“Despite the press hype, there is nothing especially new or interesting in this verdict”
BY jane fae
I don’t know which is worse. The seeming unending procession of legal cases, brought by a peculiar alliance of self-identified “gender critical feminists” and their Christian evangelical buddies, and designed to make life for trans people difficult. Or the absolute stupid that is mainstream media coverage of same.
Yesterday was no exception as the appeal court delivered its verdict on the latest instalment in the Maya Forstater case.
It’s complicated. At base, however, it springs from tweets made by Forstater explaining how she has the right to misgender a trans person when she sees fit. Because biological sex.
Her employers then let her go. As in, they did not renew her contract and not, as the press keep mis-reporting, “firing” her. After all: who needs the hassle of an employee who has made clear their intention potentially to harass an entire demographic. It’s not a good look. Never mind the likelihood that, if she did follow through on her public statements, THEY might be held liable for any subsequent nastiness.
So far so obvious. Nor remotely surprising to anyone who has ever been reminded that their public conduct should, at all times, reflect their employer’s values.
Forstater, though, was not taking this lying down. She sued. For discrimination. Because, she claimed, her views amounted to a personal philosophical belief which was therefore protected in law.
Initially, this did not go well. An employment tribunal tossed the case, observing, as it did, that the belief for which she claimed protection was “not worthy of respect in a democratic society”. Oops!
Still, Forstater is nothing if not persistent. She appealed that bit of the judgment. And yesterday an appeal court turned in an interesting decision. To wit: pretty much ANY belief short of outright Nazism could be protected in law. The tribunal got it wrong.
So, she now has a right to misgender away to her heart’s content? Not at all. For as yesterday also made clear: you cannot be discriminated against just for holding a belief. But if you exercise that belief in such a way as to harass or intimidate others you are still breaking the law. Also, trans people are still protected by that law.
Despite the press hype, there is nothing especially new or interesting in this verdict. Believe the earth is flat; believe women should stay home and make babies; or believe that lesbians should not be allowed to be mums; and that belief, however obnoxious, is protected. Start hassling people on the basis of your belief and expect trouble.
Still, Forstater has won a narrow legal point and, thus armed, will likely now head to back to the tribunal asking them to look at her case again. Most legal opinion expects a similar result. But look: this is English law! As wild and capricious as the wandering wind. Or possibly a fart in a thunderstorm. You pays yer money…
And that, dearest reader, is that. Ms Forstater is not, she constantly tells us, in any way transphobic. No. No. No. No. No! She totally gets it and is perfectly supportive of trans people self-id’ing as trans. Just so long as they never do anything about it. Or expect to be allowed out in polite society.
There is a familiar energy to yesterday’s case. It’s been a long day at the fair. Mummy and daddy have spent loads of money – and half the afternoon – on the hoopla. Eventually, their efforts pay off. As they collect their prize, their precious princess is over-joyed.
“Mummy!”, she proclaims proudly: “a goldfish!”
She doesn’t mind that it’s a lop-sided, incontinent goldfish. Or that all the other little boys and girls got one too. Today, she is a winner.
“Shall we tell her?”, daddy whispers in the car home.
“No”. Mummy shakes her head. “Let her have her dreams. For now.”
As goldfish, so legal verdicts. Yesterday was a minor but otherwise inconsequential victory for transphobes and evangelicals. But unless the tribunal decides that personal belief gives you the right to hassle work colleagues and clients it is a hollow one, destined, in time, for that great toilet bowl in the sky.
Which, after all, is the ultimate destiny awaiting goldfish and bad laws everywhere.
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