50.50: Analysis

LGB Alliance tells tribunal it will ‘get around to’ helping LGB people

The controversial group’s charitable status was challenged in a hearing brought by trans youth charity Mermaids

Lou Ferreira 2022.jpg
Lou Ferreira
23 November 2022, 1.22pm
Protesters gathered in London’s Soho Square after the launch of LGB Alliance, 2 November 2019 | Peter Marshall / Alamy Stock Photo

The LGB Alliance triggered a backlash on Monday after sharing a tweet “in solidarity with LGB people” to honour victims of a mass shooting that killed five people, two of whom were trans.

The tweet by the controversial British charity – omitting the letter ‘T’ from the widely recognised ‘LGBT’ label (lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans) – was posted after a deadly attack at Colorado’s Club Q.

It sparked widespread criticism, including from gay and lesbian cisgender people who said the group did not represent them.

LGBA subsequently said its message had been misrepresented, and that it extended its thoughts to “ALL the victims”.

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But it is not the first time the group has had to defend itself against allegations of transphobia or been challenged by the communities it claims to speak for.

The LGBA's true purposes, and whether it deserves charitable status to pursue them, were dissected at a two-month court hearing brought by trans youth charity Mermaids in September. The controversy, however, dates back two and a half years.

When the LGB Alliance applied for charity status in March 2020, the England & Wales Charity Commission raised concerns that its social media posts contained “inflammatory and offensive” language. “It was not immediately obvious how some of these postings furthered any of the LGB Alliance’s purposes,” the commission said.

While the group claims to support the rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual people, its messaging “appeared to involve, at times, demeaning or denigrating” the legal rights of others.

LGBA agreed to revise its social media policies and the commission accepted its application in April 2021. The regulator decided the group’s stated aims could be “charitable” provided it “presents its view in such a way that respects the dignity of transgender persons and does not create an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment”. “Promoting the equality and human rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual people may be pursued without denigrating the rights of transgender people”, the commission explained.

Trans youth charity Mermaids has gone to court to appeal the commission’s decision, backed by a coalition of LGBTQ+ groups including Stonewall, the LGBT Consortium and the Good Law Project. “Denigrating the rights of transgender people is, and has always been, LGB Alliance’s reason for existing,” said Paul Roberts, CEO of LGBT Consortium, giving evidence in support of Mermaids in September.

“They exist to oppose free, safe and empowered trans lives,” he argued. The commission’s decision “sows distrust in what it means to hold charitable status”.

Appeal

Over six days between September and November 2022, lawyers and witnesses for Mermaids and LGBA made arguments at London’s General Regulatory Chamber. The tribunal heard evidence that the majority of LGBA’s campaigns have had, as an explicit focus, promoting “gender critical views and policies to the disadvantage of trans people”.

Mermaids argued that LGBA’s true aims are to obstruct trans equality and advancements to trans rights: its work includes “offensive public-facing communication” and causes “immeasurable harm” to an already marginalised community including “encouraging discrimination against transgender people” and obstructing the work of registered LGBTQ+ groups, and does not satisfy the legal test for charitable registration.

In order to gain charity status in England and Wales, an institution must show it was established for recognised “charitable purposes” under the Charities Act 2011 – including poverty relief, environmental protection and the advancement of human rights and equality, among others. An organisation must also demonstrate that these purposes are “for the public benefit” and that the benefits of its activities outweigh any harm caused.

Since forming in 2019, LGBA has campaigned against gender recognition reform, challenged school education on gender identity, and sought to exclude trans people from a proposed ban on ‘conversion practices’. Its members promote a “gender critical” view that “sex is immutable”, argue that gender identity is inherently “homophobic” because it “erases homosexuality”, and that trans people should be treated in accordance with the sex they were assigned at birth, irrespective of gender identification and expression. One of the group’s founding members, Katherine Harris, told the tribunal: “Gender identity ideology is a belief system based on nothing… I call it lies.”

‘We’ll get round to it’

In its application for charity status, LGBA pledged to take genuine action to support lesbian, gay and bisexual people, including by hosting events on “a wide range of topics” related to LGB rights and equality, and a helpline for young people. But the tribunal heard that all eight campaigns appearing on the group’s website involve promoting “gender critical” views and challenging trans-inclusive policies and practices. “It has done nothing to tangibly benefit LGB people,” Roberts argued.

Founding members Eileen Gallagher and Harris told the tribunal that LGBA has “put in funding” for a helpline to support young LGB people, and made a short film. “I haven’t seen [the film] yet but I’ve been told it’s very good,” Gallagher offered. “Trust me, we’ve got hugely good intentions. We will get around to it.”

LGBA submitted further evidence describing its actions to support LGB people. One section, under the heading “quizzes”, read: “When we all needed cheering up, we put together a panel of comedians for a pub quiz.”

The pub quiz was “very informative”, Gallagher told the tribunal. “The subject matter was the history of gay life”, including London’s first gay nightclub. “You don’t see very much of that these days… It was educational for me when I watched it.”

When Michael Gibbons, counsel for Mermaids, clarified there had in fact been one pub quiz, Gallagher agreed: “Sorry, yes, that’s an error. Take off the ‘s’”.

She added: “We didn’t have anyone paid until this point. We have to be selective about what we can deliver.”

Gibbons asked another founding member and director Beverley Jackson: “Do you accept that it’s profoundly offensive to those LGB people who agree with trans rights, but don’t share your gender critical views… to be labelled as ‘homophobes’?” Jackson said the group has “received so many messages” thanking them for campaigns which support LGB people. “We don’t like being called ‘transphobic’ because we are not.”

