“There’s only one Venice Allan!” was the rousing chant during a meeting at the House of Commons — the home of British Democracy — about reforms to the Gender Recognition Act. Venice managed to organize the event, as well as a number of others, in the face of personal harassment, doxing, threats of violence and intimidation.
Julie Moss spoke to Venice via Skype, last month, about the series of events she organized over the past year, to discuss proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act.
Julie Moss: Can you take us through what has happened over this past year with your group and the events you organized as part of “We Need to Talk”?
Venice Allan: The group started just over a year ago when I began organizing with a friend at the end of July 2017.
I was part of Momentum at the time, which is a sort of [Labour Leader] Jeremy Corbyn fan club. At the time, I didn’t think legislation allowing individuals to self-identify as the opposite sex would come to the UK, so I was shocked when I heard a speech by Corbyn in July, saying he fully supported British Prime Minister Theresa May’s intention to update the existing Gender Recognition Act. [The government was responding to the Transgender equality inquiry conducted by the Women and Equalities Committee, headed by Conservative MP Maria Miller.]
The report made 35 recommendations, including: allowing individuals to self-identify as the opposite sex, lowering the age restriction to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate to 16-years-old, making “non-binary” a legal category, and for “misgendering” to be categorized as discrimination.
He will just change his mind, I thought. He doesn’t understand, I thought.
So I posted an article from Fair Play for Women in a popular Jeremy Corbyn Facebook group, saying: “I’m a bit concerned. How can we stop predatory men from abusing the system?”
I still believed in “true trans” [the notion that some individuals truly are “born in the wrong body,” whereas some men might be simply “faking” being transgender, in order to access women’s spaces] at this point — the transsexual who isn’t a threat to women. In a couple of hours after posting this, I got 700 replies. People called me a bitch and a cunt. At that point I would never have expected that sort of language.
A friend and I organized a local Momentum meeting to talk about it. I booked the local library under the Momentum name but then Momentum refused to have anything to do with it. I was so naïve.
So we went ahead and did it ourselves. I wrote to about 20 trans activists, asking them to speak at the meeting. Eventually, two people from Stonewall agreed to come. Feminist and academic, Dr. Julia Long, and Miranda Yardley, a transsexual who is gender critical, were to argue against changes to the GRA, and the two people from Stonewall were to argue in favour. The emails I received from Stonewall said that they were really excited about the project.
The event was scheduled to take place on Wednesday, September 13th. The two Stonewall speakers pulled out on Sunday, three days before the talk was due, but we decided to go ahead with Julia and Miranda anyway. Goldsmiths’ University and LGBT Lewisham found out what the venue was on Tuesday and called us; we agreed to meet them on that day to resolve any issues. The issues could not be resolved so they phoned up the library, protesting, and at 9pm that evening the library contacted us to say they had undertaken a risk assessment and were cancelling.
We had not even one day’s notice. Luckily, a woman in one of my Facebook groups offered us a replacement venue at the University Women’s Club in Audley Square. We didn’t want the Club to get the same kind of harassment as the library, so we decided not to announce the venue and meet up beforehand. We saw Speaker’s Corner was nearby and we wanted to break into mainstream media and give a good story to journalists — Speaker’s Corner is symbolic. So we announced attendees would meet there and then go on to the venue.
Then you know what happened… The violence at Speaker’s Corner. I’m really frustrated by the way those events were reported in the press — that we were a group of radical feminists protesting against rights for transgendered people and that it was “a brawl” and a punch-up between two groups. We weren’t protesting, we were just meeting to have a talk. Trans activists showed up to protest. We put the address of the venue on little cards which we secretly handed out, but the trans activists assigned us minders to follow us and find out where we were going.
Every time I walked in the park to have a cigarette, two girls from Sisters Uncut followed me. So me and mum leapt into a black cab on Park Lane and I yelled to the cabbie, “Just drive!” My mum said, “Ooh! It’s like being in a spy film!”
What happened at our meeting and the protests really crystallized my views about transgender issues — at that point I was happy to accept that some people were transgender and that we needed to protect them as well as women. I’ve totally moved on from that position now because of all the harassment I’ve been subjected to. Quite respectable transgender people were saying that Maria MacLachlan was asking to be beaten up at Speaker’s Corner and were calling our meetings a hate rally. When people accuse you of such outrageous things, it really makes you question everything that they’re saying. It’s a whole sham.
JM: After several meetings, you planned another local event at Millwall Football Club, but it was relocated to the House of Commons. Why was that?
