Wed 30 Nov 2022 — 5 min

On November 19th, 2022, the anti-trans campaign group For Women Scotland collaborated on an event run under the banner of the right-wing lobbying platform Battle of Ideas, alongside members of the anti-LGBT religious charity the Christian Institute, free-speech absolutist campaign group Academics for Academic Freedom, and anti-mask activist group Stand By Me (Scotland).

This conference, originally to be held at Civic House in Glasgow, had to be relocated after the venue’s attention was drawn to it’s anti-LGBT agenda and came to the conclusion that it was not in line with their values or the wellbeing of their LGBT inclusive staff. As William Phillip, a trustee of the Christian Institute, says in a blog post, he helped the event relocate to the Tron Church, Glasgow where he is a senior minister.

Marion Calder of For Women Scotland was to participate in a discussion with Shereen Benjamin of Academics for Academic Freedom and Ciarán Kelly of the Christian Institute, on the topic of “whether sex education should be taught in primary schools”, saying “a new LGBTQ+ vocabulary (cisgender, transgender, bisexual, non-binary and gender fluidity) is being taught in primary schools, and sex and gender classes and content is being provided by third-party groups. The government’s document on transgender pupils advises teachers not to question a child’s desire to transition – and parents may be the last to hear of this”.

Academics for Academic Freedom campaign for absolute free speech “no ifs, ands or buts”, publishing a “banned list” of speakers who they argue have been wrongfully silenced at universities including notable Nazi-admirer Nick Griffin, holocaust denier David Irving alongside numerous notable anti-trans campaigners and other controversial figures refused speaking roles on the basis of hateful conduct. It is in that context, interesting that they might consider teaching “LGBTQ+ vocabulary” to children a bridge too far.

Also involved in the event was the Scottish Family Party’s Richard Lucas who has been described as a right wing extremist by the hate monitoring charity Hope Not Hate. Lucas’ Family Party were criticised earlier this year for making jokes about the holocaust.

The “Battle of Ideas” talk series which this event is a part of is linked to the Institute of Ideas and Academy of Ideas outlets which have been linked to global religious far right and corporate campaigning interests.

A series of curious coincidences

This is perhaps the first time For Women Scotland have been explicit about collaborating with the Christian right under their own brand, however more circumstantial links go back further. In February of 2021, For Women Scotland activist Kate Graham gave a talk where she complained of criticism by feminists against those who work with the right.

In 2020 FWS crowdfunded a judicial review hiring Aidan O’Neill KC to fight the Scottish government over the definition of the word woman. Aidan O’Neill has represented the Christian institute and other anti-LGBT religious groups many times, providing opinion raising concerns that children may not be prevented from learning about the existence of same sex partnerships and teachers may not be able to refuse to teach about it. More recently in 2022, he wrote a legal opinion for For Women Scotland’s open letter against trans inclusive guidance in school toilets. Alongside his long track record of legal case work against trans and gay rights, often working with the Christian Institute, he has previously blogged claiming it may be religious discrimination to expect a Christian to allow gay people to foster or adopt. O’Neill has also been hired to provide legal opinion on behalf of a Christian Institute campaign against “buffer zones” protecting those seeking abortion from anti-abortion protestors.

The Christian Institute have been using legal threats and lobbying since 2018 to fight against the Scottish Government’s support for trans inclusive schools guidance. The solicitors who issued this letter were Balfour+Mason, who instructed Aidan O’Neill in the judicial review for For Women Scotland.

Due to the operation of the cab rank rule, the parties a barrister represents do not necessarily reflect their personal beliefs. However the coincidences here in both campaigning goals and in hiring choices of the Christian Institute and For Women Scotland are striking.