Ex-Tory leader William Hague faces angry backlash over WI trans blast

‘Telling women to pipe down is never a good look’: Ex-Tory leader William Hague faces furious backlash for telling WI rebels furious at decision to admit transgender members to ‘get over it’

  • The Women’s Institute saw backlash for policy that would let trans members join
  • The WI declared in 2015 that it welcomed transgender women to its organisation

Former Conservative leader William Hague faced a backlash today after he told women to ‘get over’ their concerns about transgender people joining the WI.

Lord Hague said that transgender people are part of modern Britain and that organisations such as the Women’s Institute must welcome them.

He attacked rebel members of the group who are fighting plans to admit members who were born male for the first time. 

Speaking to Times Radio he admitted he would ‘probably get a lot of angry letters’ from WI members’ but said the organisation should welcome new blood.

Speaking this morning the peer said that it was right there were clear rules on trans women competing in sport but added: ‘I’m not sure that applies to the Women’s Institute, though, you know there are transgender people, they have changed their gender. This is part of our society now. 

‘And I think large national organisations like the WI have to get over that and get used to that, and welcome new people.’

However campaign group Conservatives for Women said: ‘Telling women to ”pipe down” is never a good look, especially as this translates to ”you are not allowed to have boundaries”.’

Lord Hague (right) attacked ladies who are opposing a change to the community organisation’s rules that allows members born as men.

Petra Wenham (pictured right) from Elmsett, Ipswch. Petra is the first transgender person to appear on the cover of the Woman’s Institute magazine. Her wife is Loraine (pictured left)

Loraine (pictured right) is pictured with Petra Wenham on their wedding day in 1973. Petra transitioned aged 68 and became the first trans person to feature on the WI’s magazine cover 

And the Family Education Trust said: ‘What is Hague’s definition of a trans woman? And if the WI must accept men, why not prisons, schools etc?

‘Gender ideology is harmful – we must be allowed single-sex groups and spaces as men and women are fundamentally different.’

Trustees of the organisation have been blasted for forcing equality rules upon local branches following advice from campaign groups.

A new group of disgruntled WI members is demanding the national HQ to pause the admission of trans women to local branches and wants members to be able to debate and hold a vote on the contentious issue. 

More than 700 people have also signed its petition calling for the Middle England institution to return to being a single-sex space. 

The change means that anyone who says they are ‘living as a woman’ can become a WI member and that anyone who refuses them on the grounds of their gender identity is transphobic.

But the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI) has been warned it risks not fulfilling its purpose as a charity to ‘advance the education of women and girls’ if it cannot properly define what a woman is.

A letter sent to the board by the activists, who are calling themselves the Women’s Institute Declaration, concludes: ‘By failing to define what a woman is, by having a wide description for a trans woman and by not allowing respectful debate, or debate of any kind, the NFWI has de facto forced individual Women’s Institutes to accept men.

‘This has been achieved by poor drafting of policies, poor advice from advisers and is harmful to women as a whole.’

A senior Conservative MP echoed Lord Hague’s opinion, hitting out at the attempts to keep transgender women out of the WI.

Caroline Nokes, chairwoman of the Women and Equalities Committee, told Times Radio: ‘It’s a wholly depressing state of affairs that we regard people who are born as biologically male as dangerous and that they should somehow be dangerous whether they’re in a book club or in the WI or the Girl Guides.

‘The stark reality is that trans people are amongst the most marginalised, amongst the most abused in our communities. And I think we can do better than trying to paint them all as dangerous predators.’

She said that the WI should ‘be entitled to make their own decision’ but added: ‘I think there is a huge challenge around how we can make sure that both women’s rights are upheld and trans people’s rights are supported.’

Campaigner Caroline Ffiske told the Mail: ‘At the end of the day this becomes an issue about freedom of association. Men should have a right to gather together. Women should have a right to gather together.

‘Where an organisation such as the WI has been created as a single-sex space, and has a long and proud history, to me it seems important that we keep it as such, otherwise we lose that important historical continuity and legacy.’  

The WI – formed in 1915 and now the largest voluntary women’s organisation in the UK with more than 180,000 members – declared in 2015 that it welcomed transgender women and, in 2021, featured trans woman Petra Wenham, who transitioned at age 68, on the cover of its magazine.

Its published policy states: ‘Anyone who is living as a woman is welcome to join the WI and to participate in any WI activities in the same way as any other woman.’

The document says that it is ‘unhelpful’ to ask if there is a difference between a transgender woman who has undergone gender reassignment surgery and one who has not, and adds that it would be ‘very offensive and hurtful’ to ask for written evidence about an applicant’s legal sex.

It adds that ‘crossdressers’ cannot join the WI as ‘only those living as women can join the WI’.

A separate equality, diversity and inclusion policy states: ‘Including transgender women furthers our objectives and enriches our membership to ensure we are a place for all women to celebrate who they are and influence positive change in their communities.’

But the new campaign group points out: ‘There is no definition of what a woman is.’

Its letter to the trustees continues: ‘If you cannot define the group you seek to represent [women], how can you understand their needs and demands?’

It points out that the WI often runs campaigns that are specific to women as a biological group, such as those opposing male violence, mixed hospital wards and the gender pay gap.

It says that the WI ‘cannot legitimately campaign for women specific issues and constitutions have been de facto changed without members’ consent’ as a result of the admission of people who were born men.

The letter also brands as Orwellian the equality policy’s glossary, which defines transphobia as ‘the fear or dislike of someone based on the fact they are transgender, including denying their gender identity or refusing to accept it’.

The activists say that WI headquarters is ‘seeking to police the thoughts of its members, who are not allowed to question an individual’s intentions, and if they think that a man is a bad actor this is transphobic’.

Caroline Ffiske from Conservatives for Women told the Mail: ‘Women have a right to vote to retain their single-sex spaces.

‘I hope the WI allow this discussion and I do hope that it ultimately votes to remain proudly single sex.’

The campaign comes as ministers consider changing the equality law to make clear that it is based on biological sex rather than gender identity, a move that could see transgender women barred from female-only spaces.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said that he backs the proposal and just last week declared that 100 per cent of women do not have a penis, after Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer suggested the majority – 99.9 per cent – did not, meaning the equivalent of one in a thousand do have male genitalia.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman today said: ‘On membership of any particular group that is for the group.

‘The Prime Minister has said it is vitally important that transgender people are treated with compassion at all times.

‘It’s right the Government provides the necessary guidance and guidelines and, where necessary, laws on this issue.

‘But it will be for specific groups to decide what’s right for them.’

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