BARONESS DEECH: The tide is turning. And this selfless woman must be treated with respect… Kishwer Falkner has been the target of ferocious condemnation for her handling of the vexed question of trans rights
The incendiary row engulfing the Equality and Human Rights Commission has a profoundly surreal quality. The watchdog’s chairman, Kishwer Falkner, has been the target of ferocious condemnation for her handling of the vexed question of trans rights.
Some of the most bitter complaints have come from present and former officials at the commission.
Among the charges set out in a lengthy dossier drawn up by this disgruntled group – and given extensive television air time this week by Channel 4 – are claims of bullying, harassment and discrimination.
Yet it is hard to imagine any public figure less likely to indulge in such conduct than this enormously respected public servant. Having worked alongside her for many years in the House of Lords, I have seen first hand the respect and courtesy with which she treats her political opponents.
That is why I, along with more than 50 other peers, this week signed a letter of complaint to Channel 4, calling out the network’s reckless and irresponsible reporting, which sought to undermine Baroness Falkner’s integrity by indulging these ludicrous smears.
The watchdog’s chairman, Kishwer Falkner, has been the target of ferocious condemnation for her handling of the vexed question of trans rights
Some of the most bitter complaints have come from present and former officials at the commission
A commitment to pluralism and democracy has been a hallmark of her long, distinguished career. Her professional appointments have included director of the Commonwealth Secretariat; head of international policy at the Liberal Democrats; university chancellor and a campaigner against poverty in Africa.
I am not aware of even a whisper of concern about her management style in any of these demanding roles. And yet her leadership now stands accused of the very offences – such as intolerance and oppression – that the commission was established to combat.
Protecting minorities, advancing rights and promoting equality all lie at the core of its mission, which perhaps helps to explain why the evidence produced against the baroness has been so weak.
That hasn’t stopped some vile individuals labelling her a ‘Nazi’ online. Not only is this an absurd accusation to levy at a such a notoriously selfless woman, but it is also a devastating insult to those – such as members of my family – who were murdered in the Holocaust.
In this week’s thoroughly one-sided Channel 4 programme, which sought in vain to paint her as a bully, the allegations from her resentful critics were vague and unconvincing.
Indeed, it was impossible to escape the feeling that in Baroness Falkner’s case – as in several others recently – the term ‘bullying’ has been weaponised to prevent the implementation of any policy with which the complainants disagree. Her detractors argue that she has marginalised trans people with some of her rulings, but the viciousness of the campaign against her only proves the wisdom of her stance.
Both as a matter of law and public morality, she was right to issue guidance that clarified that single-sex spaces – such as changing rooms and refuges – must be allowed in order to protect the interests and privacy of women.
In the same way, our society must continue to permit the expression of gender-critical views, even where they challenge transgender dogma.
As the High Court ruled in 2019 in the case of Maya Forstater, who was sacked from her job at a think-tank for daring to challenge fashionable transgender orthodoxy, the belief that sex is an immutable biological reality is a protected characteristic under the 2010 Equality Act.
There are signs that the tide is turning in favour of more openness. Yesterday, the commission announced that it was suspending the inquiry into Baroness Falkner. Now it should be dropped altogether.
Baroness Deech is a lawyer, academic and politician who sits as a crossbench peer in the House of Lords
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