Stitch Up, Bristol Fashion – How Transactivists Prefer Shadows to Limelight

Secrecy and fear are the chief weapons of those seeking to silence radical feminist discussions on gender identity. We look at how this plays out in Bristol.

A recent report from international law firm Dentons confirmed what many women have long known about the trans rights movement and the tactics of its activists. The report praised the success of trans activists in Ireland, and advised activists elsewhere to imitate them by using NGOs to ‘get ahead of the government’. They should also, Dentons advise, avoid press coverage and scrutiny.

The reason for this, as James Kirkup wrote in a Spectator column about the report, is that ‘if the public find out about those changes, they might well object to them’. As a friend who has lived in the USA remarked; there are only two other lobbies that operate like this — tobacco and guns.

These tactics are, however, but one half of a pincer movement. For secrecy to be effective, it must be shadowed by its close protection bodyguard, fear.

Again, women have long known the other tactic of trans activists; violent threats and slurs such as ‘terf’. Trans rights activists have threatened us with images of pointed guns, knives, razorblades, bleach, barbed wire baseball bats, blood-stained clothing, hanging, and guillotines. They have made bomb threats. They have said they want to piss on our graves. They have nailed a dead rat to the door, and scrawled ‘kill terfs’ on the window of a rape crisis centre that excludes men. They have, as I have written previously, enlisted the police against those that disagree with them. Women have lost their livelihoods. They have been subjected to vexatious complaints: ‘one colleague told me that she thought I had been diagnosed with cancer,’ said a woman in academia who went through this.

Punching terfs’ is a regular boast, widely made online both before and after Maria Maclachlan, a woman in her sixties, was assaulted by a young man who wrote beforehand that he wanted to ‘fuck up terfs’. Trans activists surrounded a women’s meeting and kicked the windows for hours. The next day Labour party members denounced the women at the meeting from the national conference platform. They have tried (and sometimes succeeded) to intimidate venues into cancelling women’s meetings.

Barrister Allison Bailey, speaking to a Woman’s Place UK meeting at the University of Oxford, described ‘an extremist trans agenda being advanced in a climate of deliberate fear and intimidation from all quarters’.

How much easier to avoid press scrutiny and outrun the government when you have a goon squad striking justifiable fear into the hearts of those who would speak out, and into the hearts of those in the media, or with political power, who might listen and advocate?

Yet women persist.

They persist because there are clearly discussions to be had about women’s and girls’ rights and how they are impacted by proposed legal and policy changes pushed by trans activists.

Their arguments, and the arguments of trans activists, have never been made in conditions free from secrecy, bullying, intimidation, threats, lies, coercion and fear.

Therefore, they have never been made at all — much less won.

Let’s look at how this has all unfolded in one UK city. Organisations in Bristol, a city not short of people that publicly pride themselves on their collective independent-mindedness, have dutifully squeezed into the ever-narrowing gap allowed by this pincer movement.

Firstly, just as in the rest of the UK, hundreds of women in Bristol want to meet publicly to talk about sex and gender. They’ve been doing so, and they have been subjected to the treatment described above.

In February 2018, Woman’s Place UK held a public meeting in Bristol. Trans activists tried to have the meeting cancelled and held a masked protest. This was also the beginning of a sustained bullying and harassment campaign against the meeting’s chair, Raquel Rosario Sanchez, a young feminist from the Dominican Republic pursuing a PhD at the University of Bristol.

In April 2018, We Need To Talk held a public meeting at Bristol’s Jam Jar. Dozens of masked activists invaded the venue, planning to let off smoke bombs. They physically blocked the speakers on the stairs, screamed abuse at them and set off the fire alarm, while the police (six cars and a dozen officers) stood by. One of the speakers, Dr Heather Brunskell-Evans (who was expelled from the Women’s Equality Party for speaking about medical transition in children), wrote afterwards: ‘I feared the injuries I might sustain if pushed downstairs; I looked down on myself being obstructed from speaking by a man almost young enough to be my grandson’.

The meeting chair, Jeni Harvey (who was expelled from the London Radical Bookfair for handing out pamphlets entitled ‘Sex, Gender and Women’s Rights), wrote: ‘…trapped on this stairwell with masked protesters both in front and behind me, I found myself in fear of my physical safety. Unsettling images of my children having to deal with the news that someone had hurt me — and hurt me deliberately — because I wanted to talk about how women and girls stood to lose their sex based protections, came unbidden and unwelcome’.

A list of shame for Bristol.

Local equality and hate crime charities SARI, The Diversity Trust and Bristol Zero Tolerance were quick to respond — in June 2018 they organised a meeting in the City Hall and invited local politicians, police, representatives of the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England, and, of course, women’s organisations. The problem had to be dealt with.

The problem being… the women who dared to assert that women and girls have sex-based rights in the UK. The women on the receiving end of harassment, threats and intimidation. The women whose democratic rights (to participate in discussion on an issue about to be opened to public consultation by the government) were being seriously threatened.

The three organisations decided that what they really needed to do was ‘to defuse the atmosphere of distrust being created around Bristol’s trans community as a result of the recent upsurge in anti-trans activism’.

