Gender-critical feminism, also known as trans-exclusionary radical feminism or TERFism,[1][2][3][4] is an ideology or movement that opposes what it refers to as "gender ideology":[5] the concept of gender identity and transgender rights, especially gender self-identification. Gender-critical feminists believe that sex is biological and immutable,[6] while believing gender, including both gender identity and gender roles, to be inherently oppressive. They reject the concept of transgender identities.[7]

Originating as a fringe movement within radical feminism mainly in the United States,[4][8][9] trans-exclusionary radical feminism has achieved a degree of prominence in the United Kingdom[10] and South Korea,[11][12] where it has been at the centre of a number of high-profile controversies. It has been linked to promotion of disinformation[13][14][15] and to the anti-gender movement.[16] Anti-gender rhetoric has seen increasing circulation in gender-critical feminist discourse since 2016, including use of the term "gender ideology".[5] In several countries, gender-critical feminist groups have formed alliances with right-wing, far-right, and anti-feminist organisations.[17][18][19][20]

Gender-critical feminism has been described as transphobic by feminist and scholarly critics,[1][4] and is opposed by many feminist, LGBT rights, and human rights organizations.[21][22] The Council of Europe has condemned gender-critical ideology, among other ideologies, and linked it to "virulent attacks on the rights of LGBTI people" in Hungary, Poland, Russia, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and other countries.[23] UN Women has described the gender-critical, anti-gender, and men’s rights movements as extreme anti-rights movements that employ hate propaganda and disinformation.[24][25]


Trans-exclusionary radical feminism

Main article: TERF (acronym)

Trans-inclusive cisgender radical feminist blogger Viv Smythe has been credited with popularizing the term "trans-exclusionary radical feminism" in 2008 as an online shorthand.[26] It was used to describe a minority of feminists[27] who espouse sentiments that other feminists consider transphobic,[28][29] including the rejection of the predominant view in feminist organizations that trans women are women,[30] opposition to transgender rights,[30] and the exclusion of trans women in women's spaces and organizations.[31] Smythe has also been credited with having coined the acronym "TERF", due to a blog post she wrote reacting to the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival's policy of denying admittance to trans women. Though it was created as a deliberately neutral descriptor, "TERF" is now typically considered derogatory.[32]

Gender-critical feminism

Claire Thurlow said that since the 2010s, there has been a shift in language from "TERF" to "gender critical feminism", which she described as a dog whistle for anti-trans politics.[1] Researcher Aleardo Zanghellini argues that "gender-critical feminism advocates reserving women's spaces for cis women".[33] Mauro Cabral Grinspan, Ilana Eloit, David Paternotte and Mieke Verloo describe "gender-critical feminism" as a "self-definition by some individuals and groups labelled TERFs" and argue that the term is problematic because it serves to rebrand anti-trans activism.[34]


Further information: Feminist views on transgender topics

Sex and gender

See also: Sex–gender distinction

Gender-critical feminists equate "women" with what they consider to be a "female sex class", and view historical and contemporary oppression of women as being rooted in their being female, while "gender" is a system of social norms which functions to oppress women on the basis of their sex.[7][35][36] They believe sex is biological and cannot be changed,[37] and that biological sex should be a protected characteristic under equality legislation.[38] Furthermore, gender critics emphasise the view that sex is binary,[39] as opposed to a continuous spectrum, and that the two sexes have an objective, material basis as opposed to being socially constructed.[40]

Gender-critical feminists promote the idea that sex is important.[41][42][43] In Material Girls, Kathleen Stock discusses four areas in which she expresses the view that sex-associated differences are important, regardless of gender: medicine, sport, sexual orientation, and the social effects of heterosexuality (such as wage disparity and sexual assault).[44] Holly Lawford-Smith states: "Gender critical feminism is not 'about' trans. It is about sex."[45] Lawford-Smith said of gender-critical feminism: "It is about being critical of gender, and this has implications for a wide range of feminist issues, not just gender identity." Writing of her view of a "gender-critical feminist utopia", she said: "While there will still be the same people who think of themselves as 'transmen', 'transwomen' or 'non-binary' today, they will not use those labels, because 'feminine' will be a way that males can be, 'masculine' will be a way that women can be, and 'androgynous' will be a way that anyone can be."[46]

In gender-critical discourse, the terms man and woman are used as sex-terms, assigned no more meaning than adult human male and adult human female respectively, in contrast to feminist theorists who argue these terms embody a social category distinct from matters of biology (usually referred to as gender), with masculinity and femininity representing normative characteristics thereof.[47][48] The phrase adult human female has become a slogan in gender-critical politics, and has been described as transphobic.[49]

