UK

Staff quit UK’s so-called equalities watchdog en masse over descent into ‘transphobia’

Josh Milton February 4, 2022
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Baroness Kishwer Falkner

Baroness Kishwer Falkner. (Parliament)

An exodus of employees of Britain’s so-called equalities watchdog has deepened the accusations of transphobia swallowing the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

The EHRC allegedly “promotes and upholds equality” across England, Scotland and Wales, according to its website.

EHRC staffers, however, may disagree. In alarming conversations with VICE World News, former and current workers described the public body as “transphobic” and “the enemy of human rights”.

Despite having no new work lined up, staffers have reportedly stepped down while others, with morale drooping, consider striking against the EHRC’s “anti-LGBT+” culture reportedly riddling its leadership.

The fault-finding is not hard to do. Critics have torn into the EHRC’s recent reports on banning conversion therapy nationwide and reforming gender recognition law in Scotland.

Both reports, activists argued, signalled the body’s descent into “transphobia”. Officials recommended that trans conversion therapy be delayed and for the life-saving legal reforms to be paused.

And a raft of leaked emails and documents showed senior members of the commission fighting against trans rights and holding meetings with back-bitingly anti-trans lobby groups.

Six staffers past and present told the outlet how board members have retooled their work to make it “transphobic and seriously inaccurate”, effectively going against not only the board’s own guidance to “enforce equality legislation on […] gender reassignment” but its commitment to being an “inclusive” employer.

Some staff said they can no longer look their trans friends in the eye, knowing that their work is “damaging” to them.

EHRC staff slam ‘incompetent’ chair Baroness Falkner as ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’

“When I started in 2018, we were all celebrating LGBT+ rights and the EHRC was pushing to make the UK better for LGBT+ people,” one anonymous worker said. “It’s like working for a different organisation now.

“Trans rights don’t personally affect me, but it’s the fact that I have to look into the eyes of my trans friends and they know that I’m a part of something damaging them.

“Staff are being pushed to not be so ‘woke’, and forced to be more impartial, but then we’re seeing statements from our leaders that are transphobic, or racist, and incredibly damaging.”

When frustrated employees complained to senior leaders about this, they faced disciplinaries and were even allegedly locked out of their work laptops.

“I was seeing our upcoming publications and guidance pushing for trans rights being changed – or completely scrapped and shelved permanently – meanwhile the board was building links to anti-trans groups,” another added.

A third worker who resigned recently after years working at the EHRC said that the workplace culture steadily eroded her mental health. They felt that, when first starting at the oversight body, the EHRC was a crucial tool to holding decision-makers to account.

Now, they said, its aims are anything but following “huge” changes rolled out by new leadership.

The EHRC’s leadership team, also known as commissioners or the board, are appointed by equalities minister Liz Truss. Many of the officials tapped by Truss, including EHRC chair Baroness Kishwer Falker, have fuelled fear among trans activists.

Among her troubling remarks, Falker has said that cis women should be free to express “gender critical” views without being “abused”. Such views, she added, are “entirely reasonable” to have.

Some non-executive staff bristled as Falkner allegedly tweaked documents about trans people to make them more critical. “Falkner is incompetent when it comes to LGBT+ rights,” a staffer said.

“She’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing and has no credibility in this space. She’s come in and shown a complete disregard for the huge amount of expertise in the organisation.”

Another added: “I don’t know anyone in the EHRC that wants Baroness Falkner to stay.”

LGBT+ campaign groups fault ‘failing’ equalities watchdog as ‘grotesque’

Activists, to say the least, were not surprised by the allegations. The Trans Legal Project tore into the EHRC on Twitter as “absolutely grotesque” with “transphobia completely baked into policymaking”.

“This *appalling*, but sadly not surprising to read,” tweeted Stonewall chief Nancy Kelley. “Independent human rights institutions are there to protect the rights of *all* people.

“@EHRC is manifestly failing to do this, which is why we are asking @Ganhri1 [that regulates human rights organisations] to review their accreditation. Our communities deserve better.”

“This is deeply distressing,” said Mermaids, a trans youth support charity. “There needs to be an urgent review of the EHRC and an investigation into how our so-called equality watchdog has become ‘the enemy of human rights’.”

An EHRC spokesperson told VICE: “The advice to the board and their approval is guided by evidence and the law, and not biased.”

“Baroness Falkner, like all the board and EHRC staff, are committed to upholding the rights of everyone, including those with the protected characteristics of sexual orientation and gender reassignment,” they added.

“We take pride in our diverse workforce and their specialist skills. We are an independent regulator with a statutory mandate to protect and promote equality and human rights for everyone.

“Where those rights may conflict, our role is to advise on striking an appropriate balance.”

More: EHRC, government equalities office, transphobia

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