Free Speech Union: weekly news round-up

Dear Mike Buchanan,

FSU urges NHS Trust to withdraw unlawful trans policy

As reported in today’s Mail, FSU General Secretary Toby Young has written to the South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust in relation to its new ‘Transitioning at Work and Gender Diversity Policy’. The policy came into effect last month and, having reviewed it, we believe it must be urgently withdrawn and substantially amended as it appears to discriminate against NHS employees with gender critical beliefs. (You can read Toby’s letter here.)

One of the fundamental problems with the policy is its definition of the term ‘transphobia’: “The fear or dislike of someone based on the fact they are Trans, including denying their gender identity or refusing to accept it. Transphobia may be targeted at people who are, or who are perceived to be, Trans.”

Trans employees and service users should, of course, be free from discrimination and harassment. But given that the Trust says it “does not accept transphobia in any form”, an employee “refusing to accept” a trans person’s “gender identity” – e.g., a Muslim or a gender critical feminist – will face being disciplined or worse. This effectively creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for any employees who believe that sex is binary and immutable – a protected belief, don’t forget – which is contrary to Section 26 of the Equality Act 2010.

We think this definition of ‘transphobia’ is too broad and the accompanying statement that the Trust does not accept it “in any form” is, as a result, too dogmatic. It is perfectly possible to refuse to accept that a trans person has changed their gender because, according to your belief, sex is binary and immutable, but nevertheless treat that colleague with dignity and respect. It is that standard which the NHS should insist upon, and not insist that employees should “accept” something that runs contrary to their beliefs.

The Trust creates further problems for itself by giving examples of ‘transphobic’ behaviour, which it says it will not tolerate “in any form”:

  1. A trans-woman… referred to as ‘he’ despite having requested to use the pronoun ‘she’;
  2. Refusing to use the same facilities as a Trans or Non-Binary member of the team;
  3. Refusing to use the pronouns of the affirmed gender of a colleague.

Setting aside the fact that compelling employees to use the preferred pronouns of their trans or non-binary colleagues may be a breach of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the Trust is effectively saying that a female member of staff not wishing to use the same toilets as a biological man with intact male anatomy is ‘transphobic’ and could face losing her job.

Should the South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust refuse to withdraw this policy and any of its employees find themselves being disciplined or worse because they fall foul of it, we’ve made clear we stand ready to support them, including by helping them take the Trust to the Employment Tribunal.

FSU founder member helps open up debate on the battle for women’s sport!

We are delighted to announce that the generosity of one of our Founder Members, Alan Hearne, has made it possible for copies of British Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies MBE’s book Unfair Play: The Battle for Women’s Sport to be sent to over 80 national and international sporting bodies. The accompanying letters either congratulate those which have already taken notice of the evidence and taken steps to protect the female competitive category or urged them to read the book and re-open debate if they have yet to do so!

The FSU was delighted to host the launch event for Sharron’s book in London last month, and the recording of the event is available in full on our YouTube channel (here).

Cabinet minister faces non-crime hate incident investigation over ‘racist’ leaflet

A Cabinet minister is facing a police investigation over an allegedly ‘racist’ campaign leaflet about a proposed new traveller site in his constituency (BBC, GB News, Sky News, Telegraph).

David TC Davies, the Welsh Secretary, raised his concerns about the inadequacy of a council consultation about the site in a flyer sent to constituents in July.

However, after complaints of discrimination were made, Gwent Police confirmed it was reviewing the “impact” of the leaflet’s content “on the gypsy and traveller and settled communities in Monmouthshire” on the grounds that it may represent a non-crime hate incident (or NCHI).

Mr Davies, the MP for Monmouth, said the leaflet was “not a criticism of the gipsy and traveller community”, who he understood to also be unhappy about the plans for the site.

“The location of authorised and unauthorised traveller sites is a legitimate matter for public debate and scrutiny,” he said. “It is entirely valid to criticise a lack of wide public consultation by a council. I have been contacted by many upset residents at the shortness of the consultation and the proposed locations for the sites.”