Sex-based rights

A sticker promoting gender-critical feminism

Gender critical feminists advocate what they call "sex-based rights", arguing that "women's human rights are based upon sex" and that "these rights are being eroded by the promotion of 'gender identity'".[10]

Human rights scholar Sandra Duffy described the concept of "sex-based rights" as "a fiction with the pretense of legality", noting that the word "sex" in international human rights law does not share the implications of the word "sex" in gender-critical discourse and is widely agreed to also refer to gender.[50] Catharine A. MacKinnon noted that "the recognition [that discrimination against trans people is discrimination on the basis of sex, that is gender, the social meaning of sex] does not, contrary to allegations of anti-trans self-identified feminists, endanger women or feminism", they expand by saying "women do not have 'sex-based rights' in the affirmative sense some in this group seem to think".[51]

United Kingdom

The term "sex-based rights" is used, primarily in the UK, to refer to a variety of legal positions and political objectives, including:

The gender-critical movement argues that recognition of transgender women as women conflicts with these rights.[58]

Socialisation and gender nonconformity

Gender critical feminists generally see gender as a system in which women are oppressed for reasons intrinsically related to their sex, and emphasize male violence against women, particularly involving institutions such as the sex industry, as central to women's oppression.[59][60] Holders of such views often contend that trans women cannot fully be women because they were assigned male at birth and have experienced some degree of male privilege.[61] Germaine Greer has said that it "wasn't fair" that "a man who has lived for 40 years as a man and had children with a woman and enjoyed the services—the unpaid services of a wife, which most women will never know…then decides that the whole time he’s been a woman".[62]

These ideas have been met with criticism from believers in other branches of feminism. Sociologist Patricia Elliot argues that the view that one's socialization as a girl or woman defines "women's experience" assumes that cis women's experiences are homogeneous and discounts the possibility that trans and cis women may share the experience of being disparaged for their perceived femininity.[63] Others argue that expectations of one's assigned sex are something enforced upon them, beginning at early socialization, and transgender youth, especially gender-nonconforming children, often experience different, worse treatment involving reprisals for their deviation therefrom.[64]

Transfeminist Julia Serano has referred to implying that trans women may experience some degree of male privilege pre-transition as "denying [them] the closet", and has compared it to saying that a cisgender gay person experienced straight privilege before coming out. She has also compared it to if a cisgender girl was raised as a boy against her will, and how the two scenarios tend to be viewed differently by a cisgender audience, despite being ostensibly similar experiences from a transfeminine perspective.[65]

Gender transition

In The Transsexual Empire, feminist Janice Raymond denounces the act of transition as "rape", by virtue of "reducing the real female form to an artifact, appropriating this body for themselves".[66] Helen Joyce has described people who undergo transition, whether happier for it or not, as "a huge problem to a sane world".[67]

In her own 1987 book Gyn/Ecology, Mary Daly, who had served as Raymond's thesis supervisor,[68] argued that as sex reassignment surgery cannot reproduce female chromosomes or a female life history, it could "not produce women".[69] Sheila Jeffreys and Germaine Greer have made similar remarks.[70] In a response to related remarks by Elizabeth Grosz, philosopher Eva Hayward characterized this type of view as telling trans people who have had sex reassignment surgery: "Don't exist."[71]

Intersex conditions

Radical feminist Germaine Greer called women with XY AIS "men" and "incomplete males" in her 1999 book The Whole Woman. Iain Morland responded that "in trying to criticize the social construction of femaleness and intersex, Greer disenfranchised precisely those people who live at the intersection of the two categories".[72][73] Greer admitted in 2016 that defining men and women solely using chromosomes was wrong.[62] Later gender-critical feminists have disputed the prevalence of intersex conditions, arguing that Anne Fausto-Sterling's estimate of 1.7% comprises mostly cases not normally considered ambiguous.[40] Citing research showing much lower prevalence, Kathleen Stock and Holly Lawford-Smith have both argued that the existence of intersex conditions does not impact the usefulness of sex categories,[45][74] with Lawford-Smith saying that the term "assigned female at birth" has been "appropriated from people with differences of sexual development", and "used by trans activists for everyone, even though in more than 99% of cases, as we have seen, sex is accurately observed, not 'assigned'".[45]

Most intersex organizations subscribe to a mixed sociological perspective of sex and gender, and as trans legislation and subjects overlaps heavily with intersex legislation, intersex people are often involved in trans activism.[75][76] Intersex women who display a mixed sexual phenotype often face attacks similar to trans people.[77][78]

