More than faintly menacing

Simon Edge on why Ruth Hunt should not continue to be a peer:

[It’s a Twitter thread but I’m turning it into a short essay so as not to annoy.]

In May 2019 Ruth Hunt, who had just resigned as CEO of Stonewall, did a Q&A at the Oxford Union. Asked for tips on how to argue with people who didn’t agree with Stonewall on trans issues, she said: ‘Those who think transwomen are men? I wouldn’t even bother. Leave them to us.’

If that sounds faintly menacing, consider this: a few months later, the @AllianceLGB held its inaugural meeting, at a secret location. None of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people attending believed Hunt’s mantra that transwomen were women. One of those present, the black lesbian barrister Allison Bailey, afterwards tweeted enthusiastically about the meeting. Stonewall then wrote to her chambers demanding that she be sacked. It wrecked Allison’s career.

As Hunt confirmed to the Oxford Union, Stonewall didn’t behave like other charities. Since it raised all its money privately, it wasn’t subject to any of the normal constraints and could do what it liked. The treatment of Allison Bailey shows she wasn’t joking.

Another of the triumphs Hunt claimed was doubling Stonewall’s workforce and income in her five years as CEO. In fact she was exaggerating on the latter score: she increased it by 61%. Nonetheless, it was a hefty hike and all because, as she put it, Stonewall started ‘doing trans’. Set up as a gay rights charity, Stonewall had fulfilled its entire wishlist of law reform by the time Hunt got the job, and had been looking for a new role. On her watch, it decided to become the UK’s flagship lobbyist on trans issues, even when these conflicted with gay rights.

Trans activism, presenting itself as a new civil rights frontier, came with a lot of demands and language that were bewildering and unfamiliar to most people, including employers. Stonewall set out to talk to those employers, telling them what they [must] do and say to be trans-friendly. The charity’s greatest wheeze was to charge the very people it was lobbying. At the Oxford Union, Hunt boasted that she talked regularly to the security services and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Significantly, she referred to all such people as her ‘clients’. It’s a brilliant trick if you can pull it off. No wonder Hunt referred a number of times in her Q&A to her own cleverness, and boasted that Stonewall and its board were ‘a very bright bunch’. They had found a way to grow rich and powerful. Smugness was the order of the day.

Like many others, I loathe the way Stonewall operated. It exploited the goodwill built up over 30 years to promote gay conversion therapy, the reverse of its founding mission. I satirise this in my novel The End of the World is Flat (although the real version wasn’t at all funny).

However, that’s not why I set up a petition calling for Hunt to be stripped of the peerage which gives her life-time membership of our national legislature, with all the accompanying perks and privileges. I did that for a much narrower, [more] tightly focused reason, based on Hunt’s misguided and damaging conduct when it came to advising schools, who were at the coalface of a bizarre new social contagion among confused teenagers.

By the end of her time as CEO, there had been an alarming spike in the number of adolescent girls presenting with gender distress and wanting to surgically alter their bodies. This caused a particular dilemma for teachers. How were they meant to respond?

To try to help, a group called @Transgendertrd sent resource packs to schools. The packs advised that ‘social transition’ – ie going along with a pupil’s desire to be treated as the opposite sex – led in the great majority of cases to a medical pathway. That in turn meant puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones, for which there was little supporting medical evidence. It also warned about the high incidence of autism and mental health issues among pupils saying they were trans.

Without social transition and medical intervention, most of those young people would grow out of their gender distress. Automatically ‘affirming’ their trans identities might well result in irreversible decisions that they would later regret. This is precisely what Hilary Cass has just concluded after her ground-breaking four-year study. Her conclusions have been accepted by the government and the Labour Party, which is likely to form the next government with a big majority.

But Stonewall reacted with the fury of a playground bully. It denounced these resource packs with their responsible, accurate advice as ‘dangerous’ and ‘deeply damaging’. In amazingly aggressive language, they told any teacher who found one to ‘shred it’. By 2019, Stonewall was working with 2,000 individual schools, so it wasn’t hard for the charity to get its way. It also had bigger levers to pull: it successfully lobbied local councils to tell their schools to comply with Stonewall’s ‘affirmation first’ approach.

We know from detransitioners how appalling the consequences have been for those confused and distressed young people who were put onto medical pathways without realising what they were letting themselves in for. We don’t know how many such people there are, because six out of seven adult gender services refused to co-operate with Cass and release follow-up information. To say this is odd behaviour for members of the medical profession using untested drugs is to put it mildly.

Did Ruth Hunt know how much havoc she was causing? Did she disseminate misinformation deliberately? I doubt it. But, as I’ve shown, she had supreme confidence in her own brilliance and was certain she was right, even when people politely told her she wasn’t.

You know, it’s one thing to have supreme confidence in your own brilliance, and it’s another to have that confidence about an issue with horrible consequences if your brilliance turns out to be dim. Egomania is one thing, and egomania coupled with reckless advice about other people’s bodies is another.

She wrote in 2017 that ‘very few young people who access support go on to transition’. We know now the reverse is true. Very few people who accessed gender services did not transition, even though Cass says it wasn’t the best way to manage their gender distress. She also said puberty blockers were reversible so ‘it’s pretty safe’. Aside from some of the gruesome side-effects that have been reported, including osteoporosis among transmen in their twenties, we know that puberty blockers almost always led to irreversible transition.

All her pronouncements, in other words, were the opposite of the truth. She was in a position of influence and authority, which is what made her misguided certainties so damaging.

In the Noughties, Sir Fred Goodwin got a knighthood for running RBS, the world’s biggest bank. When RBS crashed, nearly taking our economy with it, his knighthood was withdrawn. He didn’t crash the bank deliberately, but that wasn’t the point. He didn’t deserve the honour.

It’s the same with Hunt. Rewarding her with a peerage is an insult to all the confused young people and their families who were damaged, and to all the people who were denounced as bigots for expressing valid concerns.

The upper house has the power to remove a member under the House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Act of 2015. If you haven’t done so already, please sign my petition asking Hunt’s fellow peers to use that power.

A peerage means you get to be in the House of Lords for life. Ruth Hunt should not have that role.

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