Sex Matters to Quakers

Image of heart by Robbie Spence

by Robbie Spence

Sex Matters to Quakers (SMtQ) is a small, informal group of Quakers in Britain who meet monthly to consider how to challenge the gender ideology that has captured the headquarters of Quakers in Britain.

Our roots go back ten years to when Dr Heather Brunskell-Evans, a Quaker philosopher who has written several relevant books including Transgender Body Politics and who helped found what is now the Women’s Human Rights Campaign, got together with a few others to set up a group to focus on this issue within the Religious Society of Friends of the Truth (Quakers).

We reached a point about three years ago when there were enough of us to attempt to become a ‘Quaker recognised body’. Our primary aims were to bring Quaker members and attenders together: to speak truth to power, that is, biological truth to gender-ideological power; and to state that women are adult human females and men are adult human males.

At the same time, all of us in SMtQ have always welcomed people who are trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming into our local Quaker meetings for worship. This has never been an issue within British Quakers.

But we want to bear witness to the social and political consequences of gender ideology. One example among many is the way that children who may grow up to be gay are led to believe that they have been ‘born in the wrong body’. Another is that when children and adults can identify as the opposite sex at residential events for Young Friends, it undermines safeguarding.

To explain how our application to be formally recognised went, I must first describe how Quakers organise ourselves. We are famously non-hierarchical. Our sovereign bodies are our area meetings, which generally cover a county or two. We are not led by the Britain Yearly Meeting staff, headed by our Recording Clerk, effectively our CEO, based at Friends House in London.

In the past ten years the staff have assumed more control than before and have done things that are not ‘in right ordering’, as Quakers say. For example, in July 2023, the Recording Clerk, signed a ‘Charity So Straight’ pledge to ‘support the rights of trans, non-binary, and gender diverse communities’. The news report began with the sentence: ‘Quakers believe that all people are equal, and that gender and sexuality are sacred gifts’.

Yes, sexuality is a sacred gift. I’m sure that we and LGB Christians can all agree with the Recording Clerk on that. But ‘gender’? What does it actually mean to say that gender is a sacred gift? And what about the Quaker tradition that nobody has authority to state ‘Quakers believe that …’ anything? Not me, not the Recording Clerk, no-one.

Back to the story of our Quaker recognised body application, such things are dealt with by a Quaker Central Committee that meets at and is serviced by staff at Friends House. In our view, it’s the staff team led by the Recording Clerk that has stalled and sidelined our application for three years. We will keep trying.

Other things have not been ‘in right ordering’.

Woodbrooke, the Quaker college, denied a place on a course about gender matters to a Friend because he refused to sign a credal statement about gender matters. We don’t think Woodbrooke should have imposed such a condition because, as Quakers, we have no creeds. Another Friend was told that she could only attend on the understanding that there would be restrictions on what she could discuss.

Heather Brunskell-Evans’ books have been effectively suppressed by the Quaker Bookshop at Friends House.

The Friend, the independent Quaker weekly journal, gives disproportionate space to transpeople but denied me space to rebut an accusation in the Letters page that LGB Alliance and Transgender Trend were ‘transphobic’.

To end on a positive note, we continue to work our way round the roadblocks. The big news this month (March 2024) is that a group of London Quakers, which has met annually for four years to discuss sex and gender, has now written an epistle. We are quaint folk. We hold ‘threshing’ meetings to thrash things out and when we have finished, we don’t just write a report, we deliver an epistle. London Quakers hope to deliver their epistle to Britain Yearly Meeting Gathering on 26 to 30 July 2024.

That will no doubt cause controversy. Our view in Sex Matters to Quakers is that it needs to happen. We need truth and reconciliation. I hope that we’ll have the opportunity to send another epistle to you at LGB Christians about this in a later newsletter.

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Robbie Spence is semi-retired and his last proper jobs were at Child Poverty Action Group and Disability Rights UK. After that he tried to become a famous potter, unsuccessfully. He lives in Colchester, Essex, which is where he first became a Friend (Quaker) in 2004. Sadly, he is no longer welcome in his local Quaker Meeting because he is too passionate about gender for most of the other Friends.