Senior officials including a board member have recently quit Britain’s equalities and human rights watchdog due to the “transphobic direction” of the organisation, workers have told VICE World News.
Insiders at the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) described the seven exits as “massive resignations,” who said some took place as recently as this week, and that they’re “expecting many more over the next few months”.
Currently, a board member – also known as a Commissioner – an executive director, four directors – including two legal directors – and a committee member have left.
Asked to comment on the seven resignations, a spokesperson for the EHRC said: “We are very grateful to everyone who has contributed to the important work of the EHRC, whether as a Commissioner or as staff. Our annual turnover is in line with the average across the public sector and is improving.”
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Less than a year ago, VICE World News exposed documents that were exclusively shared with us, which outlined plans to prevent trans people from being in some single-sex spaces. At the time, EHRC bosses denied the documents were real and they said that the plans were not being considered.
However, last week, the EHRC provided advice to the UK government on how to prevent trans people from entering some single-sex spaces – such as women’s changing rooms and domestic abuse refuges – exactly as mentioned in those leaked plans.
The EHRC was established in 2007 by the then Labour government to monitor human rights in England, Wales and Scotland, and to enforce equality laws based on protected characteristics, such as sexuality, gender reassignment, race and religion. Although not part of a government department, the EHRC is a public sector taxpayer-funded organisation with senior leaders appointed by the government.
According to sources, it was the months-long preparation to provide Kemi Badenoch – the UK government’s Minister for Women and Equalities – with advice on how to amend the UK’s Equality Act that led members of staff to resign.
Last year, VICE World News also first exposed concerns that the EHRC seemed to be working against transgender people’s rights. Leaked messages showed that the watchdog’s leaders had been having meetings with openly gender-critical leaders of controversial groups; staff told us that they were quitting because of “transphobic” management decisions; and we uncovered guidance supporting trans young people which was dropped by EHRC bosses.
VICE World News spoke to three current staff members about the high-profile exits and the current difficult decisions facing staff. They all spoke on condition of anonymity in fear of backlash from their employer for speaking out.
Asked if they thought the EHRC was being taken in a "transphobic direction" one current staff member, who is staying in their position, responded, "Yes, I definitely think so. I think that's quite clear."
They added: “I think the EHRC is having a really, really damaging impact right now. It's sending a strong message to trans people that your rights don't matter.
“It all feels politically motivated, and I think that's clear from the tone of some of the things that the EHRC is now saying publicly.”
Another current staff member agreed, but warned “the resignations are giving gender-critical bosses what they want, because lots of the job roles aren’t being replaced,” asked what that means for the future, they said, “it means that the EHRC is becoming more and more transphobic, without anyone willing to fight back”.
“These are big senior people who have committed their lives and careers to protecting human rights and promoting diversity – they don’t want to be attached to this mess,” the second staff member continued.
A third staff member added: “It's not difficult to draw a line between the letter that was sent by the commission to the government and employees leaving. People have been involved in the current publications, and been very unhappy, and they've been expressing their discomfort for a while, so clearly now enough is enough.”
“There has been no effort made to look for evidence on any actual real-life issues in relation to the policy of rights between (cis) women and trans people. And it just seems to be a case of going full-steam ahead without considering any evidence, and I think the commission is inflaming a culture war.”
Despite the current resignations, and the pressure growing against the organisation from several human rights groups, there has been no internal discussion with staff about the direction of the EHRC.
Asked whether the current resignations have encouraged them to stay or go, the first staff member said said: “I've been struggling with the direction of the organisation for some time, and there's been moments where I've been on the verge of resigning, but I've stuck around because I thought maybe there's something I can do internally and maybe it's easier to create change on the inside. I just don't know how much longer that will last.”
Asked whether the Equality and Human Rights Commission has become transphobic or gender critical, a spokesperson for the EHRC said: “We wholeheartedly reject any such accusations. Our job is to protect and promote equality and human rights for everyone in Britain, including trans people, and we continue to take a range of action to achieve this.”
They added: “We work on issues that are often contested and where people hold strong views, and we recognise that not everybody will agree with a particular position on a topic. However, as in any organisation, the departure of staff at all levels is driven by a number of factors, including opportunities for career progression elsewhere and secondments coming to an end.”
A Government spokesperson said: “The Equality and Human Rights Commission is an independent public body. It is routine for the Minister for Women and Equalities to engage with the regulator to seek advice across a range of issues.
“Ministers continue to have confidence in the ongoing work of the Commission in championing the cause of equality.”