VA: I wanted to do a meeting in Lewisham, South East London, because Lewisham is my local community. I was trying to find a posh hotel because posh hotels don’t seem to worry about being harassed, so we went to the poshest hotel in Lewisham. The hotel is family-run, so I warned them about what might happen. The owner suggested the local soccer club, Millwall, which has a tough reputation. I went to see the Millwall events manager the same day and I explained what happened at the previous meeting. She didn’t believe there would be a problem and was quite keen. She came back with a quote including extra security. The capacity was 250 so I wanted to make it a public event in order to sell more tickets and cover the cost.
I knew it would create big publicity. Whether it went ahead or got cancelled, we would get publicity. We announced the event on a Friday morning at about 11am, and by 5pm that day I had Millwall on the phone saying “Oh My God! I have never seen anything like this!”
They were inundated with complaints from all sorts of organizations. Trans activists were phoning up and shouting “You’re a transphobe!” And there’s this poor woman who’s never really thought about this issue on the other end of the line. It’s very personally confronting isn’t it?
The events’ manager stumbled on for about a week and then finally the club shut it down. I think it was Kelly Maloney [a boxing organizer previously known as Frank Maloney until he transitioned in his 60s, who attempted to strangle his wife, citing difficulties with his gender identity] — he’s a Millwall fan — who got it shut down. Maloney had been messaging me on Twitter, wanting to talk about the event, saying, “We should meet for a glass of wine.” By that point I was really determined to have a public meeting. We had loads of help with people contacting me to suggest different venues. I called the House of Commons and found out you just needed to get sponsorship from an MP in order to book a Committee Room. I didn’t bother trying Labour MPs, knowing they’d decline, so went straight to Conservative MP David Davies, who had already sponsored a small meeting about the GRA with Miranda Yardley and Stephanie Davies-Arai of Transgender Trend. I googled his number, spoke to his assistant, and he called me back five minutes later. Within half an hour, he’d booked the room for me. We didn’t announce this for another few days, at which point trans activists began calling The House of Commons, putting on different voices to pretend as though there were more of them, asking to speak to the manager. What manager? Of the House of Commons? What are you talking about? It’s the Prime Minister!
They tried really hard to get it shut down. We had Sue Pascoe, a transgender member of the organization, “LGBT+ Conservatives” [the official LGBT wing of the UK Conservative Party], and the Conservative Women’s Organization representative tried to shut it down. If you think the Labour trans activists are scary, oh my God! The Conservatives! When he was a man, he was Master of the Hunt. Now he runs a trans beauty pageant. He’s just reported We Need to Talk and Women’s Place UK to the anti-terrorism police in the UK.
WPUK together with their connected We Need to Talk group have been reported to the police counter terrorist unit as a hate group under the UK Prevent programme. They are regarded in the same category as Britain First. This is not listening and debating with a reasonable group.
— Sue Pascoe (@suepascoe001) September 4, 2018
Bear in mind that if they had just let us have our original meeting at New Cross Learning at Lewisham Library in the first place, many of us would still support the current GRA status quo.
Because of the resistance to the House of Commons meeting, David Davies and I had to go and see the Serjeant at Arms, and we had to be spotless. After the event and all of the complaints, the Parliamentary Standing Commission still conducted a criminal level investigation into David, but he was found innocent and cleared of all charges (hate speech, that we excluded transwomen, and that David made money from the meeting). I don’t think this aspect has received enough publicity — David put his job on the line for that meeting.
And again with Posie Parker (Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull) on Twitter and the Yorkshire police [Minshull was criminally investigated for a tweet] — they put us through these criminal investigations and the charges are always dropped because we have done nothing wrong.
JM: It seems like a lot of the intimidation and violence coming from trans activists is aimed specifically at women and feminists.
VA: Yeah. I’ve received so much hate mail on every platform. Horrible, horrible. But ever since the House of Commons event, I haven’t received any. Even when I went on [transgender model and activist] Munroe Bergdorf’s programme, What makes a Woman? it’s like they know I’m a lost cause — they’re not going to change my mind.
Trans activists try and find ordinary women who are beginning to question the transgender perspective to harass. This happened with feminist philosopher Kathleen Stock, for example. It’s such a stupid technique because this is what radicalized me — their reaction. It doesn’t work.
JM: Did you and the attendees face any difficulties during the Bristol event in April?
