Letters - 29 March 2018

From the YFGM statement to equality and accessibility

YFGM statement

As gender concerned Quakers ourselves, we are writing to express our dismay at the letter by Diane Brewster (22 March).

‘Material reality’ has been used before as a means of delegitimising whole groups of people. It is step one in the well-recognised path to dehumanisation followed by violence. Step two is the derogatory labelling of people in the public space – abuse that reduces the person to bodily functions has become common parlance already. Step three is the visiting of violence against individuals. This is the path of prejudice and hatred that anyone pursuing step one cannot disassociate themselves from, however much they cloak their language in Quaker parlance.

To cast suspicion on anyone seeking to establish their legitimate identity and way of life as a potential danger to others is the purest form of prejudice. We all want to be safe, and to keep others safe, and this can be achieved while respecting the personal journeys and experiences of others, however different these may be from our own. If we want to have a conversation about protecting ourselves from predators, let’s do so by all means. Diane Brewster uses abuse to frame a point about gender. The way forward is for us to affirm the humanity and reality of all people, however they choose to self-identify. Quite separately, we can have conversations about keeping ourselves and each other safe from any form of exploitation and abuse.

Marisa Johnson and Rob Johnson

The article by Young Friends General Meeting (YFGM) trustees (8 March) is headlined: ‘We are committed to fostering a spirit of loving unity.’ Laudable sentiments, beneath which lurks a sinister subtext of intolerance.

They suggest the views of anyone who disagrees arise from bigotry, ignorance, age or fear. As a gender atypical person, I have real misgivings about this new mantra ‘dissent means you need re-education’. YFGM offers to educate Quakers, as does Yearly Meeting, Woodbrooke, Quaker Life… they don’t discuss; they tell. Another story might be told: dissenters may, in fact, be young, well-informed, LGBTQ or I.

What I fear isn’t social change but the death of discernment.

Alternative voices have also been silenced. I’ve seen women bullied by Quaker protestors, and Friends House staff: discouraging Meetings from lettings to feminists; discouraging people with concerns from attending events; cancelling a talk by a leading (Quaker) academic author; advising an Area Meeting not to proceed with an open discussion; and offering no fanfare to the even-handed Quaker Life Central Committee statement (http://bit.ly/QLCCgender). This makes a mockery of discernment and is dangerously divisive.

Ten years ago, Quakers discerned a way forward on equal marriage. We displayed mature, emotional intelligence. We were prepared to hear unpalatable truths. We trusted each other. Many of us were hurt, challenged, offended and we had faith that we could hear others’ truths, survive, and grow stronger. How have we become so fragile? When did we decide censorship, reprogramming and alienation were preferable to discussion? Who made that decision? Not in my name, Friend.

M Button

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