Sexual orientation

See also: Transphobia § Gay and lesbian communities, and Feminist views on sexual orientation

Gender critical feminists believe that transgender rights are a threat to the rights of gay people.[79] Gender critical lesbians and feminists are a minority in the UK: polls show that cisgender lesbians and bisexual women are among the most trans-inclusive groups in Britain.[79]

Kathleen Stock, for instance, has said that allowing trans women to call themselves women "threatens a secure understanding of the concept 'lesbian'".[74] Magdalen Berns, co-founder of the group For Women Scotland, has said that "there is no such thing as a lesbian with a penis" in regards to the idea of some trans women being lesbians.[80]

Julie Bindel has said that transgender women cannot be lesbians, instead qualifying them as straight men trying to "join the club", and has compared transgender activism to men sexually assaulting lesbian women for rejecting their advances.[81][82]

Many other gender critical groups and pundits have spoken of the transgender rights movement as a men's sexual rights movement, designed to pressure lesbians into having sex with trans women.[83][84][85]

Conversion therapy

See also: Conversion therapy

Kathleen Stock has argued that definitions of conversion therapy and bans against it should not include gender identity conversion therapy on the basis that it risks criminalising "proper therapeutic exploration",[86] and that she believes it comes into conflict with bans against sexual orientation conversion therapy.[87] This latter argument has been criticized on the basis that doctors affirming transgender youth do not attempt to alter sexual orientation, which is understood to define who they are attracted to, and respect the person's expressed gender identity and sexual orientation.[87] Gender-critical campaign groups in the United Kingdom such as Sex Matters have described the provision of gender-affirming care for transgender youth as "modern conversion therapy" which erases gay identities and argued it should be criminalized.[88][89][90] Trans-exclusionary radical feminists in France campaigned against a ban on conversion therapy arguing that most transgender teenagers assigned female at birth aren't really trans.[91]

In March 2022, gender-critical groups campaigned to have the UK government remove gender identity change efforts from a proposed ban on conversion therapy.

The Trevor Project and International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association have stated "gender critical therapy" is another name for conversion therapy.[92][93] Heron Greenesmith has reported on gender critical boards sharing lists of therapists whose end goal is the rejection of trans identity for parents of trans youth.[94] The gender-critical group Genspect promotes what they call "gender exploratory therapy", arguing transgender identities stem from unprocessed trauma, childhood abuse, internalized homophobia or misogyny, sexual fetishism, and autism.[95]


Early history (before 2000)

Although trans people were active in feminist movements in the 1960s and earlier,[96] the 1970s saw conflict among some early radical feminists over the inclusion of trans women in feminism.[97][98]

In 1973, trans-exclusionary radical feminist activists from the Daughters of Bilitis voted to expel Beth Elliott, an out trans woman, from the organization.[99] The same year, Elliott was scheduled to perform at the West Coast Lesbian Conference, which she had helped organize; a group of trans-exclusionary radical feminist activists calling themselves the Gutter Dykes leafletted the conference protesting her inclusion and keynote speaker Robin Morgan updated her speech to describe Elliott as "an opportunist, an infiltrator, and a destroyer – with the mentality of a rapist".[99][1][100] An impromptu vote was held with the majority supporting her inclusion in the conference; when Elliott subsequently entered the stage to perform the Gutter Dykes rushed to the stage to attack her and attacked performers Robin Tyler and Patty Harrison who had stepped in to defend her.[99][1][100]

At the 1973 Christopher Street Liberation Day rally, trans-exclusionary radical feminists tried to stop Sylvia Rivera from speaking.[99] Jean O'Leary publicly denounced Sylvia Rivera as "parodying womanhood" and Lesbian Feminist Liberation distributed flyers seeking to keep "female impersonators" off the stage.[101]

Trans-exclusionary radical feminist activists protested Sandy Stone's position at Olivia Records, a trans-inclusive lesbian separatist music collective. In 1977 The Gorgons, a trans-exclusionary lesbian separatist paramilitary group, issued a death threat to Stone and came to the event armed though were intercepted by security. Escalating threats against the collective motivated Stone to leave the group.[99]

Janice Raymond's The Transsexual Empire, published in 1979, examined what she considered to be the role of transgender identity in reinforcing traditional gender stereotypes, in particular the ways in which the "medical-psychiatric complex" was medicalizing gender identity, and the social and political context that contributed to the image of gender-affirming treatment and surgery as therapeutic medicine.[102] Raymond maintained that this was based in the "patriarchal myths" of "male mothering", and "making of woman according to man's image", and that transgender identity aimed "to colonize feminist identification, culture, politics and sexuality".[102] The book goes on to say that "All transsexuals rape women's bodies by reducing the real female form to an artifact" and that "the problem of transsexualism would best be served by morally mandating it out of existence".[103] Several authors have since characterized this work as transphobic and constituting hate speech, as well as lacking any serious intellectual basis.[104][105][106][107]: 233–234 

