Where sex matters | Freedom of speech

Freedom of speech

Being offensive is not an offence.

The words mum, dad, boy, girl, he, she, man and woman are among the first we learn.

There are many everyday reasons why people might want to refer to someone’s sex or previous name, or to talk about the material reality of the two sexes. People should be able to speak about sex and use sexed language in debates on sex and gender identity, without fear of losing their job or being investigated by the police.

We need to be able to talk about issues such as how crimes should be recorded, how prisons and other single-sex services should accommodate transgender people, how the census should record sex, and rules for women’s sports – and this cannot be done by talking in generalities. It will necessitate discussion of individual cases and illustrations, and the sex of the people involved.

People asserting their rights to single-sex services should be able to do so in plain English and without the barrier of having to perform the mental gymnastics required to avoid “misgendering” or “deadnaming”.

What’s the problem?

In recent years people have been called “hateful” simply for making ordinary, everyday statements about what it means to be male or female.

Public bodies and private entities are silencing and punishing lawful speech about sex and gender as “transphobic”: people have been removed from social media platforms, had websites and social media forums shut down, been bullied and harassed at work, lost jobs, and been arrested, questioned and prosecuted for communications offences.

Many organisations have adopted policies and guidance which prevent people using ordinary language about the sexes. There have been proposals for new laws on hate crimes that would criminalise ordinary talk about the sexes.


  • I do not believe it is incompatible to recognise that human beings cannot change sex whilst also protecting the human rights of people who identify as transgender

    Being clear about our beliefs

    Sex Matters was founded as an organisation based on human rights. We believe that the rule of law, and the underpinning human rights, are crucial to protect people against unjust and capricious treatment by the state. We also believe that ideas and behaviours promoted in the name of gender...

    29th May 2024

  • This is a message to all universities: you cannot stand back and allow gender critical academics to be hounded out of their jobs.

    The Jo Phoenix case should be a wake-up call for universities

    In 2019 Professor Jo Phoenix became the target of a campaign of harassment from her colleagues at the Open University (OU) after she raised concerns about the silencing of gender-critical voices in academia. This ramped up in 2021 after she co-founded an academic research network for the rigorous exploration...

    16th May 2024

  • Academics who reject trans ideology face unlawful discrimination

    Legal opinion says promotion policy discriminates on basis of gender-critical beliefs

    Earlier this year Sex Matters was approached by Dr John Armstrong, a reader in mathematics at King’s College London (KCL). Dr Armstrong was applying for promotion, but was concerned that the “EDI” (equality, diversity and inclusion) section of the application, which required applicants to demonstrate their commitment to ideas...

    20th April 2024

  • I trust that all women – irrespective of profile or financial means – will be treated equally under the law.

    “Misgendering” and the Scottish Hate Crime Act

    On 1st April, the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act came into force. The law has generated headlines across the world, mainly due to concerns about its potential impact on freedom of speech; in particular, gender-critical speech. One of the most controversial aspects is the extension of so-called...

    5th April 2024

  • Why does the BBC keep getting sex and gender wrong?

    In November 2023, BBC Woman’s Hour interviewed Steph Richards – a man who has publicly documented his harassment of women in the name of trans-rights activism – because he had been appointed as CEO of a micro-charity, Endometriosis South Coast.  This is part of a pattern where the BBC gets...

    23rd March 2024

  • Be kind, be nice

    “Be nice!” says the BBC’s director-general 

    The director-general of the BBC, Tim Davie, appeared at the parliamentary select committee for culture, media and sport this week. He was asked by Damian Green MP about the complaint upheld against Justin Webb for clarifying that transwomen “are, in other words, male”. Webb was reprimanded by the BBC’s...

    22nd March 2024

  • A campaign of harassment against the EHRC

    GANHRI should stand up for the EHRC, not join in the abuse

    Together with 38 groups defending sex-based rights, Sex Matters has written to GANHRI calling on it to stand up for the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), as reported in The Telegraph today. Britain’s human-rights regulator is facing a campaign of reprisals for acting to protect those with gender-critical...

    5th February 2024

  • #DefendUs

    The escalating campaign of intimidation and violence against gender-critical women

    After nearly 15,000 people signed our letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Joanna Cherry KC MP asked Laura Farris, Minister for Victims and Safeguarding, if she would condemn the escalating campaign of violence and intimidation against women in the name of “trans rights”. The minister responded that she had read our letter...

    24th November 2023

  • Maya Forstater and other campaigners hand in their letter to 10 Downing Street

    “Please, please make it stop.”

    On 9th November we delivered a letter to the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, calling on him to act to defend gender-critical women from threats, violence and police harassment. The letter was signed by nearly 15,000 people. More than 3,000 of them also added a personal comment to the letter, and...