So they wrote in the introductory section of a ‘road map’ for ‘trans inclusive single gender services’ to which the charities were aiming to have Bristol organisations and service providers, including the police and the city council, sign up. Ideally the results were to be fronted by ‘female local politicians’.

The road map’s objectives:

• To define a set of “bottom lines” that will protect the interests of both the trans community and cisgender women;

• To identify the fears held by both groups and defuse those fears by promoting dialog [sic];

• To encourage development of best practices for women-only services in Bristol that will allow them to be trans-inclusive;

• To organize [sic] public events in the run-up to Bristol Pride to promote a positive attitude towards trans people;

• To create a social media campaign whereby individuals and businesses can show their support for the trans community by signing up to a pledge;

• To educate the core agencies and the community of Bristol about the full range of transgender identities and issues;

• To encourage better reporting of transphobic hate crime;

• To make it clear that “freedom of speech” should not be used as an excuse to promote prejudice and hatred.

SARI, the Diversity Trust and Bristol Zero Tolerance have a long and proud track record of working with the city council, police and other services, and speaking to the media about what they do. In 2017 SARI and BZT worked together with Avon and Somerset Police to introduce a hate crime recording strand of ‘gender’. (It’s clear from the reporting that what’s at issue is the misogynist targeting of women, but as we know, women must not be allowed to have anything of their own).

For this trans-inclusion roadmap initiative, despite the invitations to the police and city council members, there was no publicity and no pride. Quite the opposite; true to the tactics recommended in the Dentons report, they held a closed, invitation-only meeting. The invitation letter said: ‘…this is not a public meeting. Instead we have invited representatives from various women’s organisations and groups’. (It’s certainly news that Avon and Somerset Police and Bristol City Council are ‘women’s organisations’. Good work feminists!)

Who exactly were these women’s organisations and groups? Let’s start with who was not invited.

Fair Play For Women, law and policy experts — not invited.

Woman’s Place UK, who held the February 2018 meeting in Bristol — not invited.

We Need To Talk, who held the April 2018 meeting in Bristol — not invited.

Hundreds of local women had bought tickets and attended these meetings.

SARI, the Diversity Trust and Bristol Zero Tolerance invited themselves, and many organisations that they had previously provided training to, had involvement with, or are members of including One25, SARSAS, Womankind, Kinergy, Safe Link, and the Women’s Equality Party (Diversity Trust’s male director Cheryl Morgan is an active member). Some of these organisations also focus on men’s issues.

None of the invited women’s organisations uphold women’s sex-based rights. Bristol Women’s Voice are open to ‘anyone who identifies as a woman’, and are the funders of Bristol Zero Tolerance. Fawcett have been silent and Feminist Archive South take the position that transwomen are women.

The feminist societies of Bristol University and the University of the West of England were invited. Bristol University FemSoc members were involved in the protesting of the WPUK and WNTT meetings and the bullying of Raquel Rosario Sanchez. The chair was a guest on Cheryl Morgan’s radio show where she encouraged listeners to sign a letter denouncing Sanchez and to protest the WPUK Bristol meeting.

I can’t tell you anything about invited group The Suntrap Collective because they have absolutely no online footprint and I have no idea what they do. Yet their mysterious presence was deemed more important than that of representatives from grassroots women’s groups with huge numbers of supporters and a record of engagement with national politicians.

The disgrace of SARI, The Diversity Trust and Bristol Zero Tolerance’s June 2018 invitation list is Sisters Uncut. As well as being the organisers of both masked protests against Bristol women’s meetings, Sisters Uncut are supporters of a convicted violent male. Tara Wolf, the young man who assaulted a woman in her sixties, was convicted of assault by beating in April 2018. They held a demo to support him, and were supported in this by the Lambeth branch of the Women’s Equality Party.

Who better to invite to a meeting convened to ‘reassure women’s groups that their rights and safety are not under threat’? Who better to liaise with the police than the thugs who protest so dangerously that six police cars and a dozen officers need to attend?

Sadly, Sisters Uncut prefer attending court in support of men who assault women to attending policy meetings, and Bristol’s great and good had to manage without their insights.

Despite the long list of invitees, the email Alex Raikes, director of SARI, sent in the early hours of Sunday July 15th 2018 was only to representatives of SARI, the Diversity Trust, Bristol Zero Tolerance, Avon and Somerset Police, Bristol City Council, Bristol Women’s Voice, Bristol Pride, University of Bristol, University of the West of England, Off The Record, LGBT Bristol and One25. I presume these are the organisations that engaged with the invitation, while the others invited ignored or declined it. She wrote (my bolding):

‘Further to my e-mail stating that we had to cancel the working group meeting to progress the ‘Trans Inclusive Women’s Services for Bristol — A Road Map’. Sadly, it became untenable for SARI to continue to run this piece of work. I had concerns shared with me by a number of people about their not feeling safe or able to contribute freely. In particular Trans people feeling that their safety could be compromised if they participated and other people saying they felt unable to be open about their views in case they were deemed Transphobic. I also felt SARI’s reputation and integrity was being called into question. I decided therefore that this piece of work has become untenable for any local community/ VCS group to lead on — as they are likely to be criticised and misinterpreted for trying to achieve the bottom lines.

