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Why threats to free speech over sex and gender matter

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Carys Moseley argues that recent threats to free speech on issues of sex and gender matter because Christians have a responsibility to speak out on what is good for all society.


Just in these last two weeks there have been numerous threats to free speech in the UK, all in relation to our sexed embodiment as male or female. Three instances in particular stand out as concerning. The question that arises from all of these is why Christians should defend and make use of free speech in the relevant areas.


Freedom of speech is essential for good mental healthcare

Recently a therapist working in Scotland with teenage girls who have gender identity problems has revealed to the press that she feels she has to keep her work secret. This is a case of self-censorship in the workplace, someone refraining from using their freedom of speech for fear of being disciplined. Her conscience, her common sense and her high standards of ethics tell her that her clients require being gently steered away from transgenderism towards acceptance of belonging to their sex. She isn’t alone. Anecdotally I am aware of numerous people who work in Child and Adolescent Mental Health who are also deeply concerned about ‘transitioning’ minors, and who work with patients in a similar way.

The misguided and incoherent Memorandum of Understanding on sexual orientation and gender identity in mental healthcare is a particularly glaring example of an attack on free speech in the professional domain in the name of transgender rights. The Memorandum is not simply an attack on the free speech of mental health professionals. It is also an attack on the free speech of patients and clients. Under these guidelines, if a patient or client sees any kind of mental health professional who is affiliated to any of the signatory organisations, and that patient or client expresses any kind of wish to move away from the transgender path or any kind of ‘gender identity’ so as to have one’s sense of identity aligned with one’s biological sex, the professional in question would not be allowed to affirm this wish and help that patient or client move towards that concrete goal, because doing so might be considered ‘transphobic’.

Caring for mental health and its relationship with physical health is a basic Christian imperative. It is vital that we stand up for professionals, patients and clients whose free speech and thus their well-being is put at risk by this Memorandum.

Freedom of speech is essential for democracy and public safety

This week students at Somerville College, Oxford defied the college administration by voting against having gender-neutral toilets in the college bar. They cited young women’s concerns about safety. It is very telling that one of the students favouring gender-neutral toilets attacked the proposal to have a secret ballot because this would permit ‘transphobic views’ to be voiced. This is an example of how some transgender activists not only attempt to shame sensible people into silence but also arrogantly undermine the principles of democracy. Democracy cannot work well without secret ballot, because otherwise the potential for voter intimidation would be too great.

Defending individual dignity and public safety for all people is a basic Christian imperative. Unfortunately Christian pastors in this country have been mostly silent on the relentless attack on single-sex facilities and services made by transgender activists and their allies. It is some feminists and individual lay Christians who have campaigned to keep them.

This year Ipsos MORI found that most secondary school pupils in Britain trust clergy to tell the truth, as do most adults(though the percentage for adults has been declining since 1983). This trust should not be taken for granted. Christian leaders should make a practical stand for the dignity and safety of women and men, girls and boys, by defending single-sex facilities and services for all.


Freedom of speech in public debate and universities

Influenced by male-to-female transgender members within it, the Women’s Equality Party have been investigating Heather Brunskell-Evans, a philosophy lecturer at King’s College London, over her recent contribution to the Moral Maze. She correctly insists that there is no scientific evidence that ‘gender identity’ is innate and that children should not be labelled transgendered. Amazingly, she was also no-platformed by medical students at her own university. In response to all this Brunskell-Evans quite rightly lambasted the cowardice of public institutions in the face of the transgender lobby.


Is the misuse of Counter-Extremism behind the relentless attack on free speech?

All these attacks on free speech are attacks on people, especially women, who use sex as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. Jane Fae, the male-to-female transgender person who also participated in the Moral Maze, had previously attacked Christian Concern as ‘extremists’ on the BBC. The BBC presenter did not challenge this, and the BBC only issued an apology after they were publicly criticised.

In each of these cases, infiltration of healthcare, educational institutions and political parties by transgender rights activists is the real cause of these attacks on free speech and bias against those who tell the truth. The UK government’s Counter-Extremism Strategy, published in October 2015, criticises infiltration of the same kinds of institutions by so-called ‘extremists’. Significantly however, in listing grounds for non-discrimination, page 9 of the Strategy lists ‘gender’ but not sex and gender reassignment, which are listed in the Equality Act 2010. The question that really needs to be asked here is why was the Strategy written in this way, as there was no need for sex to be omitted. The problem is that it can be read to mean that it is those who defend and use sex as a protected characteristic who fall outside of the Strategy’s vision for ‘British Values’. Is it being read and used in this way?


Freedom of speech serves public debate about the common good

These examples, like so many others, prompt the question what is freedom of speech for? Is it primarily freedom of self-expression? Clearly those transgender activists who relentlessly attack others’ freedom do not seem to think that everybody has the right even to self-expression. Freedom of speech is a moral good because it is necessary for enabling us to participate in debate about what is good for all people and all society. These relentless attempts to shut down free speech and to stop anybody using sex as a legal characteristic need to be halted and defeated. They are a serious threat to the mental health, well-being and safety of children, teenagers and adults. The UK government has already put on hold its consultation on amending the Gender Recognition Act due to mounting public concerns of this kind. Given the unacceptable wording of the Counter-Extremism Strategy and the concerns raised here, perhaps it is time to assess its effect on free speech as far as discussing people’s sex is concerned.