Tag Archives: Allison Hooper

Does Our Council Have a Woman Problem?

Sarah Summers, Maya Forstatter, Alison A year ago I published an opinion piece asking “Does Brighton have a Women Problem?”


It described ways in which gender ideology has been used to silence debate and intimidate women, cut female-only services and discriminate against those defending sex-based rights – all in the context of increasing local violence against women and inadequate police response as well as a pending court case brought by Sarah Summers, a survivor of sexual assault refused same-sex peer support by a council-funded charity.

The positive response I received suggested widespread local concern. Awareness had been heightened by national events, from high-profile murders of women, through to concerns about medical practices in gender identity clinics and sexual assaults in mixed hospital wards, as well as the bungled Scottish attempt to enforce gender self-identification, while  placing male bodied abusers, such as Isla Bryson, in women’s prisons.

Across the country, in the year that has followed, a slew of high profile court and tribunal cases, most often brought by women forced out of jobs due to their ‘gender critical’ views – has found for the complainants. The courts have decided that a belief in the existence and immutability of biological sex and the need to protect sex-based rights are not transphobic, but instead are a “protected belief” under equality legislation and “worthy of respect”. The cases of, amongst others, Maya Forstatter, Alison Bailey, Rachel Meade and latterly Shahrar Ali of the Scottish Greens have clearly shown the direction of legal travel.

Last May, when Labour swept the Greens from power, I was hopeful that the new local administration of Brighton & Hove Council might protect the rights of women and girls – especially given leader Cllr Bella Sankey’s  early commitment to challenge misogyny and protect women’s safety. She stated: “I refuse to lead a city where the status quo is tolerated or accepted” adding that the council intends to “…challenge the pervasive misogyny that undermines women’s rights”.

I was delighted when, as part of its  Re-imagine Brighton & Hove initiative, the Council issued invitations to a consultation meeting about violence against women and girls. I failed to gain a place, but anticipated positive feedback. 

Within days, participants began to provide a very different picture. Brighton & Hove News reported allegations that survivors had been silenced, intimidated, and aggressively denied the right to discuss issues of importance to them.https://www.brightonandhovenews.org/2024/02/01/gender-critical-leaflets-snatched-out-of-hands-by-council-officer-campaigners-say/

Allison Hooper, a survivor of sexual abuse, had prepared a short paper welcoming the consultation, but expressing concern about the lack of same-sex local support services. She did not attend, but reports suggest that before the meeting the paper was quietly distributed on tables by another survivor.

Several witnesses describe a very senior council officer then angrily gathering them up, in some cases  actually taking them out of people’s hands, in a manner described as “aggressive”. When challenged, council officers and councillors apparently dismissed the paper as “offensive” and “transphobic”, but were unable to support this by reference to the text. B&H News’s subsequent request to the Council for clarification, did not receive a response.  

One participant told me “There were several survivors there and at least two left early saying they felt upset and intimidated by what had happened. One was a disabled woman. Nothing was done to make it easier for survivors or people with additional needs. There was no back up or safe spaces to go to if you became distressed. There were no introductions. You didn’t know who anyone was. People stayed quiet for fear of being got at.”

During the meeting, participants used post-it notes to suggest topics for attention. At least two referred to the need for same sex services, but the issue was not discussed. One woman was heard to whisper “You won’t get that discussed. It’s the elephant in the room.” 

After the meeting finished, another survivor attempted to distribute Allison Hooper’s paper, but became alarmed at the reaction. She said “I was being deliberately and aggressively glared at as I tried to hand out the papers. It was intimidating. I decided to leave and then was chased to the stairs by a councillor.” She described this very senior councillor as “raising his voice” and “very angry”. She asked him what he found “offensive” in the leaflet. She says he could not do so and said he had not read it. 

A further participant, who represents a national charity and has recently settled here, was attending her first local council meeting. When the officer attempted to physically remove her copy of the survivor’s statement, she twice had to say a loud “No!”, holding the flat of her hand down forcibly on the paper in order to stop the officer removing it. She said “I was stunned. I couldn’t believe this was being done by a council officer and in the presence of councillors.”

A few days later I spoke with the woman and was struck by how just how appalled she seemed. I pointed out that, in other parts of the country, her organisation has  experienced serious misogynist attacks, insults and threats. She replied “Those were by activists. These were elected councillors and senior council officers abusing survivors at a council consultation meeting about violence against women. They invited people to speak up and then they treated them like that. It was shocking. I’ve never seen anything like that before anywhere in the country!” 

The issues here could hardly be more serious. It is not long since a distressed female member of the public, attempting to complete a question to full council about the child protection implications of the Council’s gender policies, was allegedly silenced, humiliated and forced out of the Council chamber. Now numerous witnesses, including a representative of a national charity, say that women invited to a consultation about their safety, were silenced, humiliated and intimidated by senior personnel representing the council – and that no one intervened to protect them. There has been no apology, still less any call for individuals to be suspended or stand down. 

Sarah Summer’s case, if she wins it, will highlight the grant-giving practices of a council that, of recent years, has failed to support, and perhaps actively undermined,  single-sex provision. There are complaints that many council policies and statements actively promote the concept of ‘gender’, which is not a protected characteristic, while airbrushing the concept of  ‘sex’, which is protected. In addition, the Council’s generic ‘equalities’ statement in employment advertisements routinely asserts that “to achieve our aims of proportionate representation, we particularly encourage applicants from a BME or White Other background as well as those who identify as disabled, male or trans”. Females are excluded. It is not a good look.

This raises questions about the quality of advice provided to councillors. Brighton & Hove believes itself to be at the cutting edge of progressive social policy with a firm grasp of human rights and equalities legislation. I suspect this may not be the case and that the Council may be sailing very close to the wind, still in thrall to ‘Stonewall law’. 

Across the country, such practices are being challenged. Women who have been forced out of jobs and services as well as children denied protection, have begun to turn to the actual law, to protect their interests. Even a high profile barristers’ chambers has come to grief.  It may only be a matter of time before this Council ends up in court, facing legal humiliation and huge costs .

This administration is talented, but very new. Given the relative lack of experience of many councillors, and officers, it might be sensible for older, wiser heads amongst them to seek independent specialist advice, not just from council ideologues and the usual lobby group and voluntary sector suspects, but from national organisations they may not have consulted before – bodies with expertise in sex-related equalities legislation, and an understanding of current case law. 

In the meanwhile, the Council needs to understand that its reputation amongst women has been severely damaged. Women have been denied services, hurt and insulted. They   are owed an apology.