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On the frontline of the Gender Wars

I’m a professional community organiser, and a tenant and housing activist for some 20 years. I saw the old Scottish Tenants Organisation get smashed by Jack McConnell’s government to make way for council housing privatisation, which in Glasgow created the Glasgow Housing Association.

I’ve long wanted to rebuild a national body to give housing schemes a political voice and to push to end the housing crisis. That’s why I got involved with Living Rent, organising my community to become their first branch. Little did I know that would lead to a brush with crazed gender ideology, and see Queer Theory used to try to destroy it.

On the back of my successful organising I went to work for Living Rent as a community organiser building another branch in Broomhill and working to take on Scotland’s largest landlord. I fought for justice for scheme tenants and against the metastasised spawn of the Glasgow City Council housing stock transfer, as it increasingly became a massive housing corporation, under it’s new name, Wheatley Homes Glasgow.

We met with some successes exposing their CEO’s enormous salary (more than the President of the USA or the head of the European Commission; a package that would make even rich Rishi Sunak blush) to the scheme tenants who pay for it, while he was jacking up their rents. That campaign saw “Big Martin”, as he called himself, resign.

During the pandemic Glasgow City Council also tried to privatise public land at Collina Street that had been scheme housing until being demolished by Big Martin’s predecessor at the stock transfer landlord (then still called the GHA). I organised to take that on, and it led to the defeat of the privatisation.

In 2020 I got a new boss, Emma Saunders, who strongly believed in Queer Theory. Initially we got on well, as I respected her hard work and talent at fundraising and she recognised my talents, promoting me to running our national campaign to win progress for tenants in the Holyrood election.

Indeed during that campaign, as a friend, she suggested I join Alba, as she knew how frustrated I was with the right-wing drift of the SNP. But friendship counts for little when it comes to the Queer Theory cult.

In those pandemic years when online activism was the only show in town, the membership started to surge in response to the union’s call for a rent freeze and now prolific online profile, and throughout Emma continued to expand the staff team. This new membership tended to be politicised, tended towards private tenants in the 20s and 30s, more often than not with university educations.

The leadership of the union at this time reflected this (and the activist culture that had preceded the formation of any branches), and so it was especially galling to find that without asking the branches, the executive had decided to pursue a hobby-horse of the intellectual package of Queer Theory and post modernism: the idea that prostitution is a valid form of work that should be encouraged and supported – usually sloganised as “sex work is work”.

In their capacity in that first pandemic year (2020) the union officially responded to a Scottish Government consultation on the Nordic model by decrying the criminalisation of brothel-keeping:

“Laws that aim to ‘manage’ sex work mean that a range of other people, including landlords, can be arrested with ‘pimping’ charges and there is evidence that under the ‘Nordic model’ this frequently leads to sex workers being evicted from their homes.

Already, the criminalisation of ‘brothel-keeping’ discourages sex workers from living or working together in shared housing and therefore often increases both housing insecurity and exposure to violence at work.”

The executive noted that “We are happy for our response to be made public”, but they certainly hadn’t gone around the working-class women I was working with and asked them what they thought. Things would go downhill from here.

Despite success in the campaign (we won a range of commitments from politicians, stopped the Collina Street privatisation, defeated a student flats scheme in Partick, secured social housing commitments in Muirhouse and put social landlords on notice that privatising public housing land is not on, while the union worked for a rent freeze and rent controls), one man decided to pursue other priorities.

Sam Sharp, a self-styled “anarchist” and “critical theorist”, had had an issue with me ever since in the previous year I had pressured the Wheatley Group and the cops to run so-called “street valium” out of the Wyndford.

At the time he’d complained to the national committee that the union should never work with the police, and conflated a permissive attitude to cannabis in the community to the deadly drug that was being pushed on children.

(In fact the local headmaster at the scheme’s nursery school had been attacked by teenagers high on street valium, and a young family’s car had been torched by the drug fuelled youths. Clearly anyone sensible would work with the police to stop weans getting killed by this stuff. The national committee did not take his side but it was a portent of what was to come.)

Just after the election in June 2021, my boss Emma told me there had been complaints against me. Every weekly check-in, more mad stuff would happen. She talked openly to herself one time, saying, “If you were an anti-Semite I’d know what to do with you”.

An official investigation was launched. I had no idea of the complaints. The ACAS guidelines were thrown out of the window and employment law was chucked under a bus.

My boss, who had been my friend, seemed out to get me. I got to see pieces of “evidence” which amounted to some comments I had made on Facebook saying I thought Judith Butler, the intellectual leader of the Queer Theory movement, was a crank, that this movement was conservative, reimposing gender stereotypes, and that mutilating children for this ideology was wrong and perverse.