I have now met with the Council and Avon & Somerset Constabulary and they have agreed to get permission to lead on producing guidance based on the work we have done so far for providing Trans Inclusive Gender Dedicated Services and also running safe and lawful/ respectful Gender/ Sex related events or meetings.

We (SARI, Diversity Trust) will not be continuing with a Road Map i.e. we don’t feel organising a public meeting or further working group meetings will be productive as things stand. Clearly if anyone else wants to do this they can.

Instead I hope that Bristol City Council and the Police can (as statutory partners) finalise guidance re: the legal and good practice position and offering links to agencies that can help anyone who needs it to achieve lawful and best practice services and events (with zero tolerance to any form of hate crime) then disseminate it and link it to the Equality Charter and funding/ commissioning arrangements.

More news will follow in due course once we know more.’

Raikes’ concern is for the reputation of her own organisation and the safety of trans-identified people. Not a word about the safety of women. How safe did the women at the Jam Jar (We Need To Talk Bristol meeting) feel? Remember the guns, knives, bleach, baseball bats, the threats to ‘terfs’? The Diversity Trust’s Cheryl Morgan has participated in this for years, calling women who assert their sex-based legal rights ‘a terf infestation’.

As Raikes and her colleagues were unable to make the case for ‘Trans Inclusive Gender Dedicated Services’ (whatever they may be), she fell back on strong-arm tactics — police and funding criteria.

In October 2018 — less than three months after this — three women were handing out Fair Play for Women leaflets outside the Green Party conference which was held that year at Bristol City Hall. Trans activists called the police, and within ten minutes four officers and a police horse were on the scene.

On May 15th 2019, Cheryl Morgan introduced a ‘Transpositive Teach in’ held at the University of Bristol Students’ Union. It featured a workshop called ‘Why We Fight The Terf War’.

This event was held on the same day as a disciplinary hearing for Nic Shall, the Bristol University student accused of bullying Raquel Rosario Sanchez. Shall was also one of the masked protesters at the We Need to Talk meeting — she screamed: ‘She?! I’m not she you fucking cunt! My pronouns are they!’ before being removed by police. Not all of Shall’s associates are as gifted with words — luckily, Why We Fight The Terf War have stepped in to help. Their zine has a handy page of ‘Things To Shout’ for activists on anti-women’s rights demos, including ‘Scum Scum Scum’, and ‘You’re Shit And You Know You Are’.

What better way to achieve the Diversity Trust’s anti-racism objectives than by supporting a bullying campaign against Sanchez, a young immigrant woman?

Allison Bailey stated that this bullying ‘is specifically targeted at women, viciously, and especially viciously at women of colour.’

The University of Bristol signed the roadmap’s trans pledge in July 2018, and dropped the disciplinary case against Mx Shall in June 2019. Two weeks later, the Pro-Vice Chancellors for International Students and for Student Experience were pledging allegiance to the trans flag at Bristol Pride.

SARI, originally an anti-racist organisation, is happy to work with Morgan and the ‘Terf War’ bullies, but don’t think that means they don’t uplift women of colour.

Asserting women and girls’ sex-based rights is clearly a no-no for women of colour as far as the Diversity Trust and SARI are concerned, but if you push one of the world’s least woman-friendly ideologies, and believe that women should not show their faces in public, you’re invited to work with them. Sahar al-Faifi of MEND is on SARI’s Tackling Islamophobia Working Group. She’s also been on Morgan’s radio show. In 2017 The National Secular Society reported on research which showed that MEND ‘regularly hosted illiberal, intolerant and extremist Islamist speakers at public events, including those who have promoted jihad, homophobia and anti-Semitism and those who have legitimised the killing of adulterers and ‘infidels’.’

In November 2019 Al-Faifi was suspended by Plaid Cymru for anti-semitic tweets. She remains on the SARI Islamophobia working group.

Despite the failure of the gender roadmap project, SARI and the Diversity Trust still regularly provide paid-for training to police, the NHS (the regional NHS commissioning group is about to adopt their guidance on trans patients), universities, schools and youth groups, and charities. They still receive public money, despite shutting out the public from their closed meeting in the city’s public building and deciding that it would be too difficult to hold any public events. (At the same time, thousands of women around the UK on shoestring budgets have managed to hold public events in the teeth of vicious opposition).

Neither organisation has issued any comment on the Maya Forstater employment tribunal nor the Harry Miller/Fair Cop judicial review, despite the fact that these cases cut to the heart of what they do, and the outcomes may force them to radically alter the training they provide. The judge in the Harry Miller judicial review said: ‘I have become familiar with the term ‘terf’. It is a derogatory term used by those who seek to deplatform those who hold different views’.

It’s time for these anti-democratic organisations to understand, as James Kirkup wrote about the Dentons report, that ‘no policy made in the shadows can survive in sunlight’.

This author has not submitted a biography yet.

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