On Monday 16th July, Woman’s Place UK held a meeting in Brighton. The meeting was organised in response to a request by local women, as has been the case with all our meetings.
There was a lot of interest in this meeting with 190 tickets booked. The meeting was clearly welcomed by a significant number of local residents. It is also worth noting that Brighton Pavilion has the highest number of signatures to the parliamentary petition ‘To consult with women on proposals to enshrine ‘gender identity’ in law’.
When the booking was made with Friends Meeting House Brighton, local organisers discussed in detail the nature of the meeting and that previous meetings had been protested. Despite this, the venue was happy to go ahead and accommodate our meeting.
We usually organise our meetings for mid or late week as these days are generally better for those who wish to attend. It was the suggestion of the FMH Brighton that we schedule the meeting for a Monday evening as the venue is usually closed and no other users would be inconvenienced or harassed by any protests as had happened in Oxford.
A July date was chosen to fit in with the schedule of other meetings being arranged and with the availability of local organisers before the summer break. Woman’s Place UK only learnt about Trans-Pride events the week before the meeting and the scheduling was entirely coincidental.
After lobbying by individuals (see previous statement), FMH Brighton cancelled our booking with only 5 days’ notice giving us no opportunity to address concerns that had been raised or to meet with them. We are still unclear how someone outside WPUK knew of our booking and we are investigating this.
We had sold over 150 tickets by that point and needed to find an alternative venue, which we did.
Local organisers made, and paid for, a booking at two other venues. Both were fully briefed about the nature of the meeting. One of the organisers went in to Jury’s Inn and met with staff. She explained what the meeting was about, took some written information and materials from the campaign. She explained that previous meetings had been protested and that a security team had been employed. We made every effort to ensure that the staff at Jury’s Inn were fully aware of the meeting content and possible protest. They were happy to go ahead.
Because of the high level of threat, we announced the venue much later than usual with ticket holders receiving details of the venue from 5.30pm onwards. We did this to try and reduce the amount of harassment for the venue and for our attendees. An agreement not to publicise or share the venue is part of the terms and conditions of ticket purchase.
Despite this, in breach of the conditions of purchase and with little regard for the safety of or rights of attendees or workers, some ticket holders leaked the venue on social media.
On the evening of the meeting, large noisy protests were set up at both entrances to the hotel. Police were in attendance. After the meeting had started, the hotel management approached us and said they wanted to cancel the meeting. They also said the hotel was being inundated with abusive phone calls which were upsetting the staff.
We were very concerned for the safety of our attendees if they had to leave and we felt aggrieved that a booking made in honesty and good faith was now under threat because of a protest. We persuaded them that the best option was to let the meeting continue. We agreed to finish early and discussed how to enable attendees at the meeting to exit the building safely through a range of different exits.
During this conversation, a representative of the protest came up to the manager and said they would finish their protest at 9.30pm.
The meeting went ahead and was concluded early at 9.15 as promised to the hotel management. Many women were afraid to leave through the main exits and we had to escort several of them out through the car park and side exits. Some women went to the bar hoping the protest would disperse and they could leave later without fear.
Despite the meeting ending at 9.15pm, the protests continued until at least 10.30pm causing great, and unnecessary, inconvenience to hotel guests. Several came down to complain about the noise.
We truly regret the inconvenience caused to those guests but we were not responsible for it. We are sickened by the abuse and harassment the hotel staff faced for honouring a booking made by a group of women for a legitimate meeting on rights they hold in law.
We would like to thank all the brave people who attended the meeting on Monday, all our speakers and the local organisers who persisted in asserting their right to meet and discuss issues of concern to them in the face of abuse, harassment, intimidation and threat.
The recently announced consultation on reform of Gender Recognition Act has stated the need to engage with all perspectives and yet, once again, we have seen how women face intimidation when meeting to discuss this issue. Councils, universities and other civic institutions have a duty to uphold democracy and provide venues where women’s voices can be heard. We call on them now to do so and facilitate this debate.