“I am who I say I am”
Last weekend I attended the FiLiA women’s rights conference held in Portsmouth. Inside women discussed how men sometimes are not who they say they are: loving husbands, caring fathers, enamoured boyfriends, dedicated sports coaches, trustworthy priests, respectful bosses, law-abiding police officers. And how, too often, institutions treat women and children who challenge abuse as the problem.
The conference took place despite a concerted campaign to have it cancelled and to prevent FiLiA working with local women’s groups because FiLiA is “gender critical”; they recognise that the tackle sexism you have to be able to talk about the sexes.
During the conference a small crowd of protesters chanted and held signs from Amnesty International saying “I am who I say I am” along with homemade signs saying “No TERFs on Pompey TURF” and “suck my dick you transphobic cunt”. They chalked obscene and threatening messages and pictures on the ground where we were due to hold a vigil for murdered women.
After the event I wrote to Sacha Deshmukh, CEO of Amnesty asking whether Amnesty UK had really organised to picket a conference centred on male violence against women, and whether Amnesty considered this behaviour acceptable. Many others wrote to Amnesty International as well.
Amnesty investigated and issued a statement saying this was not an official event, but that they had provided placards to one group “Fly the Flag”. They said that another, unconnected.and unnamed group must have been responsible for the abusive and offensive messages, and that they were shocked.
Amnesty International UK says in its statement that it:
“believes there should have been absolutely no place for the use of any threatening or aggressive language or imagery towards any of the attendees of that conference, or indeed towards any women.”
Amnesty says the organiser of the Fly the Flag event had stated that the protest would be respectful and celebratory and would seek dialogue with delegates to the conference.
What the organiser in fact stated in advance in a blogpost was this:
“Why can't Gender Crits get that through their thick heads?”
The blogpost named myself and Joanna Cherry QC MP as transphobes, and said that because FiLiA “openly admits they support LGB Alliance” this was a “red rag to a bull”. The blogpost said of me that my views were ‘not worthy of respect in a democratic society’ and said “ALL the people standing outside Portsmouth Guildhall tomorrow are doing so for just one reason. All believe that transphobia should be eradicated in society [...] Why can't Gender Crits get that through their thick heads?”
The "unconnected" group which appears to have been responsible for the chalked obscenities also appears to have posted on the website of the Fly the Flag organisers, with the post only removed later in an attempt to distance the two groups.
After the event the organiser of the Fly the Flag demonstration disavowed the most abusive language that had been chalked, but celebrated the overall activity of chalking on the pavement where the solemn vigil in remembrance of murdered women was planned.
Would Amnesty support chalking political messages at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day, or at a venue where victims of racist, antisemitic or homophobic violence were about to be remembered?
Why is this ok when it is an event about violence against women?
There is also clear evidence that the “Fly the Flag” group was directly responsible for the sign saying “No TERFs ON POMPEY TURF”.
Would Amnesty approve of a group bearing a sign saying “NO YIDS on our TURF” or “NO TRANNIES on our TURF?”
Why is this ok to use a slur for gender critical women?
Amnesty investigated and chose not to condemn language such as “Why can’t Gender Crits get it through their thick heads?” and “NO TERFSs on POMPEY TURF” and the activity of chalking on the vigil site.
They called this “respectful”.
For women attending the event it felt anything but.
And for the other young people who attended the protest this atmosphere clearly gave them license to go further, chalking penises and vile abusive statements.
“I am who I say I am”
Amnesty are not directly responsible for the activities of the Fly the Flag activists in Portsmouth, or the others who went further in trying to create a hostile environment for the women meeting to discuss male violence.
But Amnesty are directly responsible for their own campaign materials.
As many have pointed out “I am who I say I am” is a distinctly creepy statement.
It undermines safeguarding, risk assessment and women’s and children’s boundaries.