Gwent Police’s intervention comes despite the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, issuing a new code of practice for police forces in England and Wales earlier this year, intended to protect freedom of speech by ensuring NCHIs are no longer recorded simply because someone is merely offended, but only in circumstances where an incident is “clearly motivated by intentional hostility”, and where there is a “real risk of escalation causing significant harm or a criminal offence”.

Ms Braverman is understood to be concerned that officers appear to be “wasting time” investigating an NCHI that quite obviously doesn’t meet the higher reporting threshold established in the new code of practice.

It’s not as if Gwent Police hasn’t got enough actual crime to be going on with. The county of Gwent has seen a 12% rise in recorded crime in the past year, including a 38% leap in shoplifting, and a 31% increase in theft from the person.

In the year up to March, it was the eighth worst area of the country in terms of the number of crimes per head of the population, as well as the worst in Wales.

Figures from the Home Office also show that only 5.5% of reported crimes led to a charge or summons in the year to September 2022, down from 8% the year before.

The latest FSU podcast episode with Gillian Philip podcast is out now!

The latest episode of the FSU’s podcast is out now, and this week Tom and Ben are joined by best-selling children’s author and FSU member Gillian Philip.

When Gillian added the hashtag ‘#IStandWithJKRowling’ to her twitter handle back in 2020, the online twitchfork mob moved in, sensing a quick cancel.

Unbelievably, following baseless claims of ‘transphobia’ and repeated rape and death threats from the ‘Be Kind’ brigade, her employer terminated her contract.

During the podcast, Gillian spoke powerfully about her experience of cancel culture, as well as the insidious, chilling effect it has on society more generally.

“Chilling”, Gillian says, in the sense that when high-profile gender critical feminists like Helen Joyce, Kathleen Stock, Julie Bindel and others are targeted by the mob all the vile abuse serves as a grim warning to others: “You too will lose your job if you continue to speak out about this.”

With the FSU’s support, Gillian is fighting for the right to express gender critical beliefs without losing your job. Now she needs your help to bring an appeal claim against her former employer, Working Partners and HarperCollins, to the Employment Appeal Tribunal in September.

If you can, please show your support here.

You can listen to clips from the podcast here and here. The link to download the episode in full – and for free – is here.

Battle of Ideas Festival 2023 – get your special FSU discount here!

The Battle of Ideas festival returns to Church House, Westminster on the 28th and 29th of October. As ever, the festival’s motto is: “Free speech allowed, free thinkers welcome.” There’s plenty to discuss, from the corporate wars on free speech to the rise of apocalyptic thinking around climate change and artificial intelligence. There will be debates on the continuing outbreaks of populism in Europe and the crisis in the arts world – plus much more across 100+ sessions.

We’ll be there all weekend with our stall and will be organising a panel on Saturday as part of the Free Speech Strand.

FSU members can get 20% off tickets by using this link.

Censor, hide or limit purchase of gender critical books, public libraries told

A number of gender critical books have been hidden from view at public libraries within the library service of Calderdale Council, a local authority affiliated with the controversial LGBT charity Stonewall (Mail, Telegraph).

Following receipt of a “formal grievance” from a single member of staff, Calderdale Council (metropolitan borough population: 206,600) removed a variety of books, all critical of gender ideology and transgender activism, from public view at the Council’s 12 public libraries and placed them out of sight in an off-limits storage space.

The books in question include Dr Joyce’s Trans: When Ideology meets Reality and Prof Kathleen Stock’s Material Girls, bestselling titles which argue that biological sex is immutable and not altered by self-identification.

Earlier this year, the council’s Labour leadership reaffirmed its commitment to Stonewall’s Diversity Champions scheme to ensure “services that are accessible and inclusive for all… not just for the people of Calderdale, but for our staff too”.

