Women meet to discuss sex-based rights in Leeds amid accusations of transphobia

Leeds Civic Hall.
Leeds Civic Hall.
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Feminist academics were joined by a Leeds councillor to discuss how to protect women’s sex-based rights - but have been accused of transphobia by transgender activists.

Women’s rights group Leeds Spinners organised the meeting at Leeds Civic Hall to present The Declaration on Women’s Sex-Based Rights to around 75 people, mostly women.

It was the first such event in the UK, following its launch in New York in March.

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The declaration states that women's global human rights are based upon sex - as opposed to ‘gender identity’, the idea that a person can have an inner sense of gender different to their bodily sex.

Women’s groups such as Leeds Spinners believe that allowing people transgender women, many of whom have not had any kind of surgery, into women’s spaces - such as domestic violence shelters or women’s sports - is dangerous and unfair.

In 2018, rapist Karen White, who identified as a woman but was born a man, was jailed for life for sexually assaulting two women while on remand in HMP New Hall, a women’s prison in Wakefield.

The debate between transgender activists and radical - or gender critical - feminists has become increasingly heated in recent years. So much so, that the location of the Leeds event was kept secret until just a few hours before it started on Saturday 25.

There was a small protest by transgender activists outside the Civic Hall last weekend.

Sarah Field, a councillor for the Garforth and Swillington ward, chaired the meeting, but is now under investigation by the council after a complaint of hate speech was made against her.

Natasha Handley, a transgender woman and coordinator for trans advocacy charity TransLeeds, was at the meeting and said Cllr Field had ‘abused her position to give a hate group a platform at Civic Hall’ and was also guilty of transphobia herself.

In her speech to the meeting, Cllr Field said: “There is no such thing as living as a woman. We are women. And it is our female biology which makes us women. It is our sex.

“It is simply not ethical to categorise males as females based on their subjective feelings. To do so means the female sex no longer has legal protections or legal meaning and is instead reduced to destructive, regressive gender stereotyping.”

Cllr Field also attacked Leeds council for preventing a feminist meeting discussing the same concerns in September last year.

Cllr Field added: “I’ve had women in prisons and post-prison services in Leeds who have contacted me in fear and despair because they are confined with men who threaten them with rape, assault them, repeatedly expose their so-called female penises and taunt them about playing the system and flushing their hormones down the toilet.

“It is absurd, it is dangerous and millions of women across the country are saying we have had enough.”

Ms Handley wrote in an official complaint to Leeds council: “She is not is not fit to be a councillor if she is attacking a vulnerable community that she is supposed to be representing, lying, encouraging hatred towards vulnerable communities, and abusing her position to give a platform to speakers known for having this agenda.”

The other panelists were academic, author and activist Dr Sheila Jeffreys, sociologist and author Dr Heather Brunskell-Evans, and lawyer and legal academic Maureen O’Hara.

Claire Jones, speaking on behalf of Leeds Spinners, said: “Leeds Spinners organised an event to discuss women's sex-based rights.

“All of the speech was lawful and discussed how to balance the rights that women have with those of other protected groups.

“We reject utterly the baseless accusations of hate speech and we would like to thank Cllr Sarah Field and Leeds City Council for facilitating civic discourse.”

A spokesman for Leeds City Council said: “We are aware that a number of complaints have been made concerning an event held at Leeds Civic Hall.

“These are being considered in line with our complaints procedure and as such it would not be appropriate to comment further at this stage.”

Cllr Field was unable to comment due to the ongoing investigation.