Back in September 2022 I first met Baroness Falkner, chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), at her offices.
I was there to discuss the cause to which I have dedicated myself: protecting human rights and, in particular, the rights of women and girls.
A few days before our meeting, a group of male-bodied trans rights protesters had staged a revolting protest outside the EHRC.
These individuals had placed bottles of urine in a ring outside, then splashed this liquid on the EHRC’s doors. One, sporting a see-through dress through which you could clearly see male genitalia, even poured a bottle of yellow liquid over themselves.
It was a deeply threatening, disgusting act and, of course, upsetting for the security staff and cleaners forced to deal with the mess.
Under Baroness Falkner’s tenure, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has made a number of thoughtful interventions in the febrile arena of trans rights
A group of transgender activists left more than 60 bottles of urine outside the Equality and Human Rights Commission office in Westminster, London (pictured)
The activists were protesting against the EHRC’s stance on single-sex spaces — one they felt flew in the face of their militant agenda that trans women are women.
Yet, with characteristic bravery, Baroness Falkner went on with her work. Though I could tell she was rattled, I was struck by her measured and considerate demeanour and her deep-seated commitment to protecting women’s rights.
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So when I read the claims of ‘bullying’ by this dignified woman — leaked in reports to yesterday’s Mail — I was shocked and incredulous. This comprised a litany of criticisms, allegations, whispered half-truths and apparent distortions — all allegedly from EHRC staff. They painted a picture of a woman I do not recognise.
As the Mail report revealed, employees have levelled about 40 accusations at the Baroness, among them harassment and — the greatest sin of all these days — ‘transphobia’.
These are, of course, serious allegations to make against anyone — but particularly against someone whose very remit, as the head of the EHRC, Britain’s equalities watchdog, is to promote tolerance, reason and understanding.
These are all qualities I have seen in Baroness Falkner and that I know she has tried to implement at the EHRC since taking over in 2020.
Under her tenure, the organisation has made a number of thoughtful interventions in the febrile arena of trans rights.
These careful steps have placed her in the crosshairs of the powerful gender identity lobby — and, I suspect, have been the stimulus for this new and sinister campaign.
I was one of the first people for whom the Baroness stuck her head above the parapet, even before she took up her role. In 2019, I had brought a discrimination case after losing my job as a researcher at the non-profit think-tank, the Centre for Global Development, having tweeted that men who identify as women remain men.
Maya Forstater (pictured) brought a discrimination case after losing her job as a researcher at the non-profit think-tank, the Centre for Global Development, having tweeted that men who identify as women remain men
Forstater: Under Baroness Falkner, the EHRC intervened in my case because it believed — rightly — that the issues had implications for the wider public
This was a landmark case. I sought to establish that ‘gender-critical’ views — that is, the belief that biological sex is real and important — were a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act, and therefore that people should be protected from discrimination for expressing them.
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Under Baroness Falkner, the EHRC intervened in my case because it believed — rightly — that the issues had implications for the wider public.
And this, predictably, stoked the ire of the gender identity lobby. They only got more rabid last year, when the EHRC published guidelines on single-sex spaces that declared transgender women could be excluded from women’s toilets and sports to protect privacy or prevent trauma.
A backlash ensued, with an outpouring of bile against the organisation, and especially the Baroness herself, on social media. She was branded a ‘bigot’, a ‘fascist’, ‘scum’ and — perhaps most offensive of all for someone with a German surname courtesy of her husband — a ‘Nazi’.
But, because she believes in what is right and fair, in April, Baroness Falkner made another significant personal intervention.
She advised Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch in an open letter that clarifying the definition of ‘sex’ to mean ‘biological sex’ in the 2010 Equality Act could make the Act fairer and clearer, especially for women.
More than 100,000 people have supported this move in a petition and it will be debated in Parliament next month.
It is also a cause that, as founder of the organisation Sex Matters which campaigns for clear, fair laws on sex, I discussed with Baroness Falkner on the day we met in 2022. I knew the move would incite the fury of the gender lobby. But it feels as if I underestimated the depths they would go to in order to silence her.
Some of the complaints the Mail revealed yesterday are almost laughably trivial. These include ‘speaking on a topic for too long’ and — pass the smelling salts! — ‘eye-rolling’.
It also included the claim that the Baroness employed ‘discriminatory language’ by using the words ‘a bloke in lipstick’ when discussing the online trolling of a trans contestant on a BBC quiz show.
A source has since said the comment has been taken out of context and she had been highlighting abuse directed at trans women.
These brave ‘whistleblowers’ have all poured out their woes to Channel 4, which is expected to broadcast a ‘dossier’ of their complaints later this week. The accusations seem totally incongruous with the Baroness’s track record.
Born in Pakistan, Baroness Falkner studied at the London School of Economics and the University of Kent and was the inaugural chancellor of Northampton University. She worked for decades for the Liberal Democrats and now sits in the Lords as a cross-bencher
Born in Pakistan, she studied at the London School of Economics and the University of Kent and was the inaugural chancellor of Northampton University. She worked for decades for the Liberal Democrats and now sits in the Lords as a cross-bencher.
READ MORE: Trans activists leave more than 60 bottles of URINE outside Equality and Human Rights Commission in protest at single-sex toilet guidance
All this passed without a squeak of ‘bullying’ claims.
Yet though, as far as I can see, this ‘dossier’ has all the hallmarks of a politically motivated set up, such complaints can be horribly effective.
Since setting up Sex Matters I’ve heard of countless similar, heartbreaking stories. One woman, a teacher, told me how she was hounded by colleagues who accused her of creating an ‘unsafe’ environment merely for praising the books of JK Rowling, a proud feminist.
She was ordered to apologise or risk losing her job.
Other tales are more Orwellian, such as the employee who was reported for harassment for ‘liking’ a tweet deemed to be gender critical.
It is, of course, ordinary people like these who would benefit from the sensible clarifications to the Equality Act Baroness Falkner has recommended.
Now it appears the Baroness finds herself under attack from the trans lobby, facing a gruelling investigation and trial-by-media, her job possibly in jeopardy. Little wonder that she is said to be ‘heartbroken’.
Those of us looking on, meanwhile, can only hope that the ‘dossier’ is exposed for what it seems to be — a despicable witch-hunt against a fine and principled woman.
- Maya Forstater is a campaigner and co-founder of Sex Matters, which advocates for clarity about sex in laws, policies and language.