OPINION – Stonewall and the gang’s moves against the EHRC are positive: But we cannot wait for them alone to save us

Picture of a protest with a sign being held high saying "We are better than this!"

The EHRC over the last decade have gained a reputation in human rights circles as something of a joke. The multiple (never-ending) Conservative governments have regularly been accused by everyone from Jeremy Corbyn to…us…and everyone in-between of rendering the EHRC not fit for purpose. Considering they recently added a Stonewall guidance bashing transphobe to their board alongside Alasdair “I represented Keira Bell” Henderson who apparently is of the belief that ‘racist’ and ‘homophobe’ are “highly ideological propaganda terms”…it is pretty hard to argue anything other than the EHRC no longer understands their own remit.

The EHRC’s job is to enforce the Equality Act and combat discrimination and champion human rights. When their own board is packed with people who have actively worked to increase discrimination and diminish human rights…I mean COME ON.

Since the Minister for Women & Equalities Liz Truss selected Baroness Falkner as the EHRC’s chief, the signs have only increased in frequency that the EHRC are becoming as supportive of transphobia in a similar way to how they have been supportive of Conservative party Islamophobia.

In her first media interview after she gained the top job she seemingly chose not to discuss increasing hate crimes against almost all minorities or the UK’s widening equality gaps. She chose to talk about how people should have the right to hold transphobic views (not her words, but I am in no mood to hold back my opinion here).

This signalled her intent when it came to trans issues: it was not the trans community that needed protecting.

It was those who seek to expel us from as many spaces as possible and scrub any mention of us from as much of society as they can.

This pro-transphobe agenda became harder to deny once the EHRC intervened in the Scottish Government’s quest to simplify the process of getting a Gender Recognition Certificate. Did they support it? Of course not, they ‘issued a warning’ to the Scottish Government that there were ‘concerns’ that the proposals could detrimentally effect cis-women (of course, they left out the cis part).

It then became impossible to deny when they responded to the recently closed consultation on a proposed conversion therapy ban by calling for trans people to be left out of it, leaving us legally unprotected from the abusive, nightmarish practice.

And then…”hold my beer”…

Yesterday (after a stunning run of investigative reporting by Vice’s own Ben Hunte) it was revealed that a draft of new guidance concerning access to single sex spaces for trans people demanded that trans people be excluded from single sex spaces if they did not hold a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). You know, one of those things non-binary people cannot get at all and trans men and women have to prove they are for real via the medium of bank statements and bullshit.

Of course, there are massive questions as to how the hell this would be enforced. There was the astonishingly good point raised by the Good Law Project’s Jo Maugham that if anyone wanted to use a single sex space they had better pop on a lumberjack shirt or a Liberty print dress and ‘carry their papers.’

Meanwhile, Terrence Higgins Trust advisory board member Steve Wardlaw made the point that if someone suspected that he was a trans man, as a cis man, how the hell could he prove it? If he was asked for a GRC, he would be unable to produce one because they don’t give them to cis people. How would cis people prove they were cis?

Not only would this be unworkable practically from every angle (what the fuck would non-binary people do?) it is also potentially, and highly likely to be totally unlawful. Our own Jaz Sakura-Rose pointed out on Twitter that if the EHRC were dense enough to publish this new guidance they would be at serious risk of conflicting with existing case law and a whole bunch of other things.

And whilst this is all very true, any trans person who has been watching the trans moral panic that has been pickling our community for the last 7 years knows that when it comes to transphobic discrimination…accepted rules, practices and conventions are flexible.

And that if the EHRC and the UK government really, really wanted to do this…they would find a way. I cannot blame anyone for holding this opinion. But there are some things worth thinking about here.

The UK government has always put out the (objectively false) message that they are pro-LGBT. They have even claimed to be a world leader in the run up to their hilariously titled “Free to be Me” LGBT global conference due to take place this summer. Why on earth would they do that?

