Letters - 02 February 2024

From Brought to book to Sensitivity required

Brought to book

I write to assure Anne Wade (Letters, 18 January) that I share her distaste for banning books, and to correct factual inaccuracies in her letter.

The Quaker Bookshop has never been threatened by or pandered to ‘gangs of masked, hooded, black-clad transactivist men’, nor have we had to involve the police or deal with situations where staff have felt unsafe. Sadly this is a trope which seeks to provoke fear.

Anne mentions a planned event which was cancelled ‘without reason’ in 2018. It was indeed cancelled, but only after careful discernment that it could not go ahead without causing damage to the delicate process of dialogue some Quakers were engaged in around trans inclusion. These reasons were communicated in full to the organiser at the time.

We have not banned any books. The Bookshop exists so Quakers and others can buy literature which furthers concerns identified by Yearly Meeting, and stocks titles on climate justice, anti-racism and gender inclusion, as well as Quaker history and faith generally. The Bookshop cannot afford to stock books which will not generate income, so does not routinely stock other books written by Quakers unless staff are confident they will sell at a price which covers the cost of sales. We can order any book for Friends who wish to purchase it.

In 2021, our Yearly Meeting committed to welcoming and affirming trans and gender non-conforming people. The Yearly Meeting did not minute that men and women no longer exist, but recognised that Quaker communities are ‘made up of people with a diverse range of gender expressions’.

Printing incorrect statements and spreading fear does not make trans people feel more welcome in the Quaker community. Many Friends are working hard to find spaces where we can develop a respectful understanding of the varied, nuanced positions and experiences Friends have of this issue. I very much hope this will continue.

Paul Parker
Recording clerk, Britain Yearly Meeting


The subject on which the traditions of British Quakers are being questioned, could be any of our testimonies that any political ideology has in its sights.

It happens just now to be a sensitive, not well understood syndrome, deeply affecting a tiny number of people. The nature of this syndrome has been the subject of discussion within our Society for decades, with concerns asked and answered many times.

In 2021, following some singling out at children and young people events of some of their peer group, the wider Quaker movement in Britain was asked to reassure its members that their Friends would be protected by the faith in which they had been raised, and to whose future they would be expected to contribute.

Just as the young people of 2009 Britain Yearly Meeting reminded us that marriage equality spoke to the future integrity of our testimonies, so in 2021 we were called to a similar discernment. What does more damage to a young person, a disruption of a gendered space, or the witnessing of exclusion and discrimination by leadership role models?

Adherents of an alternative political and religious framework are now actively disrespecting us by challenging both minutes, claiming their point of view was silenced. Was it? Not in my experience, and I’ve spent hours in explanation.

It is the right ordering of our discernment processes that is under question. Those of us whose faith leads us to read modern alt-right Christian theology on the internet are aware of how widespread this disingenuous disrespect towards Quakerism has become.

So I ask all my Friends: is what you are saying a point of view you have reached through your own lived experience in the Spirit among Friends, or is that a notion you have come to via the media? Have you spoken among knowledgeable Friends of your questions or are you wishful to disrupt the work of our Society?

Our beliefs, that patient listening to the Spirit that moves us ahead of our times to light the way, might trouble the faith of those genuinely resistant to change.

The phobic stories of potential violence are now being repeated in our Meetings and on this page. We are being asked to listen to questions already answered at length over many years, in a way that is deeply painful and sometimes deliberately pointed.

The patient listening to the Spirit, and the active demonstration of its loving kindness to the world’s people on a discerned point of theology, is vital work. To question its validity in one area is to question our faithful tradition in general.

It is the prompting of love and truth in our hearts, not the tedious amplification of the propaganda of the alt-right and its tropes, to which we should be listening.

Sarah Dodgson

Staying mindful

I write to encourage our Quaker community’s embrace of trans-inclusivity, as minuted by Yearly Meeting, and aligning with our core values of equality and justice. As we engage in these discussions, let us be mindful of our principles of love and respect, refraining from intemperate language.

I would like Friends to reflect on Advices & queries 17: ‘Do not allow the strength of your convictions to betray you into making statements or allegations that are unfair or untrue.’ The idea that sex isn’t real as a mainstream idea held by anybody is simply untrue, and the idea that those seeking to live their lives with dignity are extremists is unfair, unkind, and a caricature of these marginalised individuals.

Trans individuals face unique challenges, and it is vital that we stand on the side of justice and acceptance, upholding the inherent worth of every person.

In the spirit of worship, let us approach these conversations with patience and compassion, guided by the Light that unites us. None of us will get there approaching this as partisan activists, but only as Friends who seek truth.

Kevin McNamara
Young Friends General Meeting

Sensitivity required

We have a friend who is a transwoman. While we don’t fully understand her motivations, we have seen her deep commitment to being a woman, and the hardships and prejudice she has had to go through. We respect her determination and admire her strength. We accept her definition of herself; how can we do otherwise?

At the same time we hold the view that it may be better, in a limited number of situations, to exclude transwomen. For example we believe that anyone who has gone through male pubescence should not be able to compete in elite women’s sport. This is not without a feeling of strong regret that this would involve disadvantaging people who have done nothing wrong.

Reading the letters in the Friend on the subject, we can see a polarisation of attitudes, with each side feeling threatened and defending themselves vigorously. We would hope that with our tradition of peacemaking, we can make more effort to understand each other and find common ground.

We ask for greater sensitivity on both sides. A message with a strident tone, even if its basis is reasonable, may be harmful in finding a way forward.

Neither of us need to strain our imaginations far to see that some of the language in the letters page of 19 January would make our friend feel that her essential nature was being repudiated. The same is probably true on both sides.

Ask what love requires of us.

Kevin Hogan & Jette Howard

Editor’s note

I am grateful to the Friends who wrote to us this week, for redressing what seemed to me an imbalance on this page over our collective approach to our trans Friends. This week it looks rather more like the content we have sought to publish on our editorial pages.

Paul Parker notes that a book referred to on 19 January is not banned, and is available to order at the Quaker Bookshop. We should have checked this more carefully last week, and I apologise for not doing so. I apologise particularly to the bookshop staff. We know from our own inbox how upsetting it can be to deal with Friends who are willing to ignore our request that they be charitable in all things.

the Friend is not intent on suppressing uncomfortable or minority opinions on its letters page. But we would like to take this opportunity to remind readers that, editorially, with Yearly Meeting, we ‘acknowledge and affirm the trans and gender diverse Friends in our Quaker communities’.

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