British court rules in favour of researcher in transgender tweet row

by Rachel Savage and Hugo Greenhalgh | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 10 June 2021 12:52 GMT

Maya Forstater. Credit: Barney Cokeliss

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Maya Forstater's 'gender-critical' views are covered by freedom of belief protections, appeals judge rules

By Rachel Savage and Hugo Greenhalgh

LONDON, June 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Voicing the opinion that transgender people cannot change sex should not be grounds for dismissal, a British court said on Thursday, ruling in favour of a researcher whose job contract was not renewed after she tweeted that trans women are "males".

Maya Forstater, who drew support from "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling over the case, took legal action when the think-tank she worked for chose not to extend her contract following her online comments, which some colleagues called offensive.

She said she was "delighted to have been vindicated" by Thursday's appeals court judgment, which paves the way for a new employment tribunal to reconsider whether she was discriminated against for her belief.

The case came amid an often toxic debate in Britain in recent years between LGBT+ activists and some feminists, who have clashed over trans rights, what it means to be a woman and the freedom to voice opinions that can offend trans people.

Giving the ruling, Judge Akhlaq Choudhury said Forstater's views were covered by freedom of belief protections in the Equality Act, even though they could be offensive and lead trans people to be harassed in certain circumstances.

"This judgment does not mean that those with gender-critical beliefs can 'misgender' trans persons with impunity," he said.

In a previous ruling in the case in late 2019, Judge James Tayler said Forstater's belief was "not worthy of respect in a democratic society".

But Choudhury said her views do "not get anywhere near to approaching the kind of belief akin to Nazism or totalitarianism" that would fall foul of the "prohibition of abuse of rights" in the European Convention on Human Rights.

Celebrating the ruling, Forstater said it "couldn't have been better".

"The case was not about wanting to have a right to misgender or to harass people in the workplace," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

"I don't think it is transphobic to say that males are male," she said. "I'm not transphobic. I don't wish any harm on transgender people."

The Center for Global Development (CGD), the Washington- and London-based think-tank where Forstater previously worked, said it was consulting with its lawyers.

"Today's decision is a step backwards for inclusivity and equality for all," Amanda Glassman, chief executive of CGD Europe, said in an emailed statement.

"The decision is disappointing and surprising because we believe Judge Tayler got it right when he found this type of offensive speech causes harm to trans people, and therefore could not be protected under the Equality Act."

Forstater raised almost 160,000 pounds ($226,000) for legal fees via crowdfunding.

Many trans people expressed dismay at the ruling.

"It raises questions about the safety of all minorities now against discrimination, particularly in the workplace," said Christine Burns, an author and retired activist.

"We are in uncharted territory, where we've ended up in a situation where somebody can claim a get out of jail free card for what is outrageous behaviour."

(Reporting by Rachel Savage and Hugo Greenhalgh; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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