It would be troubling enough were this ‘just’ an egregious, one-off aberration. But a guidance document recently issued to libraries across the country cites this DIY censorship method approvingly while advising staff on how to prevent “LGBTIQ+ users” seeing “offensive” gender-critical books.

The “best practice” guidance, titled Welcoming LGBTIQ+ users: advice for public library workers, has been shared among council-run public libraries across the country and contains recommendations on how to handle “transphobic books”. Librarians are urged not to promote works by gender-critical authors and told how to mitigate the “risk” that LGBT readers might encounter these “offensive” titles on shelves. The guidance also suggests that staff limit the number of gender-critical books they stock.

Produced in 2022 by an Islington “LGBTIQ+ library” called Book 28, the document is available on the websites of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland, and the charity Libraries Connected, an organisation whose membership includes every library service in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Book 28’s founder, Southwark Council librarian Isadore Auerbach George, drew up the advice with Lambeth librarian Colette Townend, who recently wrote an article for the trade publication Information Professional on “public libraries’ response to transphobia when making library stock decisions”, and academic Dr Elizabeth Chapman, whose doctoral thesis was on “provision of LGBT-related fiction to children and young people” in public libraries.

In a section titled ‘Transphobic books’, the co-authors warn: “There have been a few titles published which claim to be ‘gender critical’ and argue for removal of trans rights.

“We, along with many in the LGBTIQ+ community, find these books offensive,” they thunder from up on their ideological mount, and issue a decree to the faithful that “these authors and their work can be labelled transphobic, and the writers themselves Terfs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists)”.

Having regretfully noted that such books are “legally published”, the authors advise librarians on how best to guard against the sin of biological blasphemy in their taxpayer-funded woke Sacrament houses: “We do not say you shouldn’t stock these books or consider methods of censorship around them. Rather, we would recommend to be mindful of and not promote these books, and to think carefully about how many you want to buy, perhaps based solely on individual requests.”

Understandably, the guidance has caused concerns about censorship, with FSU General Secretary Toby Young telling the Telegraph: “I’m afraid it’s all too typical of the woke Left to urge librarians to censor books in the name of ‘inclusion’.

“What’s next? Telling libraries to burn works by Kathleen Stock and Helen Joyce because they’ve dared to challenge ‘trans-inclusive’ dogma?”

The FSU would like to get a sense of the extent to which book censorship of this kind is becoming normalised in public libraries. With that in mind, if you spot any gender critical ‘gaps’ in the catalogue next time you’re renewing your long-loan copy of How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, let us know by direct messaging us either on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn.

Is there a left way back from woke? Tickets for our next live event now available!

Our next event will take place on Wednesday 13th September, both in-person in London and online. In-person tickets for ‘Is there a left way back from woke?’ can be purchased here and include a free glass of wine on arrival! Watching it online is free for FSU members – the link to register is here.

In his provocative new book, Cancelled: The Left Way Back from Woke, political scientist Professor Umut Özkirimli describes how the Left has been sucked into a spiral of toxic hatred and outrage-mongering, retreating from the democratic ideals of freedom, tolerance and pluralism that it purports to represent.

Professor Özkirimli will be joined in conversation by two eminent public intellectuals. Professor Alice Sullivan has been instrumental in providing evidence that clarifies the need to preserve sex-based social categories in data-collection and policy-making, while Dr Ashley Frawley is one of the most interesting contemporary critics of identity politics.

The panel will discuss Professor Özkirimli’s book and how those on the Left, as well as the politically homeless, can be encouraged to reject the divisiveness of ‘woke’ politics and stand up for freedom of speech and democratic values. As ever, there will be plenty of time for audience Q and A.

Nigel Farage de-banking “not about free speech”, says former BBC journalist

Former BBC journalist turned podcaster Emily Maitlis has claimed that Nigel Farage’s de-banking by Coutts had nothing do with free speech, and that the former UKIP leader is simply using the episode to “whip up a populist storm” (Express, GB News, Mail, Telegraph).