Fortunately an old-school trade unionist from Unite who knows the law inside out had my back and I was able to fend off the attack. I Later found out that behind this absurdity had been the same Sam Sharp, who had convinced two others (a crime writer who moonlights as a non-ordained Zen Buddhist monk and poet – below left – and a trans identified man who goes by the name Emma, who is now a great friend of the Wheatley Group) to also complain.

Although the process found no case to answer I was immediately demoted, and under suspicion thereafter. I went to work at Living Rent to rebuild the STO but from here on in I was battling gender ideologues who had it in for me for believing in sex-based rights and opposing their dangerous ideology.

I had been told that the investigation was confidential but a whispering campaign began immediately. One of the outcomes of Emma’s investigation was that staff had to be trained in gender ideology. On the designated day we were greeted on Zoom by Ellie Lowther, a trans-identifying male who’s made a career out of this sort of thing, and who proceeded to talk for an afternoon.

Using the examples of a Victorian-era Govan politician who had masqueraded as a man to do the job and upon death was revealed to be female, and of a 19th-century British army doctor who was female and presented as male to practise medicine, we were told that “trans has always been with us”.

It was clear that this was not up for discussion. Emma Saunders had specifically sought this training out to explain the organisation’s new ideology.

The final part of the hours-long monologue, however, was significantly darker. Lowther boasted in bombastic detail how he had personally transed over 500 young people, outlining his methods for telling confused teenagers that they should pursue a medical transition, and how much it excited him. (Quite why a late-middle-aged man should be spending so much time online with young teenagers was never fully explained.)

Lowther proceeded to tell us about a “friend” who is “a little girl” some days, a man on others – Lowther said he can tell which it is based on this man’s voice – and that they would play together, enjoying the “fluidity” and dressing-up.

This was where the presentation ended, and we were invited to speak our first words of the afternoon. Eventually it came to my turn to speak. I chose my words very carefully, but it didn’t matter. Another staff member, who identifies as “genderqueer”, launched a personal attack asking why “even at this time” I could not strike a right note, and how this made them feel victimised and under attack, and that working alongside someone with known bigoted attitudes made everything extremely upsetting. After this tirade the session was closed down.

About a month later came the AGM, in which a group of well-heeled Momentum activists proceeded to boot scheme homeowners out of the union, arguing that they were part of the capitalist class. Scheme homeowners bought their houses under right to buy, and most are not well-off at all.

During the online years of COVID, which favoured keyboard warriors over real activists, the union was changing from one which could take up the mantle of the old STO to something quite different.

It wasn’t long after that that the whispering campaign emerged into the open. A person whose Facebook bio reads, “neuroqueer, autistic disabled, anarcho-feminist, anti-racist, ktf, gaymer, pronouns: fae/faer/faem” started to spam comments on my work social media that I was a vile transphobe who made her feel unsafe.

My position was now shaky and Emma and my new line manager were looking for ways to force me out. So in line with the new work online policy of “not engaging with trolls” – a position Emma took to mean anyone who disagrees – I blocked this person, but it was clear as day that a growing number of members were angry that I wasn’t sacked for thoughtcrime.

Days later a bombshell revelation from the Wheatley Group hit the Wyndford. They planned to demolish 600 social homes, and the Maryhill Hub community centre (owned and managed by the Council). A fait accompli consultation with loaded questions joined a pamphlet entitled, “A Bright New Dawn for Wyndford”.

Seeing that the Council clearly had a hand in this, I phoned a local SNP councillor, Franny Scally. Scally informed me that it was a good thing that 300 mid-market rental homes (expensive private tenancies) would be built, as in his view this would lead to a new school.

The second part was fantasy but the first part was a huge threat. Wheatley would demolish 600 social homes (let at around £300 per month), replace them with flats costing £900+ a month, and the government would pay for it. £73 million in fact, and the council would make tens of millions from the sale of the land where our community centre had stood.

Clearly plans were at an advanced stage. The most important thing now was to provide a united front to prevent the loss of hundreds of precious social homes in yet another Wheatley demolition.

This was when the main attack happened. On Living Rent’s housing advice forum on Facebook, a couple of weeks after “fae/faer/faem” had attacked me personally, they decided to launch attacks on me and on “institutional transphobia in the union”. A new board member, who had previously run a medium-sized charity, responded:

“As a woman I am damn well sure that I will continue to have an opinion on the loss of my sex based rights. As a human being I am damn well sure I will continue to be respectful when engaging with other humans who hold a difference of opinion. As a tenant I am damn well sure I will continue to support Living Rent as it seeks to ensure tenants are treated fairly the rights of tenants as a group are campaigned for”

My wife, Ellenor, a moderator on the forum, seeing that the new board member was now under vicious attack for these comments, and that the discussions had nothing to do with housing advice, closed the thread. Emma Saunders then removed her as a moderator, for “tone-policing the oppressed”. Our new board member resigned that day. But this didn’t draw a line under it.

