Letter to Open Democracy

We sent the following letter to Editor-in-chief, Peter Geoghegan, in response to the largely fact-free story told by Adam Ramsay and published by Open Democracy.

We write with no expectation that this letter will be published or acknowledged, however, we feel that we must respond to some of egregious and, in many instances, untruthful allegations and insinuations made against ourselves and other women by Adam Ramsay in his article of 17th October and published by Open Democracy, and to address the background against which he wrote the piece.

The whole article is riddled with inaccuracies, but we shall provide some examples. Mr Ramsay accuses us of providing “misleading” information on data collection to the committee scrutinising the census Bill. He neglects to mention that the concerns we raised were echoed by senior statisticians and data analysts in a subsequent session. They are far from being “myths”.

He mentions the JR we brought in regard to the Gender Representation on Public Boards Act (2018), but not that we won the case in the highest court in Scotland: he does, however, attempt to paint it as frivolous. If Mr Ramsay had followed the Census Committee sessions as closely as he should, he might have been aware that Equality Network tried to use GRPBA as precedent in determining the definition of “women”. The case has far reaching implications, as indicated by Scottish Government’s determination to return to court to argue for statutory guidance in which they will claim – contrary to their position in the current Gender Recognition Reform Bill debate – that a Gender Recognition Certificate changes a person’s sex for the purposes of the Equality Act.

Ramsay writes “This wasn’t For Women Scotland’s only legal intervention” and proceeds to talk about our submission to the Hate Crime Bill consultation. We do not know whether Open Democracy UK is au fait with democratic systems in Scotland (and, indeed England and Wales), but a response to a consultation is not a “legal intervention”. We were, of course, not the only people to respond to the call for evidence and none of the other women’s groups, victim support organisations, faith groups, or free speech advocates were making a “legal intervention” either.

Worse, however, is the thoroughly duplicitous spin he puts on this submission, writing we “denied non-binary identities were real and suggested that being trans was a ‘fetish’”. Actually, we said there was no legal definition of “Non Binary” – which is true. We categorically did not state that being trans was a fetish, this word was only used in context of the proposal to protect “cross dressers” who, in the words of Tim Hopkins of the Equality Network, are NOT trans but “a man who is not a trans woman, but wears a dress for a drag performance, or a trip to the Rocky Horror Picture Show, or because he feels an emotional need to cross-dress occasionally”. Ramsay has no excuse for this as the submission was linked on the website. Subsequently, the National repeated this lie with a link to your article, but swiftly removed it and apologised after we directed them to what we had actually written.  At the very least, we expect a correction and an apology from your publication also.

Mr Ramsay also misrepresents the debate over the Forensic Medical Services Bill and even managed to get the name of the former leader of Scottish Labour wrong – a measure, perhaps of his commitment to accuracy! The survivors interviewed by the committee said their number one request was that they could ask for a female examiner. The claim in the article that the amendment brought by Johann (not Joanne) Lamont was “legally meaningless” is a piece of nonsense. “Sex”, unlike “gender” is defined in law, moreover, Shirley-Anne Somerville admitted in a speech in 2019 that Scottish Government consider them to be distinct.

Mr Ramsay says we “claim to have distributed 60,000 leaflets arguing against trans women being legally recognised as women, which they have been since 2005.” The only true statement is that we have indeed distributed leaflets – mainly due to the tireless work of volunteer women. Only a small number of trans people have a GRC and the extent to which this grants legal recognition is contested. Even Nicola Sturgeon’s Government admit that all transwomen may lawfully be excluded from single sex services.

He interviews Karen Adam who makes a serious allegation about an attack on her office without offering evidence. We understand that this happened on a Saturday night after the pubs emptied and other buildings were targeted. There is nothing to link this to feminists and it is disgraceful that she and Mr Ramsay are claiming otherwise. 