In 1991 Nancy Burkholder, a trans woman, was ejected from the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival (MWMF), after refusing to answer when another woman asked her whether or not she was transgender.[108][99] This removal was justified by the retroactive instatement of a womyn-born womyn policy by the MWMF organisers.[107]: 233–245  For both the 1992 and 1993 MWMF events, Janis Walworth, a cisgender lesbian feminist, organised an educational and outreach program at the MWMF distributing pamphlets titled "Gender Myths".[100] During the 1993 MWMF event, Walworth was told by event security that she and any trans women in their group would be required to leave the event "for their own safety".[100] Although an offer of bodyguard protection was provided by a group of leather lesbians attending the festival, Walworth's group decided instead to set up an outreach camp outside the festival gates.[100][99] This camp, later known as Camp Trans, continued to provide education and outreach attempts while protesting the festival's trans exclusionary practices until the festival's final event in 2015.[100][99]

By country

This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (July 2024)

United Kingdom

In 2016, the House of Commons' Women and Equalities Committee issued a report recommending that the Gender Recognition Act 2004 be updated "in line with the principles of gender self-declaration".[109] Later in 2016, in England and Wales, a proposal was developed under Theresa May's government to revise the Act to introduce self-identification, with a public consultation opening in 2018. This proposed reform became a key locus of conflict for the emerging gender-critical movement, seeking to block reform of the Act, with a number of groups such as Fair Play For Women, For Women Scotland, and Woman's Place UK being formed. 2018 found a significant majority of respondents in favour of the GRA reforms,[110] however, in 2020, Boris Johnson's government dropped the reforms, instead reducing the cost of a gender recognition certificate and moving the application process online.

Another key locus of conflict for the emerging movement was the stance of LGBT rights charity Stonewall on trans issues. In 2015, Stonewall had begun campaigning for trans equality, with Stonewall head Ruth Hunt apologising for the organisation's previous failure to do so.[111] In 2019, the LGB Alliance was founded in opposition to Stonewall, accusing the organization of having "undermined women's sex-based rights and protections" and attempting "to introduce confusion between biological sex and the notion of gender".[112]

2019 saw the formation of the Women's Human Rights Campaign (now Women's Declaration International) by noted gender-critical feminist Sheila Jeffreys and co-founder Heather Brunskell-Evans. The group published a manifesto titled the Declaration on Women's Sex-Based Rights, which argued that recognising trans women as women "constitutes discrimination against women" and called for the "elimination of that act".[113][114]

2019 also saw the preliminary hearings of Maya Forstater v Centre for Global Development, in which tax expert and researcher Maya Forstater made a claim that she had been discriminated against by her employer for her gender-critical beliefs. In June 2021 Maya Forstater, who lost her job with the Centre for Global Development, won an appeal against the original employment tribunal decision.[115] The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) found that gender-critical beliefs, such as the view that sex is fixed and should not be conflated with gender identity, did qualify for protection under the Equality Act 2010. This means that "gender critical" beliefs are protected "philosophical beliefs" for equality law purposes. In June 2023 Forstater was awarded more than £100,000 in compensation by an employment tribunal.[116]

A 2020 paper in SAGE Open said that "the case against trans inclusion in the United Kingdom has been presented primarily through social media and blog-type or journalistic online platforms lacking the traditional prepublication checks of academic peer review".[117] Some public figures such as Graham Linehan[118][119][120] and J. K. Rowling[121][122][123] have often been featured in gender-critical social media posts. The Internet forum Mumsnet has also been a prominent hub of online gender-critical discourse.[124][125]

Gender-critical views are common in the British media.[30][126] The British press frequently publishes articles critical of trans people and trans issues.[126] In 2018, the US version of The Guardian published an editorial condemning an editorial in the UK version of The Guardian for transphobia, because it portrayed trans rights as being opposed to the rights of cis women.[127] Drawing on theory of radicalization, Craig McLean argues that discourse on transgender-related issues in the UK has been radicalized in response to the activities of what he terms the anti-transgender movement that pushes "a radical agenda to deny the basic rights of trans people (...) under the cover of 'free speech'".[128]