A hitherto-unknown member called Brian (they/them) posted a thread of invective against me, people associated with me and feminists in the union on the general forum of the union’s Slack workspace, demanding that these people be sacked or expelled for “transphobia”.

Under direction from Emma Saunders, rather than try to de-escalate, this guy was encouraged to continue with his invective, both by staff and board members. I posted to the thread to explain that there was a complaints procedure and that this was a more appropriate way to conduct a complaint than demanding expulsions and sackings and abusing everyone.

I was immediately contacted by Emma Saunders and informed that if I commented any further it would be a disciplinary offence. Brian then went on to threaten violence against me and my family. I was told I had to put up with this, again because we can’t “tone-police the oppressed”.

In a message exchange with Emma about this threat of violence Emma became irate instead that I called Brian a man, and if I did that again I would be reprimanded.

It took fully nine days to remove this post from the general Slack channel, where every union member could see it. Myself and another colleague finally convinced Emma that leaving the post up there could leave the union as a whole an accessory to a criminal harassment case.

Brian then took to Facebook (where only three previous posts he has made are visible), tagging dozens of leaders in the union in a long paragraphed post, noting who had associated me (members had to, I was their organiser, but he focused only on those in the Wyndford). The post ended with a picture of Laura Jones’ (a Wyndford committee member)’s home, with the address visible.

Brian urged people to “take action” against these “TERF cunts”. It was chillingly obvious what was meant. Sam Sharp had been all over this praising Brian, so he was ousted from the committee, because you can’t carry on working with people after you’ve publicly endorsed beating them up for wrongthink.

But that didn’t matter to my bosses. My job was now to “please the cult or get sacked”. Everything that happened thereafter was an attempt to get me to resign, or to force me out. I had Emma try to guilt-trip me into resigning one day, the next she’d be telling me it was vital to go and apologise to Sam Sharp and let him berate me, or to go to his breakaway meetings and demur from saying anything.

Sam’s splinter group decided they would not oppose the demolition but would just seek compensation. I was then told by my new line manager that this was now the union policy, as saving my community wasn’t “winnable”.

Emma and my line manager began efforts to trustee the Wyndford branch, kick out anyone who Brian had attacked, and enforce that there would be no campaign to save the high flats and community centre, and that those who had attacked me would be put in charge of a new branch team.

The elected Wyndford committee team and those who had been named fought back, issuing internal complaints. These were then dealt with by a committee of Queer Theorists, some of whom had been supporters of Brian’s attacks, and so the complaints went nowhere, and some of those sitting on the complaints committee spent their time smirking and asking stupid questions to try to make the process humiliating.

Nobody in the governance of the union stopped to ask who Brian was, why he’d never attended a single meeting before, why his Facebook page only had three posts on it, and why immediately after the attacks he resigned from the union and vanished.

My efforts to rebuild the Scottish Tenants Organisation through the nascent union Living Rent saw the use of gender ideology and Queer Theory weaponised against my community and its cohesion in its hour of darkest need to such an extent that the union I had worked for and built became the greatest ally of the country’s largest landlord in a multi-million-pound gentrification bid.

I went off sick. Within a month or so I had tendered my resignation. My community then had to fight to prevent Living Rent from stopping us opposing the demolition, and establish an independent tenants union. It took two critical months where we should have been fighting Wheatley, to ensure we still had a union in the Wyndford, and see off Emma’s planned Queer Theory coup.

But there’s a happy ending. The first year of the newborn Wyndford Residents Union was a fruitful one. Dozens of new members helped the union grow and defeat SSE, ensuring that all of their district heating customers across the UK had no bills rises in October 2022 when the rest of the UK was being hammered. (Indeed in the Wyndford we won a rebate.)

With a new chair from one of the flats under threat we fought back against the demolition, stalling it by two years.

Unburdened by the need to police “transphobia” and promote Queer Theory at the expense of everything else, we worked with everyone we could, building a coalition of leading architects, environmental campaigners and architectural historians.

We didn’t just stop there. We rebuilt the STO, who with three branches now are hosting an AGM on the 22nd of June. The STO is now the leading force against the housing crisis, despite being small. We’ve proven that not only can we stand up to Queer Theory cancellation and bullying but that the involvement of that kind of politics is a massive dead weight on the capacity to grow in working-class communities.


Nick Durie is the Alba candidate for Glasgow North.

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