Maya Forstater: Who is woman in employment tribunal over transgender comments?

Tax expert infamously lost her job for tweeting ‘men cannot change into women’

Sam Hancock
Tuesday 27 April 2021 14:55 BST
Woman who lost job over transgender views begins tribunal case

A researcher who lost her job in 2019 after tweeting that “male people are not women” has launched a two-day employment appeal tribunal, in an attempt to overturn the judge’s ruling that her “gender-critical” views were “incompatible with human dignity and fundamental rights of others”.

Maya Forstater’s appeal will span two days – 27 and 28 April – and will seek once again to argue that her belief that there are only two biological sexes was, and should be, a protected philosophical belief under the 2010 Equality Act.

So, who is Ms Forstater and how did she come to be such a controversial figure?

Who is she?

Business and international development researcher Ms Forstater had been a visiting fellow at the Center for Global Development (CGD), a think-tank based in London and Washington that campaigns against poverty, until her contract was not renewed in 2019 over a series of tweets which were condemned by many as being transphobic.

On a crowdfunding page she set up at the time and still uses, to pay for her legal fees, she describes herself as being “a mother and a feminist” who thinks “that sexist stereotypes about women and girls, and about men and boys, are damaging for children and adults”.

Ms Forstater is also a tax expert and has become a mouthpiece for many in a legal battle about sex, gender and free speech.

What did she tweet?

In a string of tweets, published around September 2018, Ms Forstater argued that men cannot biologically transition to become women.

“I don’t think being a woman/female is a matter of identity or womanly feelings,” she said in one post.

“What I am so surprised at is that smart people who I admire ... are tying themselves in knots to avoid saying the truth that men cannot change into women,” she wrote in another.

And in one of her most controversial tweets, Ms Forstater argued that a white person’s feeling they are black is the same as a man’s belief that he is female.

“I honestly don't see the difference between Rachel Dolezal’s internal feeling that she is black and a man's internal feeling that he is a woman (ie adult human female). Neither has basis in material reality,” she said.

What sparked the argument?

In July 2018, under Theresa May’s leadership, the UK government launched a public consultation into reforming the Gender Recognition Act 2004.

One of the changes it considered was shifting towards a system of “self-identify”, which would have allowed anyone to sign a statutory declaration without having to provide evidence of a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria, in order to officially live as their their chosen gender.

On Ms Forstater’s crowd funder, she wrote that while she believed “transgender people should not face discrimination and harassment as they live their lives”, she was concerned “about the impact of self ID on women and girls, and in particular on single sex spaces and services such as women’s refuges, hostels, prisons, changing rooms and hospital wards, as well as women’s sports”.

She also said she feared governments “around the world” were attempting to “rush through laws and policies which say that people with male bodies can become women simply by identifying as women”.

“This is happening without adequate consultation or consideration for the impact on women’s privacy, safety and inclusion,” she argued.

It was later announced in 2020, by women and equalities minister Liz Truss, that the self-identify plans would not be adopted by Boris Johnson’s administration, which instead wanted to cut the cost of applying for a gender recognition certificate as part of moves to revamp the process.

Why did she launch an employment tribunal against CGD?

Ms Forstater has repeatedly claimed she “never thought” she would lose her job for “expressing my beliefs about sex and gender on my personal Twitter account”.

On the same crowdfunding page, she said she had planned to work at the CGD for the next two years on a project “I had helped to develop and raise funds for”. But once the think-tank investigated her tweets, she was told her appointment would not be renewed.

“This is fundamentally unfair, and it is in the public interest for this decision to be challenged so that people holding these beliefs are protected from discrimination,” she said.

What happened at the original tribunal?

In December 2019, the Central London Employment Tribunal upheld Ms Forstater’s firing and the accusations by the CGD that she had used “offensive and exclusionary” language on Twitter.

Her legal dispute against her former employer was seen as a test on whether a “gender-critical” view – that there are only two biological sexes – was a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act.

Judge James Tayler ruled her views were “not worthy of respect in a democratic society”. If Ms Forstater had won the case it would have legally prevented employers from dismissing staff for expressing their view on LGBT+ rights, her lawyers said.

Judge Tayler said the tax expert was not entitled to ignore the legal rights of transgender people and the “enormous pain that can be caused by misgendering a person”.

He concluded: “If a person has transitioned from male to female and has a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC), that person is legally a woman. That is not something Ms Forstater is entitled to ignore. Ms Forstater’s position is that even if a trans woman has a GRC, she cannot honestly describe herself as a woman. That belief is not worthy of respect in a democratic society.

“Even paying due regard to the qualified right to freedom of expression, people cannot expect to be protected if their core belief involves violating others’ dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment for them.”

What will be argued at the appeal?

Ms Forstater has said her legal team is stacked with a “bundle of evidence” to fight her case that her views should have legal protection, and that the termination of her employment at the CGD was unlawful.

Her appeal will also include an intervention from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which many see as a significant development and suggests the EHRC believes, like Ms Forstater, that thinking sex is immutable is a philosophical belief.

Does she have much support?

The author J K Rowling infamously threw her support behind Ms Forstater in 2019, just after she had lost the first employment tribunal, sending a tweet with the hashtag #IStandWithMaya.

Meanwhile, criminal defence barrister Allison Bailey – known for launching legal action against LGBT+ rights charity Stonewall over its attempt to have her investigated for setting up the anti-trans rights group LGB Alliance – has also been a vocal supporter of Ms Forstater.

Stonewall tried to pressure Ms Bailey’s chambers to remove her after she helped set up LGB, which is highly critical of the charity’s approach to transgender rights, condemning her opposition to replacing sex with gender when it comes to identity and Stonewall’s policy of accepting as women people who were born as men but later identify as women.

Ms Bailey said she was suing Stonewall for trying to police free speech, and to “intimidate and silence” her.

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