In Resolution 2417 (2022), the Council of Europe condemned "the highly prejudicial anti-gender, gender-critical and anti-trans narratives which reduce the fight for the equality of LGBTI people to what these movements deliberately mischaracterise as 'gender ideology' or 'LGBTI ideology'. Such narratives deny the very existence of LGBTI people, dehumanise them, and often falsely portray their rights as being in conflict with women's and children's rights, or societal and family values in general. All of these are deeply damaging to LGBTI people, while also harming women's and children's rights and social cohesion". The resolution further deplored "the extensive and often virulent attacks on the rights of LGBTI people that have been occurring for several years in, among other countries, Hungary, Poland, the Russian Federation, Turkey and the United Kingdom".[23][129][130]

United States

Although gender-critical feminism originated in the United States in the 1970s, it has largely fallen out of favor among American feminists.[30] Some gender-critical organizations do remain, however, such as WoLF, a gender-critical feminist organization that operates mainly within the United States.[30]

South Korea

In 2016, the radical feminist online community Womad split from the larger radical feminist online community Megalia after Megalia issued a ban on the use of certain explicit slurs against gay men and transgender people. This change in policy led to the migration of anti-LGBT members.[131][132]

In February 2020, Sookmyung Women's University accepted its first transgender student. The decision prompted a strong backlash both within and outside of the university. However, some students, and the university's Student and Minority Human Rights Commission, supported the decision.[11][133][134]

Hyun-Jae Lee has noted that in the South Korean "feminism reboot" of the early 21st century, "the radical stance of today’s [young] feminists has a tendency to emphasize the identity of the 'female body' as based on the category of the 'biological woman,' taking an attitude of excluding 'biological' men refugees, and transgender people".[12] Jinsook Kim has noted that "in Korean contexts, there have been increasing concerns over popular forms of feminism based on a strong female identity rooted in notions of biological sex, the pursuit of female-only and -first politics, and the refusal of solidarity with other social minority groups".[135]

Scholarly analysis

Lesbian studies scholars Carly Thomsen and Laurie Essig note that "transness has been and is the object of deep hostility within some marginalized forms of feminism. Skepticism among earlier anti-trans feminists, such as Janice Raymond, about trans women being "real" women has morphed into J.K. Rowling's Twitter feed where she has insisted that trans women are not women. These ideas are, of course, deplorable, but they are also quite fringe within feminist studies and activism in the US".[8]

Clair Thurlow notes that the more explicitly hateful language used by early trans-exclusionary radical feminists failed to gain support, forcing them to pivot towards euphemisms and dog-whistles such as using "pro-woman" to mean "anti-trans", "protecting sex-based rights" meant excluding trans people, and "trans-exclusionary radical feminism" became "gender-critical feminism". This allowed trans-exclusionary feminism to appear reasonable to the average person while maintaining their anti-trans meanings to other anti-trans activists.[1]

Gender studies scholars Serena Bassi and Greta LaFleur have noted that TERFism started out as a fringe group among English speaking cultural feminists in the 1970s that grew rapidly due to media exposure.[4]

Cristan Williams notes that radical feminism has historically been predominantly trans-inclusive and considers trans-exclusionary views a minority or fringe view within radical feminism.[2]

Carrera-Fernández and DePalma argued that "the increasingly belligerent popular discourses promoted by TERF groups since the 1970s [are] appropriating feminist discourses to produce arguments that contradict basic premises of feminism".[136]

Henry F. Fradella said that most contemporary feminists are supportive of trans people, and that gender-critical feminists are a small but vocal group who believe that trans rights threaten the rights of cis women. Most gender-critical arguments for this belief, he says, are false, and "misconstrue or ignore empirical data from both the natural and social sciences". Gender-critical feminism risks legal equality and contributes to criminalization of trans people.[137]

In July 2018, Sally Hines, a University of Leeds professor of sociology and gender studies scholar, wrote in The Economist that feminism and trans rights have been falsely portrayed as being in conflict by a minority of anti-transgender feminists, who often "reinforce the extremely offensive trope of the trans woman as a man in drag who is a danger to women". Hines criticized these feminists for fueling "rhetoric of paranoia and hyperbole" against trans people, saying that they abandon or undermine feminist principles in their anti-trans narratives, such as bodily autonomy and self-determination of gender, and employ "reductive models of biology and restrictive understandings of the distinction between sex and gender" in defense of such narratives. She concluded with a call for explicit recognition of anti-transgender feminism as a violation of equality and dignity, and "a doctrine that runs counter to the ability to fulfill a liveable life or, often, a life at all".[138]

