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UK high court rules in favor of woman fired for saying men can’t become women

Maya Forstater
Maya Forstater speaks to Sky News in an interview released on April 24, 2021. |

A U.K. high court judge has ruled in favor of a British woman who was fired from her job because she stated on social media that men could not become women.

Maya Forstater’s contract with the Center for Global Development was not renewed in 2019 due to tweets opposing a government proposal to allow people to identify as the opposite sex.

In a decision released Thursday, High Court Justice Akhlaq Ur-Rahman Choudhury concluded that an earlier tribunal that had ruled against Forstater had “erred in law.”

Choudhury said in the written judgment that Forstater's beliefs were protected under the Equality Act because they "did not seek to destroy the rights of trans persons."

"Just as the legal recognition of civil partnerships does not negate the right of a person to believe that marriage should only apply to heterosexual couples, becoming the acquired gender 'for all purposes' within the meaning of GRA does not negate a person's right to believe, like the claimant, that as a matter of biology a trans person is still their natal sex," the judgment reads in part.

He added: “We do not in any way seek to ignore or downplay the difficulties faced by trans persons seeking merely to live their lives peacefully in the gender with which they identify, irrespective of their natal sex. This case, however, is not about whether greater protection ought to be afforded to trans persons … the potential for offence (sic) cannot be a reason to exclude a belief from protection altogether.”

Choudhury also said that while some might find Forstater’s views on sex and gender to be “offensive and even distressing,” they nevertheless “must be tolerated in a pluralist society.”

The Equality and Human Rights Commission, which intervened in Forstater's defense, said it was right that religious and philosophical beliefs be protected.

Amanda Glassman, executive vice president of the Center for Global Development, released a statement in response to Thursday’s ruling, expressing disappointment with the result.

“Today's decision is a step backwards for inclusivity and equality for all,” stated Glassman, as quoted by the BBC. “The decision is disappointing and surprising because we believe Judge Tayler got it right when he found this type of offensive speech causes harm to trans people, and therefore could not be protected under the Equality Act.”

In March 2019, Forstater was fired from her job when she posted a series of tweets on her personal account, which, among other things, pointed out that "men cannot change into women.”

Forstater was also condemned for referring to a convicted pedophile and rapist as a "man" because despite being a biological male named Stephen Wood, he identifies as female and goes by the name Karen White. Prison officials allowed White to be transferred to a women's prison where he subsequently assaulted female inmates. 

Celebrating the judgment, Forstater said: "Being free to hold a belief means the freedom from being harassed, discriminated against, or having your livelihood taken away from you if you express that belief. It doesn't mean the freedom to harass others. That was never what my case was about.

"Gender-critical beliefs and gender identity beliefs are both protected under the Equality Act and so, too, is lack of belief," she emphasized. "No one can be forced to profess a belief that they do not hold, like 'trans women are women, trans men are men,' and [be] punished if they refuse."

In December 2019, Judge James Tayler ruled that Forstater's dismissal was justified and that her beliefs, while grounded in biology, were “not worthy of respect.”

The decision had many critics, among them being bestselling author J.K. Rowling, who was berated online for expressing support for Forstater on Twitter.

“Dress however you please. Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real? #IStandWithMaya #ThisIsNotADrill,” tweeted Rowling at the time.

In April, Forstater filed an appeal, writing in an essay published on the website Medium that her case had profound ramifications regarding freedom of speech and expression.

“What is at stake is the ability to have open debate, and the integrity and effectiveness of organizations that enable democracy and an open society,” she wrote.

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