Highlighting the tension between free speech and over-sensitivity in workplace discussions, a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) employee in the UK faced disciplinary action for expressing views during an online event about transgender issues.
The event, held on March 11, 2021, was an International Women’s Day discussion titled “What trans is and some of the issues faced,” featuring a transgender woman civil servant. Participants were encouraged to ask questions via an online chat.
According to an initial report by The Telegraph, the controversy began when the civil servant, a lesbian woman, questioned the concept of trans women identifying as lesbians, expressing confusion over the alignment of sexual and gender identity. Further, she expressed discomfort with the controversial term “cis” and raised concerns about the inclusion of trans women in women’s sports, questioning the underlying assumptions about gender.
“Cis” is a term that the transgender community use to refer to non-transgenders.
The report states her remarks included, “One of the things I struggle to understand as a lesbian myself is, how can trans women be lesbian as lesbian is same sex attracted, not gender?” – “I find the term cis very offensive,” “Sport is segregated because there is a difference,” and “What if you don’t believe in gender? I don’t.”
In the same discussion, the employee made a statement advocating for the consideration of diverse perspectives: “I think it’s useful to hear both sides of a subject.” However, a DWP investigator found this remark “inappropriate,” stating the event was not intended as a debate platform.
The investigation concluded with the employee receiving an official warning for violating the department’s behavior policy and harassment rules. Particularly, the use of the phrase “drink the kool aid” in response to arguments supporting trans women in women’s sports was deemed offensive, due to its origin in a tragic mass suicide event. Additionally, the employee’s insistence on centering International Women’s Day around biological women and her reaction to being called a “Terf [Trans exclusionary radical feminists]” in all caps, were found inappropriate.
The DWP declined to comment on the specific case.
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