Breaking the law

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission, EHRC for short, is technically the UK’s equalities watchdog. I say technically because in the last few years the Tories have been stuffing it with stooges who are actively and vocally hostile to minority groups. So it’s not a huge surprise to see it rubber-stamping the Tories’ war on trans people, even though its rubber-stamping is legally illiterate. So illiterate, in fact, that three (possibly four; it’s unclear today) of its legal directors have resigned.

There’s a good explainer here on OpenDemocracy:

Multiple former employees have alleged that opposing trans rights has become an institutional priority for the EHRC.

As well as alleged resignations by staffers in response, two former legal directors have publicly decried the organisation’s apparent abandonment of the human rights values it is supposed to uphold.

…Regardless of whether the letter becomes law, it signals a growing confidence to abandon human rights principles in order to further attack the trans community.

I’m not going to lie. I’m scared by this. And I’m even more scared after reading this transcript of a meeting between the EHRC and Trans Media Watch’s Helen Belcher. 

90:01 HB: Can you understand why trans people might be incredibly angry with you at the moment?

90:04 silence

90:06 MB: Yes


90:09 HB: Do you think that means that you are trusted as the human rights body to defend our rights?

90:16 silence

What’s frightening about this is that it shows the EHRC’s utter contempt for trans people. They U-turned on trans rights over a year ago and still haven’t made the tiniest attempt to pretend there’s any justification for it, or to suggest there’s any evidence on which they based their U-turn or this more recent letter. The tories simply said FUCK TRANS PEOPLE and the EHRC jumped to attention, saluted and asked: how hard?

One of my friends, the writer and trans health and policy expert Dr Ruth Pearce, is not mincing her words.

I am done with being polite, and reasonable, and rational. These proposals represent a blatant attack not just on our civil rights but also on our rights to exist as human beings in public.

…None of this is about details. It’s about terrorising trans people, and we are terrified.

It’s about making our lives impossible. Ideally, we will disappear; our oppressors don’t really care if we suffer or we die. And we know, trans people know, that people around us are suffering and dying because we are actually a part of that community. I’ve spent the past 13 years producing research that formally documents the oppression we face, because when we simply say what we know is true because we are living that truth every day, nobody in power gives a shit.

In the meantime, people in suits believe there are votes and clicks and money to be won through fighting culture wars, through distracting people from rising poverty and slow-burning climate collapse.

Ruth is right; this is part of a bigger picture. I think in much the same way that attacks on gender recognition reform were a step on the way to the real goal, which was to change the Equality Act, I think the current EHRC move is part of a wider move towards EA repeal – something the likes of The Spectator and key anti-trans figures have been campaigning for for some time now alongside removing the Human Rights Act (something that’s in progress already) and withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights, to which we’re still a signatory.

I’ve long since stopped expecting people to care about trans people’s rights. But the EA protects many other groups: pregnant people, people of colour, religious people, gay people, lesbian people, disabled people and so on. Removing that protection, which applies to everything from education and employment to housing, would be a significant step towards a low wage, no-rights economy where only the very rich and those considered ideologically pure are protected by the state.

This is conservatism reduced to its most brutal. As Wilhoit’s Law puts it, “There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.” Trans people are one of the out-groups, but we won’t be the only one.

Dr Pearce:

…If you’ve ever wondered “what would I have done in the face of rising fascism?” then wonder no longer.

Your moment is here. The question is how you act.



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