly removed by the platform for transphobia. After this it was swiftly picked up by alt-right forums where it was spread as a label and spin-offs: “super gay/lesbian/bisexual” were added to the mix to denote individuals who claim they only find cisgender men and women attractive. On social media this view is signalled by the use of orange and black squares next to each other in bios.|
|Trans-identified Male/Female – TIM / TIF||These translate to: Trans Identified Male (to refer to trans women) and Trans Identified Female (to refer to trans men.) You can see the glaring anti-trans sentiment in the names that the acronyms spell but also in the denial that trans people are who they are.|
|Transing children / forcing children to transition||This is assertion aims to demonise the trans community, supportive parents and services supporting trans youth. Medical transition is not available to children, hormone treatment and surgery is only available on adult pathways. Another word sometimes used in this context is, “transing” alongside claims that supporting children in social transition (e.g. using their name and pronouns) is child abuse. You can’t make someone trans, just as you can’t make someone gay. This is similar to the efforts of homophobic people to portray gays and lesbians trying to “turn children gay”.|
|Trans Agenda / Cabal / Cult / Lobby||The aim of using these is to purport a conspiracy theory that trans people are some all-powerful lobby group, brainwash people and have an agenda funded by big pharma to trans the world. The term Cabal is one which is rooted in antisemitism, and there is growing evidence linking anti-trans activism to and evidence linking anti-trans feminism to anti-Semitism: ALERT: Transphobic Feminism and Far Right Activism Rapidly Converging (transsafety.network)|
|Transgenderism||Adding “-ism” to the term “transgender” paints it as a philosophical or political point of view, something which is up for debate and discussion, rather than a valid state of being. It plays into a common tactic deployed to dehumanise people.|
|Transmedical / truscum||A “transmedicalist” (aka “truscum”) is someone who has a pretty strict idea of what it is to be trans — ascribing to the idea that it requires explicit, ongoing dysphoria that is disruptive in the person’s life, and that one must follow a prescribed path for transition of; social transition, hormone therapy and seek surgical transition in order to be “really trans”. Not everyone who is trans follows the same transition path, they may not be able to for reasons such as medical complications, costs and the poor state of trans healthcare leading to long waiting lists or unavailability of surgeons (as was recently the case for phalloplasty in the UK). This doesn’t make anyone more or less trans.|
|TRA||TRA an abbreviation which is used as a riff on MRA’s aka Men’s Rights Activist/Incels to denigrate Trans Rights Activists and Allies by inferring they’re misogynists and it is also used as another dig at trans women by calling them men.|
|Transtrender / social contagion||These terms are used to claim that people find being trans “trendy” and thus decide that they are trans themselves, or that someone’s only decided to be trans because of what they’ve seen on social media or who’s in their social circle. We’ve heard this all before about lesbian, gay and bi people and know it to be false.|
|Transwoman / transman||This is a really subtle code which is easy to miss the significance of. The point of using trans with a space before woman/man e.g. trans woman is to signify trans as an adjective describing the kind of noun (woman/man) that a trans person is. The removal of the space is an attempt to other trans people by placing them in a separate category as a whole separate noun.|
|“You can identify as anything you like”||This sounds like tolerance but at the core of this statement is the belief that trans/non-binary people are living a fantasy that should not be indulged.|
|#Womenwontwheesht||Originating from Scottish groups this translates as ‘women won’t shut up’. It is frequently accompanied by claims of being silenced or discriminated against on the basis of sex, if anti-trans behaviours or actions have been criticised. Similar to “adult human female” it is included in social media profiles/posts and used on materials to signal exclusionary attitudes.|
A case of “mass harassment”?
The Equality Act 2010 defines harassment as engaging in unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic which has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity, or “creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment” for them. This can include training, policies and corporate communication.
Making it impossible for staff to express in clear terms that sex is real and immutable is likely to be discrimination and harassment on the basis of belief (as the Employment Tribunal in the Forstater case found that it would be “an error to treat a mere statement of Ms Forstater’s protected belief [that human beings cannot change sex] as inherently unreasonable or inappropriate”).
Complaints, even if they are ultimately dismissed, are stressful and can themselves amount to harassment and discrimination, as the Allison Bailey case demonstrated.
We believe that this email and the complaints that it seeks to encourage create an intimidating and hostile environment for gender-critical staff (protected characteristic: belief). This includes both staff who would have seen the original email (because they are on the mailing list), and those who have since learnt that their managers may have seen it. More broadly this email exposes a culture of intolerance encouraged by the PiPP and endorsed by Stonewall, and enabled by the MoJ.
It could also be seen as creating a hostile environment for gay and lesbian staff (protected characteristic: sexual orientation), and even transsexual staff (protected characteristic: gender reassignment), who it labels “truscum”.
Not only does this promotion of language-policing encourage harassment and discrimination of HMPSS and MoJ staff, it prevents staff members being able to effectively do their job when it comes to the risk assessment of trans-identified prisoners; considering the needs of vulnerable young offenders presenting with rapid onset gender dysphoria; protecting female prisoners; and considering, discussing and setting clear and sound policy in areas such as prison allocation, searching and data-recording. If prison, probation and justice staff are not able to recognise and articulate concepts such as male, female, opposite-sex and same-sex clearly they will undertake actions which violate the dignity of and create an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for prisoners, suspects, victims, witnesses and visitors.
The Civil Service Code states (under integrity)
- carry out your responsibilities in a way that is fair, just and equitable and reflects the Civil Service commitment to equality and diversity
You must not:
- act in a way that unjustifiably favours or discriminates against particular individuals or interests.
The appropriateness of having a civil-service staff network that is a member of a campaigning organisation (LGBT Consortium) being rated for its performance in influencing departmental policy by another campaigning organisation (Stonewall) which is also a member of the same group is highly questionable.
According to the report in the Telegraph, the Prison Service is seeking to distance itself from this communication, saying: “This guidebook was published by a staff network, its content was not approved prior to being communicated and it is a network rather than a corporate HMPPS view” and that it is reviewing the rules around internal communications to staff from network groups.
We recommend that:
- HMPSS / MOJ staff who have been affected by this email to consider bringing grievances and to get in touch with SEEN, the civil service Sex and Equality Network.
- HMPPS to immediately send all staff a strongly worded email repudiating the statements in the “Annex B” and reminding them that discrimination or harassment on grounds of any protected characteristic (including gender-critical belief) will be a disciplinary matter.
- The Ministry of Justice to undertake a review of actions and policies undertaken as part of the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index scheme, including the culture and activities staff networks whose work was commended by Stonewall.