Principal aims

At its 2019 launch, LGBA set out five principal aims including to “stop the rollout” of Stonewall’s inclusive LGBTQ+ school curriculum, which includes education on gender identity, and to “press pause” on gender recognition reform in Scotland. In a speech given on 9 March 2020, four days before LGBA applied for charitable status, Jackson announced she was “building an organisation to challenge the dominance of those who promote the damaging theory of gender identity”.

In 2020, the group placed an advert in The Scotsman newspaper as part of its campaign against Scottish gender recognition reform. The ad suggested that gender self-ID laws could be exploited by predatory men and threaten the safety of cisgender women: “Self-ID gives predators the green light,” it claimed. “A man who’s been convicted of sexual offences… won’t have to change his name or shave off his beard to access women’s-only spaces.”

John Nicolson, a Scottish National Party MP who gave evidence in support of Mermaids, called the campaign “scaremongering” and “deeply offensive”. LGBA’s actions “increase fear and trepidation”, he told the tribunal. This is “the very definition of prejudice”.

The group has also campaigned to exclude trans people from a ban on conversion practices, arguing that gender-affirming care is “transing” kids who might otherwise be lesbian or gay (despite evidence that some three-quarters of trans people identify as queer), and ran an unsuccessful campaign to amend Scotland’s Hate Crime Bill. In a submission made to the Scottish Justice Committee on behalf of LGBA, founding member Malcolm Clark explained that a new offence, making it a crime to deliberately “stir up hatred” against protected groups, would “undermine our ability to express our point of view”.

Charity status

LGBA witnesses and some media outlets have framed the case as a challenge to free disagreement or ‘debate’. On 8 November, The Telegraph published an article with the headline: “Mermaids’ attempt to shut down gay charity is ‘profoundly homophobic’, tribunal hears.” In September, Canadian news site Post Millennial reported: “Trans rights activists tell UK court lesbian group doesn't have the right to exist.” LGBA founder and director Beverley Jackson argued: “Charities can advance different points of view, indeed opposing points of view. You have some charities that are pro-life and others who promote abortion rights.”

The tribunal did not hear evidence about whether LGBA should exist. An organisation doesn’t need charity status to pursue its aims so long as these aims are lawful, Michael Gibbons explained. The tribunal will not decide whether LGBA can exist, but whether it meets the legal requirements for charitable registration, and the benefits this status offers.

Founder Katherine Harris told the tribunal that gaining charity status has “made a big difference” because of “all of the opportunities” this allows. But she added: “We would have lobbied over our safeguarding concerns in any case.”

‘Rights are linked’

Anti-trans hostility is “rooted in misinformation and fear”, Roberts told the tribunal. Narratives framing trans people as “dangerous and predatory” further exclude “some of the most marginalised people in our communities”.

2021 was the deadliest year on record for trans people, particularly trans women and transfeminine people of colour. A 2021 survey by trans-led group TransActual found the UK a “hostile environment” for trans and non-binary people, who experience elevated rates of homelessness, unemployment and housing discrimination; transphobic bullying online and in the workplace; and street harassment – all reinforced by a mainstream press promoting “gender critical” views that stoke fear around trans lives.

The group promotes the view that trans and LGB rights are fundamentally in conflict. But “our rights are intrinsically linked”, Roberts told the tribunal. Gender identity and sexual orientation are different, but trans and LGB people experience overlapping forms of discrimination. “We are seen as communities that collectively break gender ‘norms’ and are frequently bundled together as ‘sexual minorities’... We have always been stronger together.”

In an op-ed for Dazed Digital, writer James Greig explained that, while homophobia and transphobia are often framed as distinct forms of bigotry, a significant proportion of homophobia actually relates to gender expression. “It’s true that gay people do frequently get abused in the street for expressing intimacy with their partners in public, and that discrimination based on sexuality alone is still a big problem,” he wrote. But “just about every instance of homophobic abuse I’ve experienced has been occasioned by simply vibing in a way that was read as feminine.” Transphobia harms all LGBTQ+ people, Greig continued. “It’s impossible to whip up fury against the trans community without this eventually backfiring on cis gay people.”

LGBTQ+ advocates told openDemocracy earlier this year that campaigns to exclude trans people from the ban on conversion practices would affect gay, bi, lesbian and gender nonconforming young people whose ‘effeminacy’ or ‘tomboyishness’ can be targeted on both homophobic and transphobic grounds.

The UK government’s National LGBT Survey shows fewer than 10% of trans people identify as straight. Since launching in 2019, LGBA has faced continuous criticism from the community it claims to support. “Get my sexuality out of your mouth, how dare you use it to further hate,” one LGBTQ+ user tweeted, in response to a post celebrating the group’s launch. “You do not speak for me, you do not represent me, you can say nothing that would make life better for me or other queer people.”

LGBA has “repeatedly targeted” Mermaids, Stonewall and other LGBTQ+ charities, the tribunal heard. It has campaigned to remove Mermaids’ funding, called on institutions to cut ties with Stonewall’s Diversity Champions scheme for inclusive workplaces, and accused Stonewall of homophobia and “extremism”, spreading disinformation, and endangering the rights of children, women and gay people. Such attacks are “not just incidental” but “inherent” to the group’s aims, Mermaids argued, because “LGB Alliance’s real purpose is the denigration of trans people and the destruction of organisations that support them”.

The tribunal is expected to publish its decision in early 2023. In a statement shared on its website, Mermaids explained: “The LGB Alliance wants to divide the LGBTQ+ community in an attempt to undermine and isolate trans people, even children… Win or lose, our community is united, and we are proud to be standing up against transphobia in all forms.”

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