28 March 2023

‘Anti-fascist’ trans activists are a threat to democracy


‘Fascism’ has had an inclusive make-over. Sadly, this doesn’t mean skinheads have come to embrace racial harmony, but that the term itself is now applied more liberally by the day.

Last weekend, trans activists shouted the ‘f’ word at diverse groups of women who dared to meet to talk about their rights. Targets included older lesbians gathering for the launch of the Lesbian Project in Bloomsbury, left-wing women in Manchester who met to discuss the Equality Act and supporters of the Let Women Speak movement who gathered at Speakers’ Corner. Each group was surrounded and hounded by mobs of self-styled ‘anti-fascist’ trans rights activists, mostly of student age, who chanted slogans including ‘scratch a fash [fascist] – a TERF [trans exclusionary radical feminist] bleeds’.

Bizarrely, in 2023, the idea of women organising in defence of their rights is triggering to some youngsters. Some at protests are trans themselves, whereas others brandish signs declaring that they are ‘proud allies’. All seem eager to earn their stripes in what they sincerely believe is the civil rights’ struggle of their generation. As the protestors outside the launch of the Lesbian Project said, with no little pomposity, ‘we won’t allow our trans siblings to be erased and excluded’. But the fact is, some of the demands of those who identify as trans can only be granted by undermining the sex-based rights upon which women depend.

It is easy to see why so many of Gen Z fail to understand why sex matters. For young people who have never had to fight for statutory maternity leave, or for rape in marriage to be a criminal offence, the reminder that women and men are different might seem regressive. And those leaving education now are likely to have been taught in specialist lessons that everyone has a ‘gender identity’ which ought to supersede their sexed body. To reject this, as most of those over 35 do, is to undermine the basis of transgender ideology – or in the newspeak of young activists ‘to deny the existence of trans people’. And to express such opinions in public is thought to put a marginalised minority at risk.

Once you’ve adopted that warped worldview, then threatening, harassing and drowning out the voices of those who believe sex is immutable becomes a social obligation. The irony of such ‘anti-fascist’ authoritarianism is so perfect it would be tempting to laugh, were the threat not so dire. 

On Friday, footage emerged from New Zealand of women’s rights campaigner Kellie-Jay Keen surrounded by her own bodyguards and stewards, who pushed through a raging mob under a volley of punches, missiles, and abuse. The diminutive British mother of four was eventually helped into a police car. On her return to the UK, Keen said she was ‘lucky to be alive’ and that due to death threats she had to be taken into protective custody by the police before boarding her plane home.

Had Keen been speaking about rights for women and girls in a Sharia state, this deranged and violent reaction might have been expected. But she was in a democratic country where women are afforded full personhood in law. Keen’s message is an unremarkable one; she argues that women are adult human females, and that no matter their identity, men should not be allowed to enter women-only spaces. To trans activists this makes her a ‘fascist’, and as such a legitimate target.

The treatment of Keen has not gone unnoticed. A letter drafted by a number of gender critical human rights groups called upon Foreign Secertary James Cleverly to condemn the violent protesters. Cleverly has yet to respond, though Minister for Policing Chris Philp has said it is completely unacceptable that the British campaigner was ‘abused by a baying mob’, adding ‘the way that women’s rights have been threatened by the trans community is deeply concerning’.

The scourge of aggressive, authoritarian trans activists is global, but Britain is leading the fightback.

A Let Women Speak rally at Speakers’ Corner on Sunday had already been planned before events in New Zealand, but numbers swelled following the attack on Keen. Within minutes the group was surrounded by trans activists who attempted to drown out the women’s speeches with loudspeakers and hailers, which are banned at Speakers’ Corner.

It was in the very same spot back in 2017 that feminist Maria MacLachlan was assaulted by a trans activist when waiting to go to a feminist event. Over the intervening six years, trans activists have steadily become more vocal and radicalised, though opposition to their demands has also grown.

The attitude of the police is also a matter of real concern here: campaigners have long complained of a partisan approach from forces who will caution ordinary citizens for hurting the feelings of trans activists on social media, but will not protect women from violent men. And according to Venice Allan, one of the organiser’s of Sunday’s gathering, the police ‘kept us physically safe but did not protect our right to free speech’. As Allan says, the fact is that ‘women are held to a much higher standard of behaviour than these yobs, simply knowing that a woman is an adult human female is taken as a dangerous indication of far-right tendencies’.

These extreme trans activists must be recognised not just as a nuisance, but as a serious threat to both free speech and women’s safety. As with all fundamentalists, they are drunk on their own sense of righteousness. Their tactics preclude progress, because to call a political opponent ‘fascist’ is to pin a target on them – to delegitimise their arguments and dehumanise those making them. That’s why government and law enforcement must robustly defend women’s right to freedom of speech, assembly and conscience. To do otherwise is not just an affront to women, but to democracy itself.

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Jo Bartosch is a journalist campaigning for the rights of women and girls.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.