Katie Watson (she/her)
TW: transphobic language
For most people at this point– except for maybe the conservatives who love to rant about “alphabet soup”– the acronym LGBTQ+ rolls off the tongue. Which is why the LGB Alliance’s name tends to make you pause and wonder, “What happened to the rest of it?” As it turns out, the lack of T in the LGB Alliance (LGBA), an organization based in the UK, is not only intentional and exclusionary of trans and genderqueer folk, but also actively harmful. While the recent legislative attacks on trans people have absorbed many in the United States in conversations about how to include, acknowledge, and care for trans rights in government legislation, it’s important to note that this isn’t an insular issue. Trans people all over the world are facing the same threats to their rights, including just across the pond.
The LGB Alliance is a UK organization dedicated to advancing lesbian, gay, and bisexual rights, or more specifically, the rights of “same-sex attracted people.” According to their website, the LGBA describes their values as respect, solidarity, and individual freedom, but taking the time to read through their values unveils a list of ideals more dedicated to the exclusion, denial, and attack of transgender people than the support of LGB rights and resources. One such value, labeled “individual freedom,” describes their support for – instead of what might be assumed, like marriage equality – the right of lesbians and gays to reject trans people from their communities and spaces. Moreover, despite their value of nonpartisanship, the LGBA works almost exclusively with Conservative Party members in parliament, and refuses to work with the Labour Party until it decides to “ditch its support for the notion of self-ID,” referring to the party’s support of gender identity policy, like access to gender-affirming healthcare. While some members of the Conservative Party did help the Labour Party pass legislation for marriage equality and inclusive sex education, the party as a whole has failed to curb rising LGBTQ+ related hate crimes or begin acting on their promise to end HIV outbreaks in the UK - not to mention their historic tendency to consider the LGBTQ+ community as inferior to straight cis citizens. While the Conservative Party may be willing to work with the LGBA on anti-trans policy, this collaboration comes at the expense of other queer rights – including the rights of those the LGBA claims to support.
In the last month, the UK organization and charity Mermaids, which provides resources and support to trans, nonbinary, and genderdiverse children and their families, appealed the LGBA’s charitable status in the court with the support of several more LGBTQ+ organizations. Charitable status allows an organization to receive upward of £5,000 annually in donations and eligibility for full tax relief. With this status, the LGBA enjoys fewer taxes, an uncapped profit, and the title of a public charity. Section 3 of the Charities Act, a 2011 UK law addressing charities and their rights, defines a charitable institution as one that “gives rise to tangible, legally recognized benefits” to a “sufficient section of the public” that “outweigh any associated harms'' caused by the institution. Mermaids and their supporters have appealed on the grounds that the “LGB Alliance does not engage in any activities relating to education, human rights or equality and diversity. Each of the seven campaigns listed on LGB Alliance’s website relates to the promotion of LGBA’s Beliefs by political campaigning, lobbying or social media activity, and the undermining of charities promoting LGBT rights.” The trial is currently ongoing.
Indeed, the LGBA seems more focused on tearing down trans rights than supporting people who identity as lesbian, gay, or bisexual – in fact, they see trans people as a threat to LGB rights. Seven out of 10 of the resources listed on their website focus entirely on trans people and why the language, policy, and medical care for them undermine the rights of LGB people. Even resources that should educate their supporters on important LGB issues, such as the resource labelled “suicide” that could justifiably address high rates of suicide and mental illness in LGBTQ+ youth, instead focus on the threat of trans people or spread ignorant messaging about trans issues.
It’s this strange imbalance of funding and lobbying – focused more on attacking trans people than supporting LGB people – that has incensed trans activist groups across the UK and eventually led to Mermaid’s appeal. The LGBA has an active presence on social media, where its Twitter account has promoted verbal harassment of MP (Member of Parliament) John Nicolson for supporting the Gender Recognition Reform in Scotland, raged over accusations of transphobia – because of course they support trans rights, but don’t be so sensitive! – and spread similar transphobic or exclusionary messaging. These efforts and their impact on the public has contributed to the recent decision for Mermaids to temporarily shut down and permanently reduce hours for their helpline and webchat services due to “intolerable abuse.”
In fact, Nicolson purported in his witness statement during Mermaids’ appeal that anti-trans political lobbying and denigration of individuals who support trans rights have been two of the LGB Alliance’s core activities since its foundation. It has run false and misleading ads pertaining to legislation on trans and gender affirming policy in Scotland and the wider UK, and one of its primary campaigns, the Schools Campaign, focuses on teaching their specific gender and sex beliefs to children in public schools.
While sex education in the US lacks any federal structure and in many cases excludes discussion of queer relationships and identities, the UK’s sexual and gender education in public school is generally much more comprehensive and inclusive. In fact, they regularly use the following graphic to teach gender and sexual identity to kids in a fun and easy way.
