A woman who lost her job at a charity because she tweeted that transgender women cannot change their biological sex has lost a preliminary tribunal hearing because the judge said her view could not be considered a philosophical belief under the Equality Act.
Maya Forstater worked as a tax expert and researcher at the Centre for Global Development (CGD), a think tank that campaigns against poverty. Her contract was not renewed in March after she made her gender views known on Twitter.
Religion or belief at work
Forstater said she opposed government proposals to reform the Gender Recognition Act that would allow people to self-identify as the opposite sex.
The preliminary hearing was held to determine whether her tweets – which included statements such as ‘men cannot change into women’ – should be protected under section 10 of the Equality Act, which covers philosophical belief.
But yesterday Judge Tayler released a 26-page judgment saying this could not be the case, concluding that Forstater was “absolutist in her view of sex and it is a core component of her belief that she will refer to a person by the sex she considered appropriate even if it violates their dignity and/or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment”.
“The approach is not worthy of respect in a democratic society,” he added.
Forstater crowd-funded financial support for her claim through the CrowdJustice website and was supported by free speech charity Index on Censorship.
Reacting to the judge’s decision, she said: “I struggle to express the shock and disbelief I feel at reading this judgment. As I said at my tribunal I will as a matter of courtesy use preferred pronouns and I support human rights.
“Everyone should be free to express themselves, to break free of gender stereotypes and to live free of violence, harassment and discrimination. But this does not require removing people’s freedom to speak about objective reality, or to discuss proposed changes to law and to government policies clearly.
“Women face discrimination on the basis of our sex. Women’s rights have been hard-won in recent generations. Protections against sex discrimination depend on being able to recognise sex. This is why it is a protected characteristic in the Equality Act.
“This judgment removes women’s rights and the right to freedom of belief and speech. It gives judicial licence for women and men who speak up for objective truth and clear debate to be subject to aggression, bullying, no platforming and economic punishment.”
She will now consider the judgment and how she will challenge it.
Judge Tayler acknowledged that there was nothing to stop Forstater campaigning against the proposed revisions to the Gender Recognition Act, or her support for spaces restricted to women assigned female at birth. Calling trans women men, however, was deemed “absolutist”.
Peter Daly of Slater and Gordon, representing Forstater, said that the judgment was significant as a freedom of speech issue.
He said: “Had our client been successful, she would have established in law protection for people – on any side of this debate – to express their beliefs without fear of being discriminated against.”
Louise Rea, senior associate at Bates Wells, which represented CGD, added: “The tribunal has determined that the claimant’s ‘gender critical’ view is not protected as a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010.
“The claimant believes it is a material reality that there are only two sexes, male and female, and it is not possible to change from one sex to the other, even if that individual obtains a Gender Recognition Certificate.
“A number of commentators have viewed this case as being about the claimant’s freedom of speech. Employment Judge Tayler acknowledged that there is nothing to stop the Claimant campaigning against the proposed revisions to the Gender Recognition Act or, expressing her opinion that there should be some spaces that are restricted to women assigned female at birth.
“However, she can do so without insisting on calling transwomen men. It is the fact that her belief necessarily involves violating the dignity of others which means it is not protected under the Equality Act 2010.”