BY JAMES TWOMEY
A debate on gender and race was cancelled by a town hall due to fears of violence from trans rights activists.
We Need To Talk – a feminist and anti-racist campaign group – was set to hold a debate at the civic suite in Lewisham which would have included topics on the Gender Recognition Act and Equalities Act, which have seen proposals for changes that would allow trans people to legally self-declare their gender.
Speakers at the event were set to include three black woman activists – Sara Myers, a social activist, Linda Bellos, the former leader of Lambeth council, and Danille McDonald, a community organiser and campaigner.
The group has attracted protests from trans activists at previous meetings.
Some feminist groups such as We Need To Talk say they would like to see safety measures put in place to protect potentially vulnerable women in spaces such as changing rooms, where a man self-declaring as a woman would be allowed to access.
Linda Bellos said: “I think this is a matter of freedom of speech, why are we – three black women – not allowed the opportunity to discuss matters that affect us?
“We want to talk equality and the law, nothing contrary to the law, and within law it is my right to be able to talk about these things.
“It’s so undemocratic, anyone can make a claim and then your freedom of speech is denied.”
Trans people and activists say that any changes to the Gender Recognition or Equalities acts regarding trans people would create restrictions on their rights to safe spaces and places they can feel accepted.
The topic has become contentious and embittered as trans activists have clashed with feminists that oppose these elements of the Equalities and Gender Recognition acts, most notably when trans activist Tara Wolf assaulted a feminist outside a We Need To Talk meeting in 2017.
Venice Allan, an organiser of the We Need To Talk debate, said: “As a Lewisham resident I wanted to do an event about race and gender where there is a high BME population to talk about how race and gender are a social construct.
“We’ve been touring since 2017 and there has been absolutely no violence and we were due to talk at a Lewisham council space but were told due to safety concerns they could not host us.
“The council has a duty to its BME population to create a safe space for us to have this debate, they have security staff for other council meetings and protests, why not us?
“I think it’s because Damien Egan, the mayor, has been lobbied by people and council members who say its transphobic.
“People who disagree with us are always welcome to join the debate.”
A Lewisham council spokeswoman said: “Council officers took the decision to decline the booking on the basis of risk to the security of staff safety and premises being damaged.
“The council has a statutory responsibility to protect its employees and also to similarly protect people who attend our premises.
This statutory duty is not something we can overlook, nor take lightly.
“The likelihood of harm to people attending the proposed event appears to be very real. We are aware of earlier violent incidents during previous events hosted elsewhere.
Because of this, the council cannot support the request to hire council premises for this proposed event.”
We contacted trans-rights groups for comment but did not receive any before going to press.