Garden Court Chambers is ‘investigating’ Allison Bailey for being a founding member of the LGB alliance. This is no surprise given its associations.
Two years ago, on Tuesday October 3rd 2017, I attended a meeting in central London entitled ‘Progress and Challenges in Advancing Equality for Trans People in the UK’. It was held at Garden Court Chambers, in association with the Human Rights Lawyers Association. The meeting took place just two weeks after a well-publicised assault on a middle-aged woman in Hyde Park by a young male protester, which resulted in a conviction for assault by beating. The conflict between increasing rights for trans people and the rolling back of women’s rights was in the news. The Hyde Park Corner incident illustrated the lengths to which trans allies were prepared to go in order to prevent women talking about their rights and organising to uphold them. I attended the meeting at Garden Court fully expecting the emphasis to be on securing rights for trans people, of course, but I also expected existing law to be respected and upheld. I thought that women’s rights were human rights and that this would not be forgotten. I assumed there might be discussion as to how to square the difficult circle of trans rights versus women’s rights, but that lawyers would be the very people with the knowledge and skills to be able to do this.
I was wrong.
In his opening remarks, Paul Dillane of the Kaleidoscope Trust gave an overview of the legal and social progress of trans rights worldwide. We learned that transgender identities are criminalised in Malaysia and that twenty one trans people had been murdered in the USA that month. Much of what Dillane said was irrelevant to the situation in the UK but it helped to paint a sympathetic picture to start the evening.
Bex Stinson of Stonewall was first to speak. We were told that the Trans Inquiry was incredibly important regarding the recommendations it published, but that the government response to the report was lacklustre. We learned that trans people are demonised and dehumanised, and that there is a hostile environment at the moment: every week there is a new piece in the press attacking trans people. The language we’re seeing now is like Section 28 all over again: trans people face hostility. The new GRA should recognise all identities, there should be right of autonomy, no diagnosis of dysphoria should be needed. We need strategic legislation: human lives are involved. We’re facing a serious tide of anti-trans sentiment.
Next up was Michelle Brewer of Garden Court Chambers and the Trans Equality Legal Initiative (TELI). Brewer started by pronouncing that chambers is a safe space: there would be NO DEBATE about trans rights existing. TELI, we were told, was a group of human rights lawyers and trans rights activists, set up to educate the legal community and to support grass roots organisations. We need to be educating ourselves – in court at the moment there is apparently misgendering and deadnaming. It is the responsibility of lawyers not to use ‘cis-normative’ language. It needs to be safe. There is a hostile environment. The example was used of the appalling deaths of trans people in prison, including one just last week.
Jane Ryan of Bhatt Murphy was next to speak. Ryan told us that trans people know more than she does because she hasn’t read enough Butler and Foucault. She went on to expand on the problems trans people face in prison: the criminal justice system is inherently binary, and often gender ID is not respected. Strip-searching by a prison officer of the opposite ‘gender identity’ to the prisoner is an example of unlawful discrimination. Barristers are representing cases like this. She has represented a firearms offender who was denied access to hormones and ‘gender-affirming items’ and she won a settlement and apologies. Suicide was brought up again, and wider problems: trans prisoners are a high risk group because of arbitrary access, transphobic abuse and serious long-term bullying. The biggest challenge is effective representation.
Nina Nasim of UKLGIG was the last to speak. She said the Trans Inquiry failed to mention trans refugees or asylum seekers. When in detention trans people are not housed in accommodation which matches their gender identity. There can be sexual abuse and exploitation and the guards are unsympathetic. Refugee charities often don’t have the experience to help trans people.
There was then a Q and A which was mostly used up by requests for Bex Stinson to talk about transitioning at the bar, and for Bernard and Terry from GIRES, who were in the audience, to stand up and speak about their work. My companion that evening, Julia Long, kept her composure long enough to ask a question about the changing meaning and definition of ‘gender identity’, and Michelle Brewer answered with an assertion that ‘what gender means to the individual’ is the best way forward for trans people to explain themselves, so this is the definition needed in legislation.
The rights of women were never on the table. Female prisoners expected to be housed with potentially violent males, female prison officers expected to intimately search male bodies, female asylum seekers expected to be housed with males, female litigants expected to refer to their male attackers as ‘she’, female crime statistics expected to incorporate male rapists, females in general expected to take a man’s word for it rather than believing what their own experience is telling them: none of these examples apparently merit a human rights approach when they are set against the perceived rights of trans people. The ease with which women’s rights can be sidelined, by people whose job it is to uphold the law, highlights the vulnerability of those rights: we cannot take anything for granted. Everything could be taken away tomorrow, not necessarily by legislative change, but simply by policy capture instigated by lobby groups while nobody was looking.
In April 2018, in a court of law, the victim of the Hyde Park assault, Maria MacLachlan, was forced by the judge to refer to her attacker as ‘she’. This removal of a woman’s right to speak the truth as she perceived it, whilst under oath, did not merit any public disapprobation.
Two years on from the ‘Advancing Trans Equality’ meeting, and this week a barrister from Garden Court Chambers became the subject of a public shaming on social media for the sin of expressing her views on gender. Allison Bailey is a founding member of the new LGB Alliance, a group which has been formed to do the job which Stonewall once did, and look after the rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual people. A lesbian herself, Bailey has publicly voiced her support for those who are same-sex orientated, in opposition to Stonewall’s new insistence on same-gender attraction. She compounded her transgression by chairing the Woman’s Place UK meeting in Oxford on Friday October 25th. The backlash has been instant and severe, including a Twitter pile-on instigated by Owen Jones, a call to arms from Gendered Intelligence (since deleted), and subsequent complaints to her employer, which Garden Court Chambers are ‘investigating’.
Apart from their association with TELI, Garden Court is also home to other trans activists and allies. Alex Sharpe is a prominent trans activist on Twitter, unafraid to use offensive slurs against women. Sharpe submitted written evidence to the Trans Inquiry in 2015, as did Claire McCann. Both pieces of written evidence ignore women’s existing sex-based rights. Despite this, Garden Court members know they can wear their trans-allyship with pride, and they are duly celebrated on social media for doing so. The same pride cannot be assumed by those standing up for women, or for same-sex attraction. On the contrary, to be seen as an ally to women is often to invite condemnation. There is little support out there for the supporters of women. A law firm, especially one which has signed up as a ‘Stonewall Diversity Champion’, can promote the rights of one group of people at the expense of another and be applauded for it, as long as the group they are overlooking is women.
Women’s groups set up to defend women’s existing rights, such as Woman’s Place UK, which was formed as a response to the Hyde Park assault case, have always been keen to explore possible solutions to the conflict of rights between women and trans people. In contrast, it would appear to be a pre-requisite for trans allies to deny that women even have existing rights. It is astonishing that this wilful ignorance is seen as a matter of pride. It would seem that, against the backdrop of their overwhelming support for trans rights, in Garden Court Chambers even one person standing up for the rights of women is one too many.