VA: The Bristol one was interesting. I wasn’t planning to do an event, but I was invited by a community venue owner and thought it was a great opportunity to hold our first truly public event which could be advertised in advance. A Channel 4 film crew asked to attend.
While we were setting up, masked trans activists burst into the venue. I was having a cigarette and this guy from Channel 4 said to me, “Come downstairs!”
Trans activists blocked the front door and the stairs. There was that incredible footage [of Julie Bindel and two of the speakers being kettled in on the fire escape].
It wasn’t scary like Speaker’s Corner — I think that they learned from Speaker’s Corner that hitting people isn’t a good look. I think they knew violence was a bad idea.
It was really successful from our point of view because at the last minute a second Channel 4 film crew came along with Munroe Bergdorf. People told me not to allow them in, but the event is called “We Need to Talk” — we can’t turn around and say, “You can’t come!”
I got a lot of criticism on social media after the event for allowing the film crews in.
People said, “It’s a media circus — it’s putting people at risk.”
And it was a media circus! There were two film crews there and they were each filming the other.
I thought it was incredible in Monroe’s documentary that he filmed the trans activists and didn’t criticize them. I don’t think Monroe had any idea how bad it made them look.
JM: What is your view on compelled speech, for example, the notion that one must use “preferred pronouns” and must call males “women” if they identify as such?
VA: It is frightening. Recently, Pink News projected the message, “Repeat after us: Trans women are women” onto several famous London landmarks, including the Ministry of Justice building. I asked a mate to modify an image of the projection to say, “Repeat after us: Transwomen are men,” and posted it on the We Need to Talk Facebook page. I got a 30 day ban for that, which I actually find unbelievable. To say “transwomen are women” is hate speech against women. Projecting these words near my home makes me feel unsafe, yet posting a jokey meme gets me banned. It really does feel like it’s getting worse. A few months ago we could say that an adult human male is a man on social media and now we can’t. I don’t really know how to campaign on that. It’s really, really concerning.
JM: Are there any UK political parties willing to have a debate about the Gender Recognition Act?
VA: Caroline Flint, a Labour MP, stood up in the House of Commons on July 3, 2018 and asked for debate on the Government’s LGBT action plan. It’s an issue that divides every party. David Davies wants debate. But all that lobbying. Groups like Stonewall and Mermaids have public money to brief the government — they have full-time paid employees to do that. We are just volunteers and mums. It’s so sinister.
One good thing is that the general public is behind us — the average person thinks this all is wrong. A YouGov poll sponsored by PinkNews found that only 18 per cent of people are in favour of allowing individuals to change their legal sex through self-identification. Nobody goes along with this shit.
I think we’ve proved our point with the meetings. Now, I think direct action is what we need to be doing. What lesbians did at London Pride is a good example — all types of people were talking about that. The UK government deliberately chose to start the public consultation about proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act during Pride week, but those women brought it back to lesbians.
It’s inspiring that just eight women can reach that many people. The “lesbian = female homosexual” message really shows the trans agenda for what it is. Trans activists forget that the general public doesn’t buy the notion that a penis is a female organ.
“Lesbian = Female Homosexual” is a great slogan. You’d have to be mad to disagree with that. We’re not just talking about young lesbians being pressured to have sex with men who claim to be women, but it’s become unacceptable (and possibly illegal, in the future) to have female-only meetings, book clubs, or festivals without including men who identify as women. Young lesbians are being told by society and the state that they are actually men born in the wrong body. Look at the 4000 per cent increase in young women and girls being referred to gender clinics for assessment.
I don’t think the average person actually understands that all lesbian and female-only spaces are under threat. That can engage quite a lot of people. We all have to keep fighting. The Consultation period for amendments to the GRA ends on October 19th, but we must continue fighting after that whatever the outcome.
JM: Do you have a message for Feminist Current readers?
VA: My message has always been that I’m just an ordinary concerned mother and woman. I haven’t really done anything and everyone needs to stand up — this is not the time to be worrying about our reputations and what people think of us. It’s now or never, and if these laws go through, we’re fucked. You don’t have to be an expert. Not everyone likes organizing events, but anyone can do something, and the more of us that stand up, the less they can attack us.
Addendum: Venice is attending a Court hearing on September 26th with lesbian feminist Linda Bellos, who is accused of saying she would “thump” any trans activist who tried to attack her, during a We Need to Talk event that took place in York on November 8th. This case is being brought privately by Giuliana Kendal.
Julie Moss is a freelance journalist who lives in Melbourne with her partner and three dogs.