    15th November 2023

  • The Sex Matters team and supporters in front of 10 Downing Street

    Sex Matters delivers letter to Prime Minister

    The Sex Matters team were joined by women’s rights activists to deliver the #DefendUs letter to 10 Downing Street today. The letter, signed by almost 15,000 people, asks the Prime Minister to take urgent action to halt the escalating campaign of violence and intimidation against women in the name...

    9th November 2023

  • Sex Matters welcomes review of police politicisation

    The Home Secretary, Suella Braverman KC MP, has written to Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Andy Cook, to raise concerns about police involvement in politically contested matters including “gender identity”, critical race theory and climate activism. She has ordered a review of how much political involvement by the police “may...

    2nd September 2023

  • Statement on the People’s History Museum

    Statement on the People’s History Museum

    Sex Matters is a human-rights organisation that campaigns for clarity on sex in law and policy. We were founded because of the widespread, shameless, unlawful discrimination faced by people who hold and express “gender critical” beliefs. On 25th June we held a board meeting in Manchester in the Coal...

    30th June 2023

  • An attack on her is an attack on us, and it is an attempt to silence us through silencing her.

    Let the UN Special Rapporteur on VAWG deliver her mandate

    Nearly 800 representatives of women’s-rights and human-rights organisations have sent a letter to the United Nations Human Rights Council in support of Reem Alsalem, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and Girls. It urges the United Nations to give Alsalem the protection and the facilities she needs...

    23rd June 2023

  • Bring your whole self to wok?

    Should a civil-service union promote harassment and discrimination?

    At its annual conference starting on Tuesday 23rd May, PCS – Public and Commercial Services Union, the largest civil-service union – is planning to debate motions that denigrate gender-critical civil servants and the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The motions seek to commit the union to a political stance...

    19th May 2023

  • We hope that GANHRI will speak up in solidarity with the EHRC, which is doing its job of protecting everyone’s human rights.

    We call on GANHRI to protect civic space 

    On 3rd May 2023 Stonewall and a group of organisations wrote to the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) accusing Britain’s equalities watchdog, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, of being a “failed institution” which is “actively harming trans people”.  This is the third time Stonewall has...

    16th May 2023

  • Keep calm and carry on?

    Response to Victor Madrigal-Borloz’s report on the UK

    The UN Independent Expert Victor Madrigal-Borloz has issued an extraordinary report at the end of his ten-day mission to the UK. The thrust of it is the familiar claim that speaking clearly about the material reality of the two sexes amounts to “hate”, alongside the equally familiar dismissal of...

    12th May 2023

  • Thank you, Kishwer Falkner

    We have written to Baroness Kishwer Falkner, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission: Dear Kishwer Falkner Thank you for publishing your letter to the Minister for Women and Equalities setting out, with careful reasoning, why you support revisiting and clarifying the meaning of “sex” as a protected...

    11th April 2023

  • Let Women Speak in New Zealand

    “The only way to describe the trans activist mob at Auckland today is feral. Kellie-Jay Keen had to get escorted out of the rally after only being there a brief time due to fears for her safety, and the rally was abandoned.” Katrina Biggs, Auckland We were shocked by...

    26th March 2023

  • Overall, we think the current draft of the new IPSO guidance fails to improve on the flawed guidance published in 2016. In fact, it is worse.

    IPSO’s updated guidance – our response

    IPSO, the Independent Press Standards Organisation, has published draft Guidance on reporting of sex and gender identity to replace its 2016 publication, Guidance on researching and reporting stories involving transgender individuals. Sex Matters has written a response to the consultation and hopes that the final guidance will be improved...

    2nd March 2023

  • Quotes from motions made by councils in Cambridge, Bristol and South Oxfordshrie

    10th February 2023

  • Freedom of belief matters

    Sex Matters has submitted input to Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the United Nations’ Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. He is compiling a report for the UN Human Rights Council on the right to freedom of religion or belief in relation to...

    18th January 2023

  • Statement on the UK government’s decision to block the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill

    We are very pleased that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Scotland have decided to use their constitutional powers to stop the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill from going to royal assent.  As we wrote in our briefing on the Bill and its implications for the...

    16th January 2023

  • "My column was published at 11am... just before 5.30pm the publisher apologised publicly for the anger and upset it had caused and stated that he was parting company with me as a columnist."

    11th January 2023

  • Clarify the Equality Act: sign the petition

    The Equality Act 2010 protects everyone’s rights and covers everything from schools to hospitals, pubs to sports, and everybody’s workplace. It includes protection against sex-discrimination, and allows single-sex services. But on 13th December a judge in Scotland pronounced that Equality Act does not recognise biological sex as a protected...

    16th December 2022

  • "On no other subject had I ever been told, ‘You are not allowed to write about this’."

