The Quaker Pledge: Not in My Name!
All is not well within British Quakerism. There has been a gradual but incremental top-down imposition of partisan values about sex and gender passed off as the discerned, collective voice of Quakers in Britain (or Friends, as we often call ourselves).
An example is a recent statement on the official Quaker website informing Friends that the recording clerk, Paul Parker, has signed a pledge on our behalf. The pledge is the brainchild of the campaign group Charity So Straight which describes its core mission as “to be a voice for all LGBTQIA+ people in the voluntary sector.” The lobby group believes that “all trans and non-binary people should be able to live, work and access services without facing discrimination.” It is currently calling upon all charity sector leaders to be “on the right side of history” and:
join us in standing with the trans community, and in saying that the charity sector is, and must remain, a safe place for all trans and non-binary people … never before have we seen so much hatred directed at the trans and non-binary community.
On the face of it, Parker’s action to become a signatory, and his supporting statement are commensurable with Quaker values. Which Quaker could object to holding the charity sector to account if it fails in a commitment to the equality and inclusion of trans-identified people? However, Parker’s position misleads British Quakers (as well as the general public), and he strays far beyond the remit of powers designated to him by British Quakers.
Parker asserts that a fundamental Quaker belief is that “gender and sexuality are sacred gifts”. This is not a factual statement. Quakers are respected for being one of the first faith groups to practice the equality of the sexes, for example, women in the second half of the 17th century ministered on an equal footing with men, a tradition it should go without saying that we proudly follow in the 21st century. We also believe that sexuality, heterosexual and homosexual, is how we as humans can express love and grace. These fundamental beliefs however have nothing to do with gender in the sense that Parker uses the term. A fundamental belief in gender has not been discerned by British Quakers and Parker has no authority to declare it so.
Gender is a pesky, ambiguous word. Those Quakers not keeping up with current debates (and why would they, since they are often fractious and confusing) could easily labour under the misapprehension that Parker is using the word gender as a synonym for biological sex. For such a Quaker, the statement “gender is a sacred gift” is completely compatible with the statement “a woman is an adult human female.” However, pledging us to the values of Charity So Straight is effectively a commitment to the belief that what makes a “woman” is an “inner identity.” The view held by Quakers that a “woman” is sexed female, and that this is an uncontentious statement of empirical fact and biological truth, is interpreted by this lobby group as an act of hate and transphobia.
Charity So Straight asserts that someone is trans “if their gender identity is inconsistent with the sex that they were assigned at birth … a person’s trans identity is individual, personal, and independent from medical intervention”. What this means is that the category of women is bifurcated into two – “cis women” and “trans women”. For example, a man (fully genitally intact) who identifies as a woman must be treated as a woman for all purposes, on all occasions, and without exception. Any challenge to this opinion is “misgendering” and an example of “anti-trans hate”.
Many British Quakers remain oblivious to the new language, “truths” and “ethics” of transgenderism. It is morally wrong of Parker to position his views on gender as in line with the historical fundamental Quaker belief in sex equality. Gender does not mean biological sex. The belief that a man who self-declares as female is female and has a right as a “trans woman” to occupy women’s spaces as a woman is a view that destabilizes our very historical commitment to sex equality.
On what authority does Parker claim to represent British Quakers? First, he does so as “the most senior staff member at Quakers in Britain.” As such, he has “joined a diverse range of charity leaders pledging to stand with trans people against hate”.
Second, he refers to a decision made in 2021 by Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM). BYM is an annual gathering that performs several functions in the life of Quakers, including that it is:
an occasion when the concerns of one group of Quakers or another can be shared with the meeting as a whole, as it seeks God’s guidance and relates each particular insight or service to the others brought before it.
The concerns put before BYM in 2021 by Quakers who identify as trans or non-binary and by their allies, some of whom belong to Quaker Rainbow Group, resulted in a BYM statement that Quaker places of worship should be “welcoming and supportive to trans and non-binary people”. It is not clear why trans-identified Friends, rather than for example black Friends, or Friends with a disability, should be singled out for special inclusion since it is the Quaker ethos that individuals are of equal value and that there is “that of God in everyone.” It is axiomatic therefore that we welcome all individuals to our meetings, however diverse their experience, including those of other faiths. On what moral foundation does Parker stretch BYM’s statement far beyond its intention?
Parker commits British Quakers to the pledge because “trans and non-binary people are facing an unprecedented level of hatred in the UK, which is affecting all aspects of their daily lives.” The term “hate” is repeated three times in the short statement. Its use is incompatible with the Quaker value of not ascribing evil to those who carry out actions to which we morally object, and our obligation not to engage in immoderate language about the “other.”
