Inspired by the Guides? A response to The Friend.

Helen Watts
May 6, 2019 · 8 min read

On 2 May 2019, the Quakers’ magazine published its latest article in a series on sex and gender, titled It can be informative, educative — and perhaps even inspiring — to see how other institutions work by Caroline Barrow.[1]

A number of incorrect statements were made about me, which I have detailed below. I have contacted The Friend directly to request a retraction. The article also breaches Samaritans reporting guidance that states publications should not speculate about any one trigger for suicide; I have raised this with the editor too.

Fundamental misconceptions in The Friend article

The article opens by quoting the Government Equalities Office statistic that there are anywhere between 200,000 and 500,000 transgender people living in the UK. The Office for National Statistics does not collect data on gender identity. This is being developed but as the ONS notes, there are challenges in collecting data on something as fluid as one’s identity.[2] This is evidenced by the Stonewall definition of transgender: “an umbrella term to describe people whose gender is not the same as, or does not sit comfortably with, the sex they were assigned at birth”.[3] It includes people who identify as transgender, transsexual, gender-queer, cross dressers, genderless, agender, nongender, third gender, two spirit and bi-gender, amongst others. The only certain statistic is that since 2004, 4,910 people have changed their legal sex by way of obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate.[4]

The Friend article then states the Wanstead Meeting’s declaration that it hopes “we can all grow together in our understanding of gender identity”. This is a fundamentally flawed statement. There is no evidence to suggest that gender identity exists as a material or biological reality or outside the belief systems of those who subscribe to a post-modernist politics. There is no exploration by the author of the merits of this statement and whether it should form the basis of the Quaker’s policies on gender issues.

The author moves on to discuss hate crimes committed against transgender people. No reasonable person would condone or justify such attacks and neither would they counter the claim that a church should be a space of safety. This paragraph leads the reader to view the rest of the article in the context that any discussion about trans rights conflicting with those of other groups — and particularly women’s and girl’s rights — is contributing to an environment where such attacks may take place. The effect is to tacitly silence any discussion on how groups with competing needs can peacefully co-exist. The author also neglects to mention the misogyny fuelled attacks against women who wish to uphold sex-based rights and protections (women cannot have a hate crime committed against them on the grounds of their sex because the law doesn’t recognize misogyny as such).

The main body of the article is given over to analysis of how other organisations have dealt with transgenderism. The author states “we surely can’t claim to be the only organisation seeking to create a sense of welcome — perhaps we could call it love — within our communities”. The subtext is that those who do not agree with the author’s position on sex and gender are neither loving nor welcoming. Presumably, the author has not met any of the dissenters (she hasn’t met me) and could not possibly know whether this is true. I find it interesting that all three case studies feature male-born persons accessing what were once women-only spaces, while objectors (mostly women) are punished by having their characters undermined for not displaying that most feminine of qualities: the ever-loving, ever-accepting, mother-nurturer.

The case study on Girlguiding specifically references my experiences with the organisation and quotes me extensively. The Friend did not contact me to check these, which perhaps explains why I am quoted as stating that I “would not be following the new regulations and encouraging others to do the same”. That is categorically false, and I request an immediate apology and a retraction from The Friend. I have criticised the policy and asked for a moratorium while a review is undertaken. I have also tried to raise awareness of the policy, as many parents and young members did not know of its existence, and encouraged parents to contact Girlguiding leadership to express their concerns.

It is probably true to say that “disagreement…can lead to bad feeling and resentment within groups and societies” but the issue in my case was not around inclusion; disagreement arose because one policy was in direct conflict with other polices around safeguarding and consent, putting leaders in an impossible position.

Susie Green, CEO of the controversial trans childrens’ charity Mermaids,[5] is quoted at stating “what [Helen Watts] is doing is saying that trans girls aren’t real girls and so they should be excluded”. Ms Green does not tell us what a “real girl” is.

The author does not include any definitions in her article. For clarity, Girlguiding defines sex as a person’s biological and physical characteristics[6] and acknowledges that it is both a legal term, recorded on birth certificates, and a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. Gender reassignment is also a protected characteristic under the same Act and applies to adults and children but gender identity has no status under English law.

Girlguiding UK is a single sex organisation and uses the single sex exemptions in the Equality Act to restrict is membership to females only. There are two ways to become female in English law — to hold a female birth certificate or to acquire a Gender Recognition Certificate (which also provides the holder, if born male, with a new, female birth certificate). Children are not able to obtain Gender Recognition Certificates so their legal sex remains as stated on their birth certificate. Girlguiding’s own Royal Charter affirms the organisation’s specific commitment to supporting girls exclusively.

