Last week the Charity Commission published their ruling on activist group LGB Alliance's application for charitable status, confirming its registration. This has caused pain, dismay and outcry from within the LGBTQ+ charity and voluntary sector, based on the origins of LGB Alliance as an anti-Trans pressure group, and their position as a champion of 'Gender Critical' thinking; a term used to oppose the concept that a Trans person is the gender that they identify as.
Gender Recognition laws in the UK are complex, contested and often highly theoretical, meaning that even where they do provide solid guidance they can flounder against the reality of beurocracy and societal inertia. They are emotive and highly politicised, which coupled with their complexity in a time when people want certainty, makes them highly vulnerable to rollback. Gender Critical theory is a part of the attempt to dismantle this progress: if we are fundamentally not who we say we are, then the law has no need to protect our assertions. My assertion that I am non-binary, to GC theory, should be treated with the same weight as a claim to royalty: something that can be proven or disproven genetically. (Actually, GC doesn't believe it is possible to be non-binary at all, so it might be more approriate to say 'my asserion that I am not a man'.)
It should be clear that I do not agree with LGB Alliance, and that they do not agree with me, but does that mean that they should not be a charity? This is where things become complicated.
One of the things that I put quite early into any training I do with trustees is a discussion about what charity is. It always brings up some interesting and often surprised responses from delegates. Charity is an emotive concept, and charities exist because people feel motivated by something stronger than money and power to change the world. Because of these passions it can be easy to believe that charity is defined by our own understanding of philanthropy and the social good, but it isn't. Charity law and regulation attempts to take the plurality of charitable understanding across British society and hold it to some agreed standard. To do this it has to hold space for differing opinions as to what is good.
There are broadly three planks on which the Charity Commission have rested their decision on the eligibility of LGB Alliance, in essence being their responses to the primary objections levelled against the application:
That LGB Alliance's objects are not charitable, and are intended to, or unavoidably will, cause harm
That LGB Alliance are not actually who they claim to be, and
That LGB Alliance exist soley for political purposes
The charity commission have upheld that the objects of LGB Alliance, as written, are charitable on the basis that they are promoting the wellbeing of a sufficient section of the public. This is as it should be as it cannot be the case that an organisation is denied charitable status solely because it excludes a group from its remit, providing it doesn't actively seek to cause a protected group harm. Upholding this principle is important when seen in the context of, as an exmple, activist groups within the men's rights arena attempting to defund VAWG charities because they do not support male victims (another large and complex area where simple answers do not always exist).
Additionally, the charity commission has ruled that it is possible to promote the rights of LGB people, whilst maintaining that T+ people do not exist and to do so within the limits imposed by equalities law. This is a technical position that I will not go into in full, but rests considerably on the assurances given that previous aggresive behaviour on social media is not the essense of who LGB Alliance are, and that LGB Alliance is in fact, a real organisation and not a front or a sham.
The regulatory position is that they should be defined by their assertions within their objects, their pursual of those objects and their undertaking to engage in good faith discussions. Taken purely on the formulation of the new charity's objects LGB Alliance pass the public benefit test, and technically avoid exclusion on the basis of equalities legislation. However, those objects are silent on the application of the Gender Critical theory that underpins LGB Alliance, and which is in my view a facade that covers their Trans erasure with a respectible veneer of academic rigour.
Leaving aside the irony of an organisation fundamentally opposed to the idea that people can self-define asking to be allowed to self-define, this is a core element of the decision making that the Commission makes in assessing potential new charities. Although I disagree with the decision made here, I agree with the process: the Charity Commission should assess objects and potentials, not adjudicate on academic questions or unduly punish actions taken when an organisation is not under their regulation. In this case, the Commission has quite rightly put LGB Alliance on notice that their social media use must not revert to aggresive and demonising behaviour, and it is important that they are held to this standard.
It is not uncommon for charities to have messy beginnings, especially those with a campaigning heart; many are created by passionate people struggling to change the societies they live in for what they believe is better. There needs to be space for that anger to exist within the sector as a positive force, and for regulation to channel it and strengthen its potential for positive outcomes rather than smother it completely. At the same time that progressive voices are asking for LGB Alliance to not be registered because it is a politically motivated entity, conservative voices are asking that Runnymede Trust be chastised for the same reason. Neither should be allowed to succeed. In fact, a recent blog by the Commission's CEO, following a complaint of politicisation filed against the National Trust, made clear that "[c]harities are allowed to campaign and to take controversial positions in support of their purpose."
Maybe LGB Alliance will become something other than what it originally was; I do not believe that this is likely, as I believe that despite their presentations they still fundamentally exist to reduce the rights of Trans people. The sector is littered with failed organisations that became charities without a full understanding of what that means, and I have a suspicion that LGB Alliance will be one of them. Whatever the future, the Charity Commission now has made a decision which upholds a number of important principles in the protection of the charity sector, even as it fails to protect the rights of Trans individuals. Despite my personal feelings I have to remember that this is the commission's job and, within its remit, it has made a difficult but most likely correct judgement call. It is now for those of us who believe in Trans rights to defend them publically, actively and with all the means at our disposal.