His claim that we were contacted for comment about any of the above is only partially true. Mr Ramsay contacted us several months ago and subsequently sent a list of accusatory and bizarre questions, which contained several errors about our funding, and demands that we speak of connections to several organisations, most of which we had never heard of. He did not refer to any of the specific instances which found their way into his article. At no point did he suggest he was going to accuse our organisation of apparently forcing a rape crisis to “shut its doors” (an imprecise turn of phase which also gave rise to inaccurate interpretations). None of the points we address above were raised, lending more credence than otherwise to our belief this was a witch hunt.

We did respond to his questions with – as he says – a sarcastic blog post, largely because his unprofessional approach deserved nothing more. This was also the view of many other senior, seasoned journalists who found his question list to be an affront to decent journalism. You may recall that we emailed you at the time and said he had made grave errors in assessing our finances. Perhaps you passed that message on as he did not repeat those errors. He might need reminding that accuracy is important in all areas.

We have never encouraged anyone to threaten any service or its employees. This is in stark contrast to Mr Ramsay’s contributor “Beth” Douglas who has harassed Joan McAlpine, defended someone charged for threatening members of FWS with violence, and “jokes” constantly about hurting women. We have, however, raised serious questions about the way women’s services in Scotland are run and we have taken grave exception to some appalling comments made about survivors by those working in the sector. After this article was published, Gina Davidson of LBC conducted interviews with survivors who were denied a hearing by the committee (which includes “vocal feminist” Karen Adam). Their detailed account of their treatment by Rape Crisis Scotland is published on the committee website. Real journalists are, rightly, asking questions.

There is a horrible irony in Mr Ramsay choosing this as his line of attack. He was first brought to our attention after an interaction with Morgane Oger, a trans identified Canadian politician who has, for years, waged war on feminists in Vancouver. Oger’s main target has been Vancouver Rape Relief which is the only female-only centre in the city. Oger’s “activism” led to the council stripping the centre of funding. Largely as a result of Oger’s obsession, VRRC was targeted by activists on many occasions: the words “kill terfs” were sprayed on the walls and a dead rat nailed to the door. Oger has, on several occasions tried to minimise, deny or excuse this. On another occasion 200 people complained about Oger’s conduct after an attempt to intimidate and collect personal information about a woman for holding a sign about women’s rights on the women’s march. These situations were extensively covered by Feminist Current, a feminist website edited by Meghan Murphy who spoke at the Scottish Parliament in May 2019. In June 2022, Adam Ramsay replied to a Tweet  in which Oger accused Murphy of working with the “far right”. He posted “Hello, I’m a journalist in Scotland looking into the anti-trans moral panic here, which some trace back to a visit from Meghan Murphy. Unfortunately the tweet you link to is dead – do you have evidence that Murphy has such connections?” Dozens of people responded pointing out that Oger was a less than reputable source and highlighting the VRRC case.

Mr Ramsay cannot pretend he did not know about this. When he made his initial approach to our organisation we replied as follows:

Would this be the article on the supposed “anti-trans moral panic” and an attempt to tie it to Canadian feminist Meghan Murphy’s visit? https://twitter.com/AdamRamsay/status/1536731975322583041

If so, I hope that you can understand, in light of of previous comments, why we would be wary. The speeches at our meetings are here https://www.youtube.com/c/ForWomenScotland and include those delivered by Meghan and Bec at that event. We notice that you relied on Morgane Oger for information, so we trust you will mention that this is someone who called women “vermin [again]“,  publicly campaigned to defund a rape centre, and defended those who nailed a dead rat to the door and scrawled death threats on the window of the centre. We have no interest in dealing with the lurid nonsense of people who target vulnerable women at the worst moments of their lives, and we are rather shocked that a reputable journalist would consider this a good source.

In his reply, Mr Ramsay did not acknowledge his error of judgement, he said that as Oger had not been able to provide the evidence (unsurprising as it was without foundation) he would not repeat it in the article. He clearly has no problems, however, with activists attacking rape shelters or doxing and abusing women, as long as they share his political views.

We believe that you are not regulated by IPSO so we cannot seek redress via that route. However, being unregulated is no excuse for defamation. We trust that you will make substantial changes to the article as it appears online.