Briar Dickey notes that "British ‘trans-exclusionary radical feminist’ (TERF) discourse has often been contextualised in fringe radical feminist thought", and argues that "the contextualisation of contemporary TERF discourse as an extension and evolution of fringe second-wave feminism [...] neglects its relationship to a wider international wave of anti-transgender sentiment" anchored in conservative and religious movements.[9]

Researcher Aleardo Zanghellini argues that "gender-critical feminism advocates reserving women's spaces for cis women" as well as that "Many problems in gender-critical thought are consistent with the explanation that paranoid structuralism is too often presupposed in gender-critical work".[33]

Mauro Cabral Grinspan, Ilana Eloit, David Paternotte and Mieke Verloo dislike the expression "gender-critical feminism", saying that it allows trans-exclusionary feminists to rebrand transphobic activism.[34]

Abbie E. Goldberg argues that "trans-exclusionary radical feminism (TERF) has contained similar cisnormative arguments to those of social conservatives, promoting vilification of people with a trans lived experience in the guise of so-called gender-critical feminism" and that "this TERF approach has been used to promote exclusionary and discriminatory legislation, such as prohibiting equal access to public toilets and the right to be treated in accordance with one's gender in workplaces, accommodations, and public venues".[139][page needed]

Relationship with the anti-gender movement

Further information: Anti-gender movement

Bassi and LaFleur write that "the trans-exclusionary feminist (TERF) movement and the so-called anti-gender movement are only rarely distinguished as movements with distinct constitutions and aims".[4] Pearce et al. note that the concept of "gender ideology" "saw increasing circulation in trans-exclusionary radical feminist discourse" from around 2016.[5] Claire House noted in 2023 that "key streams within trans exclusionary women’s and feminist movements increasingly engage in collaborative action with right-wing populist-centered anti-gender coalitions, which include right-wing religious, conservative, and right-wing extremist actors".[140] Claire Thurlow writes that "despite efforts to obscure the point, gender critical feminism continues to rely on transphobic tropes, moral panics and essentialist understandings of men and women. These factors also continue to link trans-exclusionary feminism to anti-feminist reactionary politics and other 'anti-gender' movements".[1]

UN Women has described the gender-critical, anti-gender and men’s rights movements as anti-rights movements that overlap in opposition to what they describe as "gender ideology", which the agency described as "a term used to oppose the concept of gender, women’s rights, and the rights of LGBTIQ+ people broadly." They argued these groups have attempted to "frame equality for women and LGBTIQ+ people as a threat to so-called 'traditional' family values" and linked them to "hateful propaganda and disinformation to target and attempt to delegitimize people with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities, gender expressions, and sex characteristics."[24][25]

Legal cases in the UK

In 2019, the Maya Forstater v Centre for Global Development tribunal case was launched by Maya Forstater, crowdfunding over £120,000. Earlier that year, Forstater's consulting contract for the Centre for Global Development was not renewed after she made a number of social media posts saying that men cannot change into women.[141] Forstater subsequently sued the centre, alleging that she had been discriminated against because of her views.[142] Forstater lost her initial case, with the judge ruling that her beliefs were not protected under the Equality Act due to their absolutism. However, in April 2021, the initial judgement was reversed, with the Employment Appeal Tribunal ruling that gender-critical beliefs were protected under the Equality Act.[143] A full merits hearing on Forstater's claim that she lost her employment as a result of these beliefs was heard in March 2022, and the decision, delivered in July 2022, was that Forstater had been subjected to direct discrimination and victimisation because of her gender-critical beliefs.[144]

In October 2020, Ann Sinnott, at the time a director of the LGB Alliance, initiated a legal case calling for a judicial review of the Equality and Human Rights Commission's guidance on the Equality Act 2010, crowdfunding almost £100,000 for legal fees. In May 2021 the case was found by the court to be unarguable, Justice Henshaw stating that "the claimant has shown no arguable reason to believe the Code has misled or will mislead service providers about their responsibilities under the Act".[145]

The Forstater case has been used as a precedent for several claims of discrimination against people holding gender-critical views. Successful claims include cases against a barrister's chambers, Arts Council England, the UK Council for Psychotherapy, Westminster Council and Social Work England. A claim by someone who had misgendered service users at the Department for Work and Pensions failed. The barrister Georgiana Calvert-Lee commented to the Guardian: "Above all, in a pluralistic society, which is what we want, you have to accept that people are going to have different views."[146]

In January 2024, Jo Phoenix was successful in a claim against the Open University for discrimination on the grounds of gender-critical beliefs. The tribunal ruled that she had been constructively unfairly dismissed, and that she had suffered victimisation and harassment in the form of an open letter from 386 of her colleagues, as well as individual disparagement for her views, including one professor comparing her to "the racist uncle at the Christmas table".[147]


