Why I resigned from Humanists UK
What happened to Angelos Sofocleous is but another scary sign of our times and it really isn’t an exaggeration to call it an Orwellian nightmare.
I have always considered myself a humanist ever since I first had the word explained to me by my father when I was in my teens, though it was only after his death that I discovered the British Humanist Association and joined the organisation. That was some 25 years ago. A decade later, I became the BHA’s first full-time officer dedicated to developing their ceremonies network. Later still, after retiring from full-time work, I joined that network myself and began conducting humanist funerals.
Eleven years ago, my husband, Alan Henness, and I created Think Humanism. Re-reading what I wrote back then about Humanism, I don’t think I got anything wrong in my explanation of what humanism is supposed to be and how humanists are supposed to act. If I were to re-write that piece today, I would probably highlight two particular things that I see many humanists (and, indeed, many sceptics who may or may not identify as humanists) failing at.
The first is that humanism is supposed to be underpinned by “a commitment to rational inquiry and the scientific method”. The second is that “humanists engage in discussion in a spirit of free inquiry and try to use reason and evidence in support of their arguments”. These are what I consider to be fundamental humanist principles. Without them, humanism isn’t worth the candle – we can just be plain old atheists, agnostics and secularists instead.
Yet I’ve seen no evidence of the above in the approach taken by formal humanist bodies in the UK to the current debate on transgenderism. Quite the opposite in fact.
I have, as a result of the events of the past year, come to question whether I still have that faith in humanity that led me to embrace humanism in the first place. Sometimes I think I’ve lost it altogether; at other times I see the intelligence, empathy and courage of those prepared to challenge the patent nonsense that is gender ideology and take a stand against the bullying and intimidation of women fighting to retain our hard-won rights and against our erasure as a sex-based class. Seeing that helps to restore my faith a bit.
I have said elsewhere that I admire and applaud those who remain in their organisations and political parties and argue for change from within. I, however, have no stomach for yet another such arena of struggle – the big wide world is hard enough. In fact, the highly political direction taken by the organisation now calling itself ‘Humanists UK’ feels something like being knifed in the stomach.
This is the correspondence I had with a member of staff that led to my decision.
My email sent 19 August 2018
I’m surprised and concerned to hear of a rumour that Humanists UK are intending to respond or have already responded to the government consultation on reforming the Gender Recognition Act 2004 in such a way as to support a move towards self-identification of gender. Having been deeply immersed in learning about transgenderism over the past 18 months, I don’t believe that supporting legal self-ID can be justified according to humanist principles of reason, empathy and trusting to the scientific method.
As I’m sure you know, under the Equality Act 2010, “man” and “woman” are defined in terms of biological sex i.e male and female. Self-ID as proposed is in danger of destroying the legal definition of ‘female’ and ‘woman’ and with it the legal rights of those born female.
I’m sure you accept that sex and genetics are immutable and that adult males cannot become female and vice versa. Going through medical procedures to alleviate dysphoria does not turn one into the other sex – a fact openly acknowledged by many transsexual people. I trust you are also aware that at least 80% of those who describe themselves as ‘transgender’ do not have genital surgery, leading to the absurd notion that women can have penises and men vaginas.
I would hope you also recognise that it is on the grounds of sex i.e. having female bodies and the female role in reproduction that women have been oppressed, exploited and abused by men across cultures and throughout history. This is why some public spaces are sex-segregated, as are prisons and domestic violence shelters. It also explains the existence of much equality legislation, women only shortlists, etc.
Although reportedly only 18% of the electorate support the proposed legislative “reforms”, our rights to the safety, dignity and privacy afforded by having sex-segregated spaces are already being eroded in many places, without allowing those of us most directly affected any say in the matter. This is one reason why I will be surprised if the rumour that you are responding to the consultation in such a way turns out to be true. I can find nothing whatever about this on the Humanists UK website. It appears to be happening without any consultation with the membership and, given the profound effect this change in the law could potentially have on the lives of so many, I find this to be ethically questionable.
If you agree with the World Health Organisation’s definition of gender as referring to the socially constructed characteristics of men and women, you will surely also agree that gender roles and expectations can be oppressive and there is more than one way to be a man or a woman. In the ideal society we should be striving for, men and women would be free to express themselves however they so choose without fear of condemnation or violence and without needing to claim they are what they are not. In the meantime, we should be trying to help transgender people fight discrimination in ways that do not undermine women.
Finally, if you think that all trans people support gender self-ID, you are mistaken and I would refer you to articles by transgender writers Kristina Harrison, Debbie Hayton and Miranda Yardley – as well as the many other articles presenting arguments based on reason and evidence that oppose it. I have collected links here.
Sorry, this turned into such a long email – I could say a great deal more on this subject!
Response received 29 August 2018
Thank you for your email and I apologise for the delay in response. I am aware you also emailed Andrew with similar queries, so wanted to check in with him before replying, but unfortunately his younger brother recently suddenly had a heart attack and died. This made this tricky.
I don’t know where you heard this rumour?
Our section LGBT Humanists is preparing a response to the Gender Recognition Act consultation in line with our policy. That response will reflect the fact that we are an equality and human rights-based organisation, that puts at its core the need to recognise the dignity of individuals and treat them with fairness and respect, whilst forming our views based on what the evidence says.
Last email from me 12 September 2018
The question in my email to you was clear enough and I’m disappointed that you felt it merited such an evasive reply. I infer from that evasiveness that you are indeed supporting a policy of gender self-ID and, as I explained in my email to you, this is not a policy that I can reconcile with humanism at any level. As it is neither scientifically supportable and reinforces an ideology that is proving to hurt women and children, I believe it is strongly at variance with the points 2 and 3 of the ‘Humanism in a Nutshell‘ publicity material.
I would add that the organisation’s treatment of my celebrant colleague* [name redacted] for taking part in a feminist protest doesn’t inspire in me any trust that you will act in accordance with the humanist principles specified in your response. I’m deeply saddened that after some 25 years membership of the organisation, it is no longer one I am proud to be a part of or wish to support financially. My husband, Alan, agrees and we have cancelled our family membership subscription.
*I blogged a bit about the celebrant colleague previously. Since writing that blog, I’ve been given to understand that her participation in the feminist protest at this year’s London Pride resulted in a formal internal complaint by the member of staff I corresponded with and this is currently being processed.
I have no more words.
Follow up post: And why I’m glad I did!
Published 20 September 2018