Earlier this month, after Alison Rose, the then-NatWest chief executive, sat next to Simon Jack, the BBC business editor, at a charity dinner, the BBC reported that Mr Farage’s account was closed because his wealth fell short of that required by Coutts.

However, thanks to a Subject Access Request submitted by Mr Farage, we now know that his accounts were closed largely, if not entirely, for political reasons.

Across the 40 pages of eye-poppingly partisan documents released to Mr Farage, his perfectly lawful views on Brexit, LGBT rights, the government’s Net Zero targets and many other contentious contemporary topics, are cited as evidence of his “distasteful” views, which “do not align with our values”, and which the bank’s reputational risk committee saw as grounds for “exiting” him from the bank.

Speaking on a podcast called The News Agents, Ms Maitlis said: “I think the one thing we have learnt from all of this is how to whip up a populist storm. Because at the heart of this is the choice of one private bank to say no to one private customer who they felt was costing them too much and wasn’t bringing them in enough money.”

It’s not immediately clear how the aspiring podcaster reaches that conclusion. In the Coutts documents released to Mr Farage, the bank clearly refers to the fact that, although “NF” had technically dipped below the financial threshold required by the bank, he “meets the EC [economic contribution] criteria for commercial retention”. One for Emily’s former colleague, the BBC’s misinformation expert Marianna Spring, perhaps.

Not that the co-host of The News Agents is alone in adopting this whimsically idiosyncratic view. Ever since it became clear that Mr Farage was de-banked for political reasons, many of those on the woke Left who never normally seem particularly keen on free market capitalism have been lining up to explain why corporate censorship of this kind is perfectly within the rights of a private company.

It will therefore be interesting to see whether this sudden spasm of love for Hayekian economics persists in the face of news that Gina Miller’s political party, True and Fair, is being de-banked by Monzo and nine other banks have refused to take the account (Mail, Telegraph).

Ms Miller is now asking the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to step in to ensure all new political parties and MPs can access banking facilities. Beyond her own party’s difficulties, she says, “the bigger issue is the fact that as a new insurgent political party you have no access to banking services, which is extraordinary in a democracy”.

Separately, the FCA has begun looking into whether the PEP rules (politically exposed persons) are being applied too rigorously. Banks are estimated to have categorised as many as 90,000 UK citizens as PEPs (Guardian). PEPs now include MPs and other public figures that obviously aren’t criminals, but who are deemed vulnerable to bribery or blackmail. Under anti money-laundering regulations, banks must implement extra layers of scrutiny in such cases to avoid the risk of corruption.

When the PEP system came into force in the UK under the Money Laundering Regulations 2007, it referred to people with a prominent public position “other than [in] the United Kingdom”. But following implementation of new EU directives via the UK’s Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Transfer of Funds Regulations 2017, the distinction between ‘domestic’ and ‘foreign’ PEPs appears to have been lost – this despite FCA Guidance stating that UK PEPs “should be treated as low risk, unless a firm has assessed that other risk factors not linked to their position as a PEP mean they pose a higher risk”.

In other words, the banks appear to have taken it upon themselves to interpret the rule (and then the law) more widely, giving the whole system an inescapably political dimension.

FSU updates its de-banking FAQs!

We’ve updated our FAQs on what to do if you’ve been de-banked.

The two updates are: (a) we’ve discovered that the nine biggest high street banks have signed a Basic Banking Agreement with the government whereby they’ve committed to provide customers with a basic bank account, so if you’ve been notified that your personal account is being closed and your bank is one of the big nine, you can request a basic account (which is free of charge); and (b) in addition to advising people to submit a Subject Access Request (SAR) to their bank, we’re also advising them to submit an SAR to World-Check, an international database all British banks use to assess whether their customers are ‘low risk’, ‘medium risk’ or ‘high risk’. One reason people are being de-banked is because they’ve been flagged as ‘high risk’ by World-Check.

Kind regards,

Freddie Attenborough

Communications Officer

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