Gary Powell is a former councillor in Buckinghamshire and is the European Special Consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture, California
Extracting an answer took a little persistence, but the Local Government Association has finally written to me with an assurance that, in stark contrast to the culture suggested by its recently-published, and then rapidly-withdrawn, Inclusive Language Guide, it has “understood” and “recognised” its legal obligation not to discriminate against people with gender-critical beliefs, given that these are protected beliefs under the Equality Act 2010.
In these pages, Harry Phibbs recently described, with a piece entitled “What is the Local Government Association for?” the LGA’s foray into the promotion of woke identity politics that was followed by a rapid reverse-ferreting as a result of complaints from its members. The LGA, whose annual income includes £10.2 million from local government subscriptions and £33.5 million from central Government, clearly failed to read the room correctly, as so often happens when an individual psyche or a corporate ethos becomes hijacked by woke identity politics and the echo chamber that often comes with it.
My first e-mail to the LGA, sent on 11 October, referred to their suddenly-withdrawn Language Guide and included the following text:
I would welcome any comment from you as to the specific reasons why you decided to withdraw the document [the LGA Inclusive Language Guide] and an explanation as to how it could be that a document of this kind was produced at taxpayers’ expense and then issued to local authorities, given that the apparent backlash from your own members has led to it needing to be withdrawn.
Finally, I would like to ask you whether the LGA specifically recognises the holding of gender-critical beliefs to be a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, as confirmed in the case of Forstater v CGD Europe and others ET/22200909/2019. Furthermore, if you do recognise your legal responsibility in this regard, I would like to know whether your revised Inclusive Language Guide will properly reflect your obligations under the law and confirm the importance of ensuring that people with gender-critical beliefs who work in local government may also feel that they work in an environment that is properly inclusive of people with their views.
Any other comments you might like to provide on the LGA Inclusive Language Guide and its withdrawal would also be welcomed.
The same day, I received this very brief response from the LGA, which failed to answer my most important questions:
“Thanks for getting in touch – please see our lines below.
“The LGA has taken the decision to review this guide which had been produced in response to requests for a discussion-tool for HR professionals within councils. In light of feedback from our members, we have taken the decision to remove the guide in its current form from our website.”
I replied, again on 11 October, explaining that my questions had not been answered and that I was looking forward to receiving a response.
The following fortnight was marked by the forlorn observation of tumbleweed as I awaited the substantive reply that I had requested. Then, on 26 October, I decided to set an ultimatum with a default interpretation if the deadline wasn’t met:
I am writing yet again to request a reply to my previous questions, together with a copy of the original LGA Inclusive Language Guide that was withdrawn.
If I do not receive an explicit reply from you to the contrary within seven days, I will take it that the LGA refuses to regard the holding of gender-critical beliefs to be a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, despite this having been confirmed in the case of Forstater v CGD Europe and others ET/22200909/2019; that the LGA is therefore refusing to recognise its obligations under the law not to discriminate against people who hold gender-critical beliefs; and that, in respect of the withdrawn document, you have attempted to encourage local authorities to adopt a similar stance to yourselves in this respect that is at variance with the law.
My original e-mail is below.
I look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible.
Although the seven-day deadline came and went, I did receive a reply from the LGA on 18 November that both provided the copy of the withdrawn Guide I had requested and that also included the following. The LGA had treated my questions as a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request:
Thank you for your emails regarding the inclusive language guide and glossary which had been published on the LGA website and removed from publication on 6 October.
The publication was commissioned from a third-party, and subsequently published, by the LGA in response to requests from local authority HR professionals for further information about how to talk about equality and to highlight the range of issues and debates around changes to language.
The version of the guide and the glossary you have requested were removed from our website as soon we became aware of their premature release. They are not LGA policy and have been withdrawn from publication and use. [LGA’s emphasis.] These drafts of the guide and glossary had not been through our mandatory clearance processes, including political clearance, and as such should not have been published. They do not represent the LGA’s position and are no longer available, including to councils.
You specifically asked about the LGA’s position in relation to the Forstater case. This case reminds us not to discriminate against anyone due to their religion or belief, and that gender critical views fall into this category. This is a position understood and recognised by the LGA.
The LGA will have learned some lessons, I would hope. Gender-critical views are protected beliefs under the Equality Act 2010. Local authorities would also do well to take a hard look at what a mess the LGA Mothership got itself into, and especially at how recklessly-published material, or disrespectful treatment of gender-critical people, could cause a council to fall foul of the law.