A Witch Hunt at Humanists UK
June 15, 2019

Humanists are Feminists… are they?

A few years ago, the UK Women’s Equality Party (WEP) invited Andrew Copson, CEO of Humanists UK (HUK), to speak in north London. He explained that humanists are non-religious people who base their views on science and reason and believe in equality and social justice.

As both a humanist and a feminist, I asked him, at the end of his talk, “Mr Copson, would you say that Humanists UK is a feminist organization? I looked at your website earlier, and couldn’t find the word ‘feminism anywhere’.” Andrew Copson bridled and spoke most emphatically, “Oh yes, most certainly it is a feminist organization. Most definitely.” I challenged again, asking, “Then why isn’t there any mention of feminism or even of discrimination against women on the website?” He quickly put me right: “It goes without saying that it is absolutely part and parcel of Humanism to be in favour of women’s rights. That’s what has brought me along here this evening.” I wasn’t convinced. But, wanting to train as a funeral celebrant, I swallowed my reservations, and paid my £2,000 for HUK’s course.

I was eventually accredited and took my first funeral. It was hugely nerve-wracking, and I loved it. The husband of the woman who had passed said that people in attendance couldn’t believe I had never met his wife, so accurate and true to her was the person who shone through the service.

I now work occasionally as celebrant, writing and officiating at funerals for people who aren’t religious. It may seem an odd choice of work, but I feel it is a privilege and an honour that bereaved people confide in me at this vulnerable time. It is a joy when they shake my hand and say, “Thank you. That was wonderful. Mum would have loved it.”

During the training I learned a lot about Humanists UK. Beneath the glossy surface is a grimmer reality which tends to devalue women.

Here are some messages from its website:

“Be curious about people and even more curious about their ideas.”

“We make sense of the world through logic, reason, and evidence, and always seek to treat those around us with warmth, understanding, and respect.”

The site features positive, serene, imagery: fields of flowery grass, little hearts, coloured balloons, happy smiling faces. The women are almost all young and unwrinkled — even the one (the only one) with grey hair. In reality older women, often without dyed their hair or Botox, are over-represented in humanism.  The contrast between the saccharine website with the way I was treated is the musical equivalent of The Police singing gently and sweetly about “fields of barley, fields of gold,” while also producing the stalker-anthem, “Every Step You Take, I’ll be watching you,” and “Roxanne,” a story about a john bullying a prostituted woman: “I won’t share you with another boy… put away your make-up, I won’t tell you again, it’s a bad way.”

Humanists UK claim moral high ground, but actions speak louder than words.

I got into trouble with HUK after protesting lesbian erasure on behalf of OBJECT at London Pride last summer.

Here we are at the end. I went home and crashed, unaware that I had been on TV as far away as Singapore, that Pride had called us ‘transphobic’ and ‘TERFS’ and that there had been a transactivist Twitter pile-on.

While some tweeted, others googled, discovering that I was a funeral celebrant. How, they asked, could HUK work with an evil hater like me? I would refuse to take a trans person’s funeral, and misgender or dead-name them, upsetting an already bereaved person!

I carried on running OBJECT and doing my travelling job – ten countries last summer. In between I attended a meeting on the Gender Recognition Act and was greeted as a shero by women who had seen me on telly and wanted to shake my hand.  By contrast, Humanists UK said I had breached its Code of Conduct: I was ‘anti-trans, transphobic, shocking, and disgusting’, I ‘would clearly celebrate the disappearance of all trans people’ and ‘might wish that more of them would kill themselves’!

I hadn’t maligned or threatened anyone.

Why did you send your representative Janice Williams to spread anti-trans hate?’

Scarily, HUK  swallowed the mud-slinging. Shouldn’t a complaint be about actions, backed up by evidence?  Where was the science and rationalism? HUK quoted humanist values but didn’t follow them:

“We engage in dialogue and debate rationally, intelligently, with attention to evidence” – no, they believed lies about me and avoided debate with me!

We recognise the dignity of individuals and treat them with fairness and respect” – not me!

“We respect and promote freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law” –so why complain at my legal protest for a discriminated-against minority?

They asked, ‘Does Jan’s anti-trans activism bring us into disrepute by failing to comply with our values?’ I wasn’t breaching humanist values, they were! No-one had said that I had discriminated against anyone, only that they thought I might. I expected a call to ask for my side of the story.

I looked at the complaints procedure (see italics). HUK had breached it in SIX different ways: they should have said who had complained, when, and how serious it was.  They demanded secrecy when the procedure stressed openness and transparency, they accepted false accusations without evidence, and they gave me no chance to explain myself.

What should I do? Making a fuss might make things worse, so I compiled a 20-page illustrated submission, showing transactivist hate speech, threats and contempt.

I explained how I could criticise a harmful costly cosmetic process while not judging people who used it. Like alcohol or botox – I can refrain from using them myself without judging those who do.

I complained about procedure violations. I suggested an informal chat – no response. I kept sending in links to gender-critical articles. ‘Being curious about people and even more curious about their ideas’  didn’t extend to me.

My complaint was dismissed. Higher-ups would reconsider, if I appealed within 5 working days. I was travelling round Europe, moving daily in remote areas, getting online only via dodgy wifi late at night. I couldn’t appeal in time. I asked for an extension: they refused: ‘Working for a small charity is also difficult, you know’. So much for ‘kindness and sensitivity’.

Between trips I ran into a journalist who has extensively covered transgender matters. She asked to see the complaint. Out of loyalty to HUK, I refused.

HUK had ‘paused’ their complaint against me to consider my complaint against them. Then they said that the two complaints were unrelated.  I think they were worried sick I would appeal (because the complaint was trumped up). When I didn’t, they thought they were off the hook.