    Hadley Freeman interviewed on Woman’s Hour

    On 5th December 2022, Hadley Freeman was interviewed by Emma Burnett on BBC Woman’s Hour. She talked about why she was leaving the Guardian, after 22 years of working for the paper. The audio with subtitles available on Youtube. We have added links to relevant media articles, and to...

    7th December 2022

  • 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...

    20th November 2022

  • What happens when speech is silenced.

    Helen Joyce speaks at Caius College

    On 25th October 2022, Sex Matters’ Director of Advocacy Helen Joyce spoke at an event at Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge, entitled “Criticising gender-identity ideology: what happens when speech is silenced”. This page documents the events surrounding the talk. Criticising gender-identity ideology: what happens when speech is silenced...

    15th November 2022

  • Lib Dems revise “transphobia” definition

    The Liberal Democrats have revised their definition of transphobia in the light of recent legal cases.  The previous policy which drew on the work of “organisations such as Stonewall and TransActual UK”. But following advice from two KCs (one, from Karon Monaghan KC, has been published), it has now...

    14th November 2022

  • Compromises that destroy the human rights of one group are unfair. Solutions are needed that respect everyone’s rights.

    Trans rights are human rights!

    Sex Matters is a human-rights organisation. We believe that universal human rights form a powerful framework for thinking about how a diversity of freedoms can be respected, while protecting against harm and maintaining an open and prosperous society.  It is sometimes argued that those who call for clarity on...

    9th November 2022

  • Open letter to Minouche Shafik of the LSE

    Members of the Open University Gender Critical Research Network have written to Baroness Minouche Shafik, Director of the London School of Economics, to ask for an independent review into the LSE’s Department of Gender Studies. Sex Matters joins them in calling on the LSE to launch an independent investigation...

    6th November 2022

  • Join the petition champions

    Petition champions

    After just three days we were over a quarter of the way to the 100,000 signatures needed to prompt a parliamentary debate. We’ve now got more than 40,000 signatures. Thank you to everyone who has already signed the Make the Equality Act Clear Petition. Every signature helps! If everyone...

    5th November 2022

  • Campaign update: Day 1

    Yesterday we launched the Make the Equality Act Clear petition, calling on the government to clarify, with a legislative amendment, that sex means sex in the Equality Act 2010. It got an amazing response. In less than 24 hours, 15,000 people signed the petition, and the number is continuing...

    3rd November 2022

  • Is Sex Matters a feminist organisation?

    The Sex Matters team is just back from a fantastic time at FiLiA, Europe’s largest feminist conference. But Sex Matters is not a feminist organisation. We simply subscribe to the radical notion that women are human beings, with full human rights.  We also attended the LGB Alliance. But Sex...

    27th October 2022

  • Sex Matters writes to MSPs

    Tomorrow 27th October is the Stage 1 debate on the Gender Recognition Reform Bill by the Scottish Parliament. Sex Matters has written to MSPs and sent them a copy of our “Sex and the Law” booklet. Equality law remains an area which is reserved for UK wide legislation, yet...

    26th October 2022

  • Gender-critical at work? Tell us about it

    Sex Matters launches survey

    Sex Matters is launching a survey about being gender-critical at work in the UK. Please take the survey and share your experiences

    17th October 2022

  • This media handbook from Sex Matters aims to help editors and reporters find their way back to professional excellence.

    New media handbook on sex and gender

    Sex Matters is publishing a handbook today, which aims to give journalists the confidence to write accurately, clearly and professionally about sex and gender.  The past decade has seen a determined effort by transactivists and gender-identity lobby groups to make it impossible to talk about biological sex in a...

    14th October 2022

  • The Forstater judgment – what does it mean for employers?

    What does the Forstater judgment mean for employers?

    On 6th July 2022 an employment tribunal found that Maya Forstater had been directly discriminated against by the Center for Global Development because of her beliefs.  This follows on from the precedent-setting judgment of the Employment Appeal Tribunal in June 2021, which found that the “gender critical” belief “that...

    8th July 2022

  • "My case matters for everyone who believes in the importance of truth and free speech."

    A win for free speech and sex-based rights

    Sex Matters’ Executive Director, Maya Forstater, has won her employment tribunal case against her former employer. Here is her press statement: Maya Forstater, who took a claim for belief discrimination against her former employer, the Center for Global Development, has been vindicated by a ruling that she was unlawfully...

    6th July 2022

  • Sex realists gaining ground at Westminster

    Debates on new laws in Parliament are one of the key battlefields between sex realists and sex denialists, with one side seeking clarity on sex, and the other seeking to conflate and confuse sex and gender identity.  A long-term strategy of the sex-denial lobbyists has been to propose legislation seemingly...