If the government of Boris Johnson has taught us one thing, it’s that their first priority is serving their own interests. From the endless corruption scandals to the nightmarish slate of bills in front of parliament right now that would snatch power from people and hand it to Boris Johnson…this is a government that has more in common with the Roys from HBO’s Succession than anyone else.

This government wants everyone to believe they are amazing on LGBT issues, that none of them are racist and that Nadine Dorries isn’t a mistake. This tracks with Liz Truss’ decision at the end of the hell year that was 2020 to ditch Gender Recognition Act reform and keep things as they are (except for a new option to email applications and cutting the cost to five pounds). They did not want to make things worse for trans people and risk their self appointed ‘status’ as LGBT champions. They also did not want to make things better for trans people either and incur the wraith of most of the UK mainstream media, Mumsnet, their religious base and anyone else who could support them.

They chose the option that was right for them. Even though it was the wrong thing for us, they went with what would benefit them. And clearly for some reason they believe that not appearing overtly trans hostile (to cis people who don’t fully understand the issues at least) was to their benefit.

The EHRC’s interventions in Scotland, into the Conversion Therapy consultation and now with this leaked draft guidance that sounds a hell of a lot like a ‘bathroom bill’, it is becoming harder to argue that this country isn’t a transphobic pile of crap.

And Stonewall and the coalition of LGBTQ+ organisations are seeking to kick them where it hurts. If they successfully persuade the UN that the EHRC are not fit for purpose, they can downgrade the EHRC and deal a tremendous blow to the UK and this government.

Right before they are supposed to invite the world around for a conference where they supposedly show the world how to be a leader on LGBT rights.

That is going to be awkward.

Stonewall and the rest are using their leverage and it is an absolute good and has a very real chance of kicking both the EHRC and this government in the teeth on the world stage. Trade deals may become riskier, but can you imagine how many nations delegates would pull out of their conference? It is easy to see it isn’t going to be pretty.

But we cannot just leave this to the organisations in the coalition alone. Because as I pointed out before: systems can be manipulated. Institutions can be easily lead astray by HBO show villain types and with all the will in the world, Stonewall and the gang may not succeed.

We need the grassroots orgs to act now too. We need protest, we need spectacle, we need to make our voices heard whilst the big organisations draw the attention of the international community. We need to show our faces. But more than that…we have to grab our own agency and fight for us. We have to take the power back and most of us don’t have the option to call up the UN and make them do anything. Our only option is to hit the streets. That is where the fastest changes come, every-time. That is where we can be as powerful as Stonewall, the Good Law Project and everyone else.

We have to reach the places that don’t give a single solitary fuck about the UN and don’t even know what the EHRC are. We have to send a message to the EHRC and this government that we won’t take this. We have to show people who don’t read Vice. We need to reach the people who happen to walk past our protests and wonder: “What the hell is that about?”

We have to try and reach EHRC employees who are walking into work and make them thing: “Are…are we the baddies?”

Many many months ago, Stonewall’s CEO Nancy Kelley came on our podcast and she told us something that stuck with me. She essentially told us that we need everyone to fight on all fronts.

I think she was right.

Stonewall and the gang are taking this to the complicated and frankly bizarre world of international politics. We need to be the Homefront.

So don’t just sit back and wait for Stonewall to do all the work. There is a massive gap we can fill that will help us fight this, fight transphobia in our society and take a fucking stand.

If you are wondering where to start, here are some locations to think about inviting your friends to for some bellowing (and don’t forget to invite us so we can boost it and bring along some party crashers):

EHRC Manchester
Arndale House
The Arndale Centre
M4 3AQ

EHRC London
Third floor
Windsor House
50 Victoria Street

EHRC Cardiff
Rooms 3.18 / 3.19
The Maltings
House 3
East Tyndall Street
CF24 5EZ

EHRC Glasgow
151 West George Street
G2 2JJ 

See you on the streets.