Sadly Andrew Copson suffered a bereavement. Maybe HUK might assign someone else to deal with me? No. It was now September, well outside their timescales – a seventh policy violation.

HUK kept asking who I had told about the complaint against me, saying it was confidential. Yet procedure said ‘All complaints will be handled as openly and transparently as possible, while protecting the confidentiality of the celebrant and complainant, so I was within my rights.  ‘HUK handles matters kindly and sensitively’ – but wanted me to struggle alone.

In November I had a formal hearing at HUK, supported by Maria MacLachlan, a fellow celebrant and victim of transactivists.

The first thing said was that I must agree to keep the contents of the hearing confidential. I refused, citing the procedure’s openness and transparency. This unsettled them, and they withdrew to consider whether to go ahead. I asked them how they understood ‘openness and transparency’. They said this meant only transparency between panel members – a strange interpretation. After half an hour they returned and asked:

Did my group harass anyone? I told them: Of course not.

Would I discriminate against trans people at a ceremony? Of course not.

Would I refuse to take a trans person’s funeral? Of course not.

Would I ever deliberately mispronoun or dead-name a trans person? Of course not.

Which could and should have been asked in an informal chat four months earlier.

I then had five minutes to speak: why during their ‘extensive investigations’ did they not contact me? ‘We had sufficient information’. What sort of investigation doesn’t speak to the accused person until the end of the formal process, and then threatens judgment in absentia unless they promise silence? No answer. Had they read the submissions I had emailed in, as no one had mentioned them? ‘Yes.’ Remember ‘We engage in dialogue and debate rationally, intelligently, with attention to evidence’? Not happening here.

I said I was angry that procedures had been misused. I had been prejudged on malicious reports, accused speculatively, and wrongly denied an opportunity to discuss it. The complaint was fabricated, vexatious, misguided.  I was a critic of transgender ideology, processes, marketing and profiteering from vulnerable and underage people, not against  transgender people.  Anyone can critique actions they think are wrong. Concerns about behaviour don’t equate to intolerance or hatred of people.

I asked if they knew why I had joined in the protest.  No. I gave them each an OBJECT leaflet and read it to them. They went quiet: there was no hate, no ‘transphobia’.

I asked again about the date and origin of the complaint, saying it was trumped up. A HUK source later confirmed this. They said nothing.

I listed the procedural failings and said I would appeal if judgment went against me. Why did they accept hearsay against me without seeking my side of the story? They said they were listening to me give that now. I pointed out that investigation of the facts should happen before the hearing.

I listed others who had been reported to employers, trolled or no-platformed as ‘TERFs’ and ‘transphobes’: nine women and one man, Angelos Sophocleous. Angelos edited 2 journals at Durham University. When he was ousted for ‘transphobia’, his Student Union investigated and found that procedures had not been followed. The journals had to apologise and reinstate him. I told the panel I would follow his example..

Maria and I left, sure that the complaint was dead. The panel had challenged nothing I’d said, nor spoken a word of defence. I was full of pent-up anger. I stomped it out, walking all the way home, still fizzing hours later. An email said the complaint had ‘not been upheld’. Phew, relief! Yet no apology.

Soon after, I attended a HUK ‘Thank You’ party. The first person I met was a woman who told me she’d been bullied by the same board member who fake-complained about me. As we  discussed it, Andrew Copson came over! I said quietly to him how shocked I had been at my treatment. I thought he might offer to discuss it at another time. Instead he reprimanded me for talking about it as it was confidential, and walked off.

I emailed him to complain.  Who was he to tell me what to discuss? His reply ignored logic and policy. According to my HUK source this is his normal behaviour. ‘His word is law, he brooks no challenge’. ‘He’s been there nine years, he needs to go and take his dog with him.’ (Apparently ’Juno’ the dog disrupts the office and no-one was consulted about bringing her in)!

His email called me ‘aggressive and unpleasant’ – a familiar trope! Had I shouted? Sworn? Called names? Interrupted?  I knew I hadn’t. Cornered, Copson ‘copped’ out, abruptly ending the correspondence.

I come across as a tough cookie, but I have felt anxious, crazy, mistreated, and hurt by HUK. I lost sleep and weight.  Thank goodness for the support of radical feminists and gender-critical Humanists! After months of angst, my income is down £1000 and I need a new job.

I now know that Humanists UK are not science-based or fair, they are misogynist and deceitful. Their management team being 7/ 9 white male is a problem – they don’t even try to get women’s issues. After 9 years in post, Mr ‘Cop-out’ needs to go; the board needs to represent HUK’s largely female membership. The ‘complaint’ about me was trumped up by senior men, yet women had to deal with it. Men pulled the strings and women danced

Strangely for an organisation professing democracy and science, HUK have taken a pro-trans position without consulting members or citing evidence. They offer people who have transitioned ‘a humanist naming ceremony to announce their new name to the world.’ Yet trans people say they always were that ‘new’ person really. They hate ‘dead-naming’.

Why would they pay £150-300 for a ceremony? Is this  shameless marketing to a vulnerable group? HUK desperately needs the subsidised ceremonies to pay their way.  

Guidance for anyone reported for transphobia can be found here: OBJECT’s Doxxing Guidance.

It is useful to know how other victims got on. Some employers are sympathetic. It can help to show that your treatment is part of a wider pattern. Accounts of others who have been ‘doxxed’ for ‘transphobia’ can be found in OBJECT’s Doxxing Dossier.

Women have already been in touch for support. Please contact us if you are ‘TERF’ed.

We must act together on this – we are fighting a worldwide battle for our rights as women.

Janice Williams