Letters - 19 January 2024

From ‘Double belonging’ to Antisemitism awareness

‘Double belonging’

Dana Smith’s article (‘Words of prayer’, 5 January) interested me very much, and, in principle, I agreed with it. So thank you, Dana.

However, she and other Quakers may be interested in my experience of such matters.

I’m a relatively active member of a Local Quaker Meeting, also of a Zen Buddhist Sangha, and a ‘Centring Prayer’ group.

Several other Quakers I know belong to at least two of these groups. Our Sangha includes, also, a Church of England (CofE) priest, as well as several Quakers.

We find all these gatherings quite compatible with our values.

We also have Roman Catholics and CofE members who regularly come to our Meetings for Worship. I wonder if this ‘double belonging’ is rare.

It pleases me to have learned that the ‘Holy Spirit’ appears in different forms at different times, so tight boundaries seem unnecessary.

Kate Allen

Rights with responsibility

All rights come with responsibilities. All needs have to be balanced against other needs. There is no hierarchy of needs.

I rely heavily on lip reading. I walk into a room and ‘case the joint’. Ideally I need: to sit with my back to the window to maximise face contrast for lip reading; to sit in a circle so all are visible; and people to not be unnecessarily spread out, so sound is maximised. At a rectangular table, the shorter side is best for me.

But what happens if, say, there is a wheelchair user and the only place is at that short end of the table, or in front of the window? If I see that is the only way for the wheelchair user to be included, I accept a need – at that point – that is greater than mine.

That choice to recognise balance of needs is with everyone at each specific point of time when we are being true to inclusiveness.

‘Give me the courage to change what can be changed, the humility to accept that which can’t be changed and the wisdom to know the difference.’

In the current exchanges about women’s rights and trans rights I am failing to hear about responsibilities – and that means looking at specific situations and acknowledging where total inclusion in every situation is not possible or desirable.

I value the advice in Quaker faith & practice 20.71 about handling conflict through the three steps of naming, listening, and letting go.

Pamela Brunt

Trans people

Abigail Maxwell’s reply (22 & 29 December 2023) to Anne Wade’s letter (8 December 2023) suggests that biological women are never affected by the access that transwomen have to services that exclude men.
But there still is a debate. Trans people’s rights intersect with women’s rights.

There remain issues about the safeguarding of biological women and girls – in hospital wards, prisons, women’s refuges, and dormitories. Their privacy needs to be assured. They need to be listened to and their views respected.
I believe in the right of conscientious objection to extreme gender ideology.

How we reconcile the rights of different people is the subject of the ongoing debate.

David Harries

Not anti-trans campaigners

Abigail Maxwell (22 & 29 December 2023) is mistaken in thinking that some recent letters to the Friend have been from ‘anti-trans campaigners’.

They have been from people, such as myself, who have genuine worries and concerns about the way trans ideology is being interpreted in society in general, and about what exactly is supported by the Yearly Meeting minute to ‘acknowledge and affirm the trans and gender-diverse Friends in our Quaker communities’.

For instance, the Religious Society of Friends gave no publicity at all to 2023 being the 200th anniversary of the Gaols Act of 1823, which, after long campaigning by Elizabeth Fry, legislated for single-sex prisons in order to protect female prisoners.

Is that because the Society no longer supports single-sex prisons?

I think Abigail Maxwell has misunderstood my mention of ‘coaching’ children (29 September 2023).

I didn’t mean that anyone is carrying out deliberate coaching.

I meant that well-meaning people are taking some very young children’s non-conformity to the stereotypes associated with their sex as evidence of their being trans.

The resulting years of the child being treated in all ways as the opposite sex from reality have the effect of coaching the child into a belief that they really are the opposite sex.

Rather than use words like ‘anti-trans campaigners’ and ‘intemperate language and allegations’, it would be helpful if those taking other views could understand that our concerns are genuine.

Then we could all try to do as minute thirty-one of 2021 says – keep listening and searching together.

Moyra Carlyle


Banning books has a dire history, yet it is happening within Quakers.

A Quaker academic, active locally and nationally in the Religious Society of Friends for thirty years, arranged a book launch and signing at Friends House.

Subsequently the event was cancelled, without a reason.

The Quaker Bookshop has always stocked books written by Britain Yearly Meeting members, yet now it rejects such books if they say that sex is real, or if they challenge the notion that men can become women.

This author writes well on the philosophy of Foucault and on queer theory, the gender theory that underpins transgender. The staff say that ‘stocking those transphobic books makes us unsafe’.

Who makes the Bookshop policy? Who authorised this discrimination? Is it reasonable to assume that Quakers now believe in gender, not sex?

Have we discerned that men and women no longer exist, and that everyone can become whatever gender they want? Was this what minute thirty-one said?

Are Quakers in Britain happy to discriminate against Friends who believe that sex is real – or at least against those who won’t keep quiet about it?

And who is threatening the Bookshop staff? Not women, or Quakers. If Friends House fear the gangs of masked, hooded, black-clad transactivist men who target women’s groups, they should challenge them, not pander to them, if necessary involving the police.

Friends House is in an unassailable position to stand up against their antisocial behaviour, as small groups of women are not.

Anne Wade

Antisemitism awareness

I agree with Ol Rappaport (15 December 2023), insomuch as I think it would be helpful for antisemitism awareness training to be made available throughout Britain Yearly Meeting.

An anti-racism course run recently by my Area Meeting was generally helpful but it did not address antisemitism. In my experience, antisemitism rarely features in anti-racist training.

I attended many courses on diversity and inclusion during thirty-eight years of employment in the public sector.
My colleagues and I saw ourselves as being very proactive in relationship to issues of racism, sexism and homophobia, but none of us ever challenged the lack of any attention to antisemitism. Not once!

What I am about to say could be controversial, but I feel that there is a tendency for those of us on the liberal left (as many Quakers and public sector workers are) to see the Jewish community as part of the establishment, and therefore we unintentionally overlook the issue of antisemitism, due to unconscious bias.

Given the tragic past of the Jewish people, this is a glaring omission which possibly echoes the failure of some early Quakers to see the evils associated with the slave trade.

These are difficult issues.

Richard Pashley

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