    31st May 2022

  • Good ideas that address complex issues are not handed down to us on stone tablets. Good ideas need time, space and the application of intelligence to be formed.

    Reading University VC speaks up for academic freedom

    On 25 April 2022 Dr Holly Lawford-Smith, of the University of Melbourne, gave a seminar at Reading University’s school of law. She analysed Australia’s recent legislation banning conversion therapy, and questioned the rationale for including gender identity alongside sexual orientation. “We champion freedom of expression but…” When local LGBTQ+ organisations learnt...

    23rd May 2022

  • Union proposes boundaries on gender-critical speech

    Union to vote on putting “boundaries” on gender-critical thought in the civil service

    The FDA is the trade union for managers and professionals in public service. It includes the most senior civil servants and specialists such as lawyers and statisticians. Delegates at tomorrow’s annual conference will be considering a motion that would put “boundaries” on gender-critical speech and adopt the position that...

    11th May 2022

  • Send our new guidance to a school you know

    Schools are calling out for clear guidance on sex and gender to answer questions such as what should they do when they face demands to socially transition children or to keep the secrets of a child who identifies as trans.

    25th April 2022

  • "If I win, HR departments will have to pay attention, and recognise that adopting ‘gender self-ID’ and enforcing its mantras creates a risk of legal liability."

    Interview with Maya Forstater

    Sex Matters’ Executive Director Maya Forstater won an important judgment in 2021 in her employment discrimination case. Now she is going back to court. Before her hearing begins next week on 7th March, Sex Matters interviewed Maya about her journey.

    2nd March 2022

  • College of Policing ordered to dial down the “chilling” effect on public debate

    Sex Matters welcomes today’s landmark judgment from the Court of Appeal on the recording of non-crime hate incidents.  It comes three years after Harry Miller received a visit from Humberside Police and had a non-crime hate incident recorded against his name after his tweets were reported as transphobic by...

    20th December 2021

  • Law Commission recommends protection for gender critical views from “chilling effect”

    The Law Commission today released its report and recommendations on hate-crime legislation. It recommends extending hate-crime laws but calls for specific protection from prosecution for gender-critical views. The Commission explicitly disagreed with Stonewall and GIRES (the Gender Identity Research and Education Society), which had said that there should not be...

    7th December 2021

  • Exposing disinformation about Kathleen Stock

    The intensification of targeting of Professor Kathleen Stock attracted public attention to the long-term campaign against her, and to the larger issue of academic freedom. Claims have been circulating which seek to discredit her and those who support her. We assess each one.

    25th October 2021

  • Cover of the report: Leadership Starts with the Law

    The Reindorf Review: a wake-up call for universities

    In May 2021 the University of Essex published a review by barrister Akua Reindorf concerning the “deplatforming” of two academics because of their “gender critical” views. The university apologised to the two academics and is working to remedy the deeply concerning issues raised by the review. Sex Matters has...

    23rd June 2021

  • The Royal Academy and Belief Discrimination

    Sex Matters has written to the Royal Academy about Jess de Wahls. You can download our letter. Jess de Wahls is a textile artist. Her work tackles feminism, misogyny and fetishism. She has expressed her gender-critical views, most notably in an essay she posted in 2019, and since then...

    17th June 2021

  • Truth and reconciliation

    How should the public sector leave the Stonewall Champions Scheme?

    6th June 2021

  • Oxford’s submission to Stonewall

    We are pleased to announce that Michael Biggs, Associate Professor of Sociology at St Cross College, Oxford University, is joining the Sex Matters Board of Directors. Professor Biggs has written this post, as well as a letter to Professor Louise Richardson, Vice Chancellor of the University of Oxford, calling...

    6th June 2021

  • Time to #LeaveStonewall

    This is the letter we have sent to the CEOs of the 850 organisations that are members of the Stonewall Diversity Champions Scheme. Re: Leaving the Stonewall Diversity Champions Scheme We are writing to call on you to withdraw from the scheme, both for the sake of your own...

    29th May 2021

  • The Gender Wars, Academic Freedom and Education

    Guest blog post by Professors Alice Sullivan and Judith Suissa

    25th March 2021

  • Stonewalling the Domestic Violence Bill: Why make “misogyny” gender neutral?

    A short month ago there was an attempt to rush a bill through parliament that would set a precedent of “gender neutralising” motherhood in law; replacing the words mother or woman with  “pregnant person” in the Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances (MOMA) Bill.   As Baroness Noakes highlighted, this is...

    13th March 2021

  • Huddersfield University apologises for “transphobic tweets” investigation

    Huddersfield university has been forced to apologise and pay compensation to a PhD student after they subjected him to a lengthy disciplinary investigation over “transphobic” tweets. The University investigated Jonny Best for six months after a fellow student made an anonymous complaint about things he had written online. Best,...

    7th March 2021

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