Moreover, how does a Quaker objectively assess the validity of a claimed exponential rise in “hate”? “Hate” is a highly charged and emotive term, measured by self-report. For example, I was reported to the West Yorkshire Constabulary in 2019 by a trans-identifying man who sat in the audience of a lecture I gave in Leeds and who experienced my words as hate. I was describing my research into the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) at the NHS Tavistock and Portman Hospital Trust. It revealed that clinicians influenced by queer theory were speedily affirming as the opposite sex vulnerable children who suffer from a painful conviction they have indeed been “born in the wrong body.” Increasing numbers, predominantly girls, some younger than 10 years, many suffering a range of familial and psycho-social problems, and/ or who are ashamed of same-sex attraction, were set on a lifelong path of medicalization and surgery. By 2020, the GIDS had been declared “inadequate” by the Care Quality Commission and will shortly be closed.
My complainant interpreted my ethical concern for vulnerable girls as “hate” towards those children who are wrongly “assigned” as female at birth but who are truly boys “inside”. The pledge we have signed commits Quakers to my complainant’s worldview. Charity So Straight attributes concern about the medical and social “transitioning” of children as a main example of transphobia and hate, “supporting and propagating the vilification and demonizing of trans children or their parents.”
In 2017 a nascent support group of gender-concerned Quakers was formed which has now expanded and is comprised of a growing group of women and men. We believe that sex is not assigned at birth but is observed and recorded. Gender, on the other hand, is a social phenomenon. It is how our sexed bodies are given significance and meaning in different historical and cultural contexts. Biological sex matters in rules, laws, policies, language, and culture. Clarity about sex is crucial for safeguarding everybody’s human rights, including, for example, women in prisons, sports, hospital wards, domestic violence refuges, and so on. It should not take courage for Quaker women and men to say this.
In 2021 gender-concerned Quakers applied to become a Quaker Recognised Body or Group. There are numerous and diverse officially recognized Quaker groups that “demonstrate some of the many interests and concerns that Quakers pursue as part of their wider commitment to their faith.” We are still waiting! Our inability to have our concerns legitimated as part of a wider commitment to faith is in stark contrast to the speedy official endorsement of the Quaker Rainbow Group, a Quaker Recognised Body until recently known as the QGSDG (Quaker Gender and Sexual Diversity Group). Quaker Rainbow describes itself as “bringing together people of diverse sexual and/or gender identities within Quakers in Britain … lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, intersex, transgender and gender non-binary.”
Quakers in Britain is both a charity and a religious society. We consequently suffer a conundrum about our purpose that it is incumbent to resolve. Parker tells us that he is the “closest Quakers get to a Chief Executive” and that he “believes Quakers are ready to go Whoosh! in the 21st century.” Is Parker’s main responsibility that of a charity leader, with the authority to shape and steer the values of British Quakers according to his convictions and backed by the Trustees?
Some of us have observed that under Parker’s whooshing “chief executorship,” his concept of gender has been adopted at many levels of the organization. One example (of many) was the employment of the now-discredited Mermaids charity to train volunteers working with children and young people at Quaker gatherings. Mermaids tells children:
When you are born, it’s decided whether you’re a boy or a girl, based on the way your body looks. But for some people, looks can be deceiving and they’re given the wrong gender.
Mermaids has rigid, stereotypical views of sex differences between girls and boys, advises girls uncomfortable with sex roles and with their female bodies on how to breast-bind and where to buy binders, and insists puberty blockers should be given unconditionally to pre-pubescent girls and boys based on their self-diagnosis of having been born the other sex.
Parker was recently interviewed by PinkNews, about “Quakers in Britain pledge to stand with the trans community”. PinkNews is a UK-based online newspaper marketed to the LGBTQ+ community, including those who are “transgender, non-heterosexual, none cis-gender and queer”. Parker told it:
… belonging is being accepted as one’s true self. Who are we to resist what God has created and continues to create in all their glory? I want our Quaker communities and workplace to reflect this fully.
I note Parker’s use of language: Not only is he committed to gender identity as an inherent, eternal property, perhaps akin to a soul, but God is “their” – not “he”.
Is Parker’s main responsibility that of the chief recording clerk, whose duty is to serve (rather than direct) the religious society? Quakerism has its roots in rejecting hierarchical structures on how we should perceive or interpret God (or the Good) mediated by “church officials”. We function from “the bottom-up” through collective grassroots discernment. Some gender-concerned Friends have honoured Quaker processes and tried, over the years, to register our concerns about women and children with Parker and others. In contrast, many are fearful of openly expressing their gender-critical beliefs in case their “true selves” are not, unlike gender identity, seen as “created by God” and that they will be classified as hateful, bigoted, and transphobic, or as a member of staff once categorized me, as “a dog-whistler.”
That many gender-concerned Friends are afraid to do anything other than keep their thoughts below the radar is a woeful indictment of current-day Quakerism. Our experience over many years is painfully contrary to the BYM Epistle 2023 that as a body we are committed to the following values and practices:
Kindness has a powerful impact, and we hope to offer caring support to all, including those with whom we may disagree […] Speaking truth to power with love is a ministry, and is vital in a time when truth is often corrupted.
In conclusion, gender-concerned Friends have been left in the desperate position of having to find the courage to speak truth to power, when it is within Quakerism that biological truth is corrupted, and hierarchical power exercised. As one Friend expressed: “I don’t know what to say anymore. I have wept and longed for what I have lost. My eyes are dry, but my heart continues to sob.”