Political alliances with conservatives and the far right

See also: Anti-gender movement

Some trans-exclusionary radical feminists have allied with conservative or far-right groups and politicians who oppose legislation that would expand transgender rights in the United States.[148][149] According to der Freitag: "TERF positions are now mostly heard from conservatives and right-wing extremists."[20]

Feminist Judith Butler has described the anti-gender movements as fascist trends and cautioned self-declared feminists from allying with such movements in targeting trans, non-binary, and genderqueer people.[17] Butler said that "it is painful to see that Trump's position that gender should be defined by biological sex, and that the evangelical and right-wing Catholic effort to purge 'gender' from education and public policy accords with the trans-exclusionary radical feminists' return to biological essentialism".[150] Sophia Siddiqui, the deputy editor of Race & Class, has argued that "'gender critical' feminists play into the hands of far-right street forces and extreme-right electoral parties which would like to abolish anti-discrimination protections altogether" and that it "could have a damaging effect on global feminist and LGBT movements by reinforcing conservative ideas about gender and sexuality".[151] The Canadian Anti-Hate Network said that despite labelling themselves as feminists, TERF groups often collaborate with conservative and far-right groups.[18] Serena Bassi and Greta LaFleur note that "gender-critical movements often reemploy the well-known right-wing populist opposition between 'the corrupt global elites' and 'the people'", noting the similarity of gender-critical beliefs to "far-right conspiracy theorizing".[4]

Gender studies scholar C. Libby has pointed to "burgeoning connections between trans-exclusionary radical feminism, "gender critical" writing, and transphobic evangelical Christian rhetoric".[152]

In January 2019, The Heritage Foundation, an American conservative think tank, hosted a panel of self-described radical feminists opposed to the US Equality Act.[148] Heron Greenesmith of Political Research Associates, an American liberal think tank, has said that the latest iteration of collaboration between conservatives and anti-transgender feminists is in part a reaction to the trans community's "incredible gains" in civil rights and visibility, and that anti-trans feminists and conservatives capitalize on a "scarcity mindset rhetoric" whereby civil rights are portrayed as a limited commodity and must be prioritized to cisgender women over other groups. Greenesmith compared this rhetoric to the right-wing tactic of prioritizing the rights of citizens over non-citizens and white people over people of colour.[148] Bev Jackson, one of the founders of the LGB Alliance, has argued in contrast that "working with The Heritage Foundation is sometimes the only possible course of action" since "the leftwing silence on gender in the US is even worse than in the UK".[153]

In a 2020 article in Lambda Nordica, Erika Alm of the University of Gothenburg and Elisabeth L. Engebretsen of the University of Stavanger, said that there was "growing convergence, and sometimes conscious alliances, between "gender-critical" feminists (sometimes known as TERFs – Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists), religious and social conservatives, as well as right-wing politics and even neo-Nazi and fascist movements" and that the convergence was linked to "their reliance on an essentialised and binary understanding of sex and/or gender, often termed 'bio-essentialism'".[19] Engebretsen has described the movement as a "complex threat to democracy".[154] Another 2020 article, in The Sociological Review, said that "the language of 'gender ideology' originates in anti-feminist and anti-trans discourses among right-wing Christians, with the Catholic Church acting as a major nucleating agent", and said that the term "saw increasing circulation in trans-exclusionary radical feminist discourse" from around 2016. It further said that "a growing number of anti-trans campaigners associated with radical feminist movements have openly aligned themselves with anti-feminist organisations".[5]

In a 2021 paper in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Hil Malatino of Pennsylvania State University said that "'gender-critical' feminism" in the US has "begun to build coalition with the evangelical Right around the legal codification of sex as a biological binary" and that "popular news media frames transphobia as part of a rational, enlightened, pragmatic response to what is variously called the 'trans lobby' and the 'cult of trans'".[155] Another 2021 paper, in Law and Social Inquiry, said that "a coalition of Christian conservative legal organizations, conservative foundations, Trump administration officials, Republican party lawmakers, and trans-exclusionary radical feminists has assembled to redefine the right to privacy in service of anti-transgender politics" and that "social conservatives have cast the issue as one of balancing two competing rights claims rather than one of outright animus against a gender minority population".[156]

Academic freedom

Conflict between gender-critical feminists and other feminists and transgender rights activists has resulted in controversies in which the principles of academic freedom have been invoked. Conflicts have erupted at university campuses.[citation needed]