Regardless of Ms Green’s thoughts on what makes a “real girl”, a child who holds a male birth certificate but identifies as a girl is not legally or biologically female. It is a neutral statement of fact that the child remains male. It is true that the male child will hold the protected characteristic of gender reassignment but there is already case law that shows the comparator for discrimination is another male who does not hold the protected characteristic of gender reassignment.[7] As male children who do not hold the protected characteristic of gender reassignment are lawfully excluded from membership of Girlguiding, the same standard must apply to male children with the characteristic. Even using Girlguiding’s own definitions, a transgirl retains their male biological sex and its therefore reasonable to describe Girlguiding as a mixed sex organisation.

Susie Green is also quoted as stating “these children are not predators, they’re not something to be feared. Putting it in that context is encouraging transphobia, encouraging prejudice and encouraging the thinking that “this is somebody I should be worried about” — when actually, they’re just kids.”

No one, least of all me, has accused trans children of being predators. What I have done is point out that transgirls are biologically and legally male and the risk emerges because mixed sex spaces are being managed as if they were single sex. Girlguiding insist on separate washing and sleeping accommodation for male children who do not identify as transgender, in line with NSPCC guidance,[8] and yet I have not seen Girlguiding criticised for portraying male children and volunteers as predators or something to be feared. We cannot allow personal beliefs about one’s own sense of self to override robust safeguarding. Girlguiding’s protestations that it has both male and female volunteers who undergo reference and DBS checks also misses the point. Adult volunteers are now risk managed differently depending on their gender identity when the differentiating factor should be sex.

Safety is not the only consideration in mixed sex groups; especially given that many of Girlguiding’s members are in the middle of adolescence and are anxious about using shared single sex spaces, let alone mixed sex ones. I am concerned that The Friend does not consider girls’ need for privacy or dignity. Neither does it consider other legally protected characteristics. Girlguiding has 500,000 members from all backgrounds. It is ironic that an inclusion policy would effectively exclude any girl who must have a single sex space for religious or cultural reasons.

The author’s own prejudice and lack of understanding around the law is exposed by this section: “…the change to the policy marked the loss of the all-female status of the Girl Guides, but this is not so insofar as trans boys are not allowed to be Guides. This means that if a Guide subsequently comes out as a trans boy, he will have to leave the Guides, meaning that the group remains a space for young people who identify as girls”.

This is nonsensical. Girlguiding’s Royal Charter mentions nothing about children who identify as girls. Transboys retain a female birth certificate and are therefore the intended beneficiaries of Girlguiding. To celebrate the removal of female children from their own movement for failing to display adequate adherence to feminine stereotypes is a display of the most grotesque misogyny. The author also fails to comprehend that many women and girls do not have a gender identity and the reasons why female children identify as boys or non-binary are many and complex, or that the identity may not be permanent.

Fortunately, the author is incorrect. Girlguiding updated its policy in November 2018 after pressure from me and others to make it clearer that transboys may stay members and complete Girlguiding awards.[9]

I would agree with the author that “Girlguiding UK has had a less comfortable shift when updating its trans policies” but greater consideration needs to be given to the inclusion of all groups, not just those who are trans. I would also agree that the crux of the issue is safeguarding vulnerable people, which is why I was saddened to see statistics on suicidal ideation repeated in this article without any sources.

Responsible discussion of suicide by Quakers

Suicide is a tragedy and we all have a duty to be extremely careful in how this is reported. The Samaritans guidance states that publications should not speculate about any one trigger for suicide and that caution should be exercised in repeating statistics.

There is no doubt that trans children are a vulnerable group but weaponising of suicide in this way is unethical and further prevents the responsible, reasonable discussions so desperately needed to ensure the rights and needs other vulnerable groups. To this end, I would ask The Friend to consider removing this section of the article, or at least amending it, to comply with the Samaritans guidance.

Inspired by the Guides?

While The Friend congratulates Girlguiding management on its “inclusive” approach, it ignores the repercussions for ordinary leaders and members and suggests that any acknowledgement of the conflict between sex and gender identity is an act of hate. I am surprised that an author “seeking to create a sense of welcome — perhaps we could call it love — within our communities” seemingly does not extend that same welcome — or love — to girls who need or prefer a single sex space.







[7] Green, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Justice, Court of Appeal — Administrative Court, December 04, 2013, [2013] EWHC 3491 (Admin)



Helen Watts

Former leader at Girlguiding UK; upholding the sex based…

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