Unfortunately, LGBA strongly opposes this graphic’s use, claiming it will confuse children and should not be used in public education – a strikingly similar argument used to support Florida’s infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill from this past year. Their claims that “sex is observed at birth,” “sex is binary,” and sex cannot be changed all contradict their statement that the LGBA supports trans rights, but more importantly are eerily similar to the sentiments we often hear from American conservatives, be that politicians or voters. A strange disparity exists for these people, who claim to support trans rights but at the same time deny their existence, who lobby for more restrictive policy on gender affirming healthcare and identity recognition yet deny accusations of transphobia.
In the words of the LGBA’s own aims, their goal is “to protect children and young people from being taught unscientific gender doctrines, particularly the idea that they may have been born in the wrong body, which may lead to life-changing and potentially harmful medical procedures.” Similar sentiments can be heard from Alabaman senators, who recently decided to ban gender affirming healthcare procedures in their state; they want to protect children from permanent procedures despite studies from nationally recognized authorities, like the American Academy of Pediatrics, who fully endorse these procedures. Their reasoning resonates with many LGBA quotes – that trans kids are confused, medical care is too permanent, and in general casting doubt on the idea of transitioning at all. And like Alabaman lawmakers, the LGBA claims to have found alternative doctors or studies that disprove or disagree with such statements, despite overwhelming agreement among professionals.
The LGBA self-defines their views as “gender critical.” The gender critical movement may sound like a new issue, but its beliefs and values are easily recognizable, even if the term isn’t always used by its followers. In a witness statement during Mermaid’s appeal from Dr. Belinda Bell, Mermaids Chair of Trustees with a PhD in Public Works, Dr. Bell defined the term “gender critical” as “a belief that sex is biologically immutable, and that people cannot genuinely transition, with the result that (for example) a trans woman is not a woman and is not entitled to be treated as a woman.” In fact, LGBA co-founder Beverley Jackson stated in her own witness statement during the appeal that those who do not hold gender critical views are homophobic, and reiterated that sex cannot be changed. The foundation of LGBA’s aggressive anti-trans messaging and lobbying seems to come down to one primary fear: that trans rights and healthcare is “transing away the gay.”
The LGBA has used the above phrase multiple times throughout their self-published articles, twitter messages, and other statements. The phrase refers to the belief that transitioning allows trans people to change genders in order to have straight relationships instead of same-sex relationships. This critical phrase reveals the LGBA’s primary fear: that trans rights will not only become prioritized over LGB rights, but also that the concept of transgender identities will undermine the concept of same-sex attraction due to an erosion of gender identity. This fear stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of both gender and trans people. Not only does the LGBA refuse to acknowledge that trans people are more frequently persecuted for their identities than LGB people - and thus “transing” away a gay relationship is not the easier option - but they also fail to understand that there are many transgender people who also identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual after transitioning. In doing so, not only does the LGBA reaffirm their harmful stance against trans people, they also perpetuate the exclusion and denial of “same-sex attracted” trans people.
Furthermore, the LGBA claimed that the Gender Recognition Reform in Scotland would “promote the meaningless concept of gender identity” and “make the current epidemic worse.” As a result, the LGBA continues to spread hateful and harmful messages about trans people. As Nicolson stated in his witness statement in Mermaids’ appeal, “characterizing transgender identity as a disease is an unacceptable stereotype, reminiscent of similarly unacceptable stereotypes of homosexuality.” He’s right. In the past, homosexuality was treated as a mental illness; AIDs– and now monkeypox– was widely regarded as the “gay disease” as it most commonly impacted the gay community.When people are placed into a category that evokes fear and paranoia in the public, it becomes easy for the public to dehumanize and mistreat that group of people. As an identity that already faces far more obstacles than the cis white men in Parliament could understand, trans people don’t need any more dehumanization or threats to their rights.
At the very least, the LGBA could stand neutral on trans rights out of solidarity with their fellow queer activists. Instead, they choose to spread ignorant and hateful messaging out of a misguided sense of righteousness. Their messaging is rife with pride and superiority over other activist groups, even claiming that BBC and Stonewall spread harmful propaganda in their inclusivity of gender identity. The LGBA says it all for themselves: “We are proud to stand against the gaslighting of young vulnerable people and in total solidarity with millions of women concerned that their rights are being eroded in the pursuit of a strange ideology [ie gender identity and the existence of trans people] that has no place in our laws.”
When it comes to contrary messaging, no one does it better than the LGB Alliance. For an organization that should be dedicated to progressing rights and improving lives, its limited scope that claims to serve LGB people alone means that the LGB Alliance is more allied by transphobia than equal rights for LGB people. Their public platform and website content speaks for itself in its focus, hate, and narrowmindedness. While this organization and its influence seems far away from us– a whole ocean away– it’s important to remember that these kinds of organizations exist everywhere, not just in one place. The same trans rights issues making headlines in the US, including inclusion of trans athletes, gender reaffirming treatment, and gender recognition on identification documents, are under attack everywhere. Now more than ever is the time to stand together as a community, rather than tear each other down.
Whether it's the debate over trans inclusion in school sports in Indiana, gender affirming treatment in Alabama, or gender recognition in Scotland, transgender rights are under attack everywhere.