Amnesty International is a human rights organisation with a vision “for every person to enjoy all the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. Their mission is to “conduct research and act to prevent, and end, grave abuses of all human rights: civil, political, social, cultural and economic.” Amnesty UK have an annual budget of around £10 million.
So you would think their positions and slogans on sex self ID would be be backed up by by research and carefully articulated analysis of the impacts on everyone’s rights.
Along with the placards surely they would have sent this background material to their activists?
Given that the debate is widely acknowledged to be “toxic” and that gender critical women receive threatening and abusive harassment when we meet and on social media, surely a responsible organisation would send some guidance to activists to avoid this ?
Surely, as human rights experts, they would have informed their activists that gender critical views are not “unworthy of respect”, but are in fact covered by the protected characteristic of belief in the Equality Act 2010?
How were the young activists, excited by the idea that they were confronting actual Nazis to know that Amnesty International does not approve of abusing gender critical women in the name of "trans rights"?
The organisation never bothered to tell them.
Where is Amnesty’s research?
In fact if you search the resources on the Amnesty UK site there is almost nothing substantive on the basis for their positions on sex and gender all.
As Steph, the “Fly the Flag” organiser states, the placards came with booklet.
It is tiny fanzine of gender identity dogma that reads like a student project. There is a section which sets out some of the questions that have been raised against self ID such as about women’s refuges, toilets and changing rooms, and gives as an answer… a link Stonewall’s website.
This booklet is incredibly weak from a human rights organisation. In fact it was not developed by the organisation at all, but by its “Rainbow Network” an organisation-inside-an-organisation not subject to the usual governance, quality controls or expectations of considering universal human rights.
Amnesty International UK has outsourced all its thinking on “trans rights” to this network and if it is anything like other organisations with Stonewall sponsored LGBTQI+ groups it is likely that this network imposes its views through fear.
Sacha Deshmukh should not be surprised that activists carrying Amnesty placards act like this. Amnesty has encouraged it.
Amnesty has published precisely zero research or analysis on the impact of self ID on women’s rights, and has done precisely nothing to counter the view that women who disagree with gender self-ID can be abused.
In May 2020 Amnesty issued a statement with Liberty and Human Rights Watch warning of dangers of debate. “Trans rights are women’s rights are human rights. Its that simple”’ they said.
In December 2020 they issued a statement with Liberty supporting the use of puberty blockers as a way to “alleviate gender dysphoria and allow young trans people to flourish as their full selves”. They have published no analysis of the human rights implications of putting gender non-conforming children on sterilising medication before they have had their first sexual experiences. “There must be no further curbs to the bodily autonomy and determination of any young person” they say … I am who I say I am, even if that means sterilising gay children.
JK Rowling famously worked for Amnesty before she wrote Harry Potter. You would think an organisation that seriously opposes the use of threatening and aggressive language towards women speaking up about women’s rights might have considered the hounding of JK Rowling to be a teachable moment.
The demonstration effect of Amnesty standing up for JK Rowling would have been immense.
Instead Amnesty International Trustee (now chair) Senthorun Raj condemned her (and me) as transphobes.
Any Amnesty staffer who wants to keep their job must have buried their gender critical beliefs.
What now Sacha?
Amnesty International’s attempt to distance itself from the abusive and aggressive language used by the protesters in Portsmouth is paper thin, but at least it shows they feel some shame.
If CEO Sacha Deshmukh is serious about making amends he should ask himself whether Amnesty International is a safe environment for gender critical staff, and how he would find out? He should make sure the issues raised by the Portsmouth incident can be discussed in internal staff forums including using anonymous channels. He should invite Lise Marie Taylor of FiLiA in for a discussion. Invite Kate Harris and Bev Jackson of LGB Alliance in. Invite me in. If the answer is that this is impossible, Stonewall would not approve. Our human rights cannot be discussed, then he should ask himself who has been dehumanised?
The ultimate question is: is Amnesty what it says it is, a human rights organisation with integrity, or is it an organisation willing to be complicit in the abuse of women?