Kathleen Lowrey, who had allegedly been fired from her additional position as associate chair of undergraduate programs for the department of anthropology at the University of Alberta after displaying gender-critical posters on her office door, teaching gender-critical material in class, and showing up halfway through a student-run queer anthology event to start arguments about "the existence and validity of trans people with a trans man in the room",[157][158] published a paper in Archives of Sexual Behavior saying that she found it particularly distressing that "almost all of my most enthusiastic public attackers were feminist academic women" and that gender-critical feminists "root their analysis in the materiality of biological sex and take the oppression of women to be linked to the control of reproduction. In the present scholarly ecumene, this aligns them in some respects with scholars who are traditional and conservative, and explains why they, like conservatives, are so often in trouble with their institutions under present conditions".[159]

Carolyn Sale of the Center for Free Expression at Ryerson University condemned the university's decision, saying that "the idea that in a hush behind closed doors students can bring complaints that don't have to be proven true and can do so in order to protect their "safety" should alarm us all".[160]

In September 2022, Laura Favaro published an article in Times Higher Education discussing her research into the climate of the debate among academics. Noting that she had interviewed 50 feminist academics in gender studies with a range of views on the subject, Favaro stated "my discussions left me in no doubt that a culture of discrimination, silencing and fear has taken hold across universities in England, and many countries beyond".[161] Favaro later began discrimination proceedings against City, University of London, stating she had been "ostracised at her workplace and denied access to her research data" after the publication of her article.[162][163]

City, University of London responded with a statement that it had a "legal obligation to protect freedom of expression that we take very seriously". It also took its "obligations with respect to ethics and integrity very seriously" and made clear that "any personal data processed in the course of any research [should be] processed in compliance with data protection legislation".[163]

Conflicts with other feminist and pro-equality groups

In February 2020, 28 feminist and LGBT groups in France co-signed a declaration titled Toutes des femmes denouncing trans-exclusionary feminism, saying that "questions disguised as 'legitimate concerns' quickly give way to more violent attacks" and that "it is a confusionist and conspiratorial ideological movement using the cover of feminism to disrupt real feminist fights.[164] The declaration has since also been signed by over 100 additional feminist, LGBT, and progressive groups.[22] In May 2021, over 110 women's and human rights organisations in Canada signed a statement stating that they "vehemently reject the dangerous and bigoted rhetoric and ideology espoused by Trans Exclusionary Radical 'Feminists' (TERFs)", and saying that "trans people are a driving force in our feminist movements and make incredible contributions across all facets of our society".[21]

Judith Butler said in 2020 that trans-exclusionary radical feminism is "a fringe movement that is seeking to speak in the name of the mainstream, and that our responsibility is to refuse to let that happen".[165]

In 2021, the Council of Europe Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination published a report titled Combating rising hate against LGBTI people in Europe, which condemned "the highly prejudicial anti-gender, gender-critical and anti-trans narratives which reduce the fight for the equality of LGBTI people to what these movements deliberately mischaracterise as 'gender ideology' or 'LGBTI ideology'" and which said there was "a direct link between heteronormativity and heterosexism, on the one hand, and the growing anti-gender and gender-critical movements".[16] The report formed the basis of Resolution 2417, adopted in January 2022.[23]

In late-January 2018, over 1000 Irish feminists, including several groups such as the University College Dublin Centre of Gender, Feminisms & Sexualities, signed an open letter condemning a planned meeting in Ireland on UK Gender Recognition Act reforms organised by a British group opposing the reforms.[166] The letter stated that "[t]rans people and particularly trans women are an inextricable part of our feminist community" and accused the British group of colonialism.[167]

Sociologist Kelsy Burke argued that "TERFs aren’t aligned with most feminists" and wrote that "most American feminists are far from trans-exclusionary and have long been among the most supportive groups of LGBTQ equality".[168]

Social media

The controversial Reddit community r/GenderCritical gathered a reputation as an anti-trans space. In June 2020, it was banned abruptly for violating new rules against "promoting hate". Members set up a similar community called Ovarit.[169]

Allegations of misinformation tactics

T.J. Billard in article on "TERF strategies" has stated that "misinformation—or, more specifically, disinformation—about trans topics has become the defining feature of public discourse on transgender rights".[13] Cilia Williams et al. noted in an article on gender critical feminist discourse in Spain that "anti-trans narratives online [...] use attacks, misinformation, and self-defence as a communication strategy, rather than debate or dialogue".[14] Alyosxa Tudor has written that "strategic disinformation as [an] accelerator" has been used to push forward "hateful and anti-democratic agendas".[15]

See also


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Further reading