In England's GREEN and pleasant land
Somewhere in England there is a girl who was raped, tortured and electrocuted by a well-known local Green Party figure in Coventry, David Challenor. During the criminal trial his victim described his rituals in which he dressed as a little girl or a baby in a nappy, at a house used as an official Green Party address, in 2015. For anyone, this case is cruel and cautionary – for Greens it is a huge political crisis.
We know that nothing is more important than community respect and validation for the survivors of sexual crime. This girl didn’t get it. Her lonely journey to the criminal court was vindicated – at the end of August the perpetrator, David Challenor, received a 22-year-sentence.
But the child was unsupported by the people who mattered most, her intimate community, the Challenors - David, his wife Tina and Aimee Challenor. All three were well-known Green Party activists. It was the abuser they supported, not his accuser.
The police interviewed Challenor in October 2015. *Aimee Challenor was then a teenager transitioning from a boy, to a girl, who was about to become an ambitious young trans activist. By 2017 Aimee Challenor was Green Party equalities spokesperson and a party candidate, and this year pitched into the party’s recent deputy leadership election.
The sins of the father are not the sins of the son or daughter. Yet Aimee Challenor’s trajectory as a political trans activist and synchronises with the police investigation into David Challenor. Twice she appointed her father as election agent - there are no criteria regulating agents, according to the Electoral Commission – and she insists that despite the criminal charges she was ‘building bridges’ and attempting reconciliation with her father.
The party leadership was not informed until David Challenor was sentenced in August. A couple of senior individuals in the Green Party knew, however, but didn’t pass it on. David Challenor was a volunteer for Coventry Pride, who took swift action when he was charged in 2016 and barred him. Members are now asking whether there was anything else Aimee Challenor didn’t disclose.
The scandal has scalded Green Party leaders. An inquiry has been launched, David Challenor has been expelled. When mutiny among party members forced Aimee’s suspension in early September, she quit, and accused the party of transphobia.
But the Greens need to do more than lament the guile and cruelty of David Challenor and the party’s misfortune in being gulled by the Challenors. The party’s initial official statements about the scandal pathetically paid more attention to Aimee Challenor’s need for support than the vindicated – but traduced – child.
The party should ask itself whether the party’s hard-line pro-trans policies and associated bullying provided what sexual violence scholar Prof Liz Kelly calls a ‘conducive context’ that shielded the Challenors from scrutiny.
It might also ask itself whether it lost its marbles about gender and sexual politics, so much so that this proudly open and democratic party sometimes behaved like the Inquisition, hunting and harassing trans heretics and feminists.
Lesbian activist Olivia Palmer has been expelled for opposing the mantra ‘trans women are women’. The Green Party has forced luminaries Rupert Read and Jenny Jones to publically recant their scepticism. Aimee Challenor tried take legal action to silence Green Party activist Any Healey, and members are wondering who in the leadership supported Aimee Challenor’s legal action to silence him – he launched Gender Critical Greens, a feminist resource, and insisted on identifying Challenor as a man. The legal action against Healey is still unresolved. Healey was not allowed to address the party conference, whilst David Challenor was given space to propose motions despite his impending trial on the most serious child sexual abuse charges.
Aimee and David Challenor mobilised Twitter widgets to block ‘trans exclusionary radical feminists’ - last year Aimee Challenor proclaimed the campaign’s success in blocking 50,000 people deemed ‘terfs’ and bigots, and getting one vocal feminist transsexual, Miranda Yardley, being banned from Twitter for life.
When Miranda Yardley was invited to address North Surrey Green Party, they were forced to disinvite Yardley and then became the subject of a ‘transphobia’ complaint themselves. The Green Party executive didn’t come out against against ‘terfblocking’. The party’s universally-respected leader Caroline Lucas hated it, but described herself as powerless to resist it. I myself complained to a senior Green about terf-blocking and others did, too. Apparently no action was taken.
Other organisations – from the Girl Guides to the Lib-dems and the Trades Union Congress - should not be smug about the Greens’ crisis: they’ve tolerated a trans modus operandi and ideology that is bulwarked by claims that to debate its hypotheses – including the mantra ‘a transwoman is a woman…is a woman’ - is to eliminate trans people. Apparently debate is death.
The Working Class Movement Library in Manchester was aghast to find itself targeted by a trans campaign to attack its funding. Gay organisations, too, have been blasted by trans harassment: Manchester’s Queer Up North Festival Organiser, Jonathan Best, chronicles his grim experience.
A closed Facebook group was promoted to name and shame academics deemed transphobic, by Goldsmiths University trans researcher Natacha Kennedy. Kennedy is also Goldsmiths’ Mark Hellen – they are one person, two personas. They appeared as ‘joint’ authors of a paper on ‘transgender children’.
Sussex University philosophy professor Kathleen Stock became a cause celebre when she was pilloried for urging philosophers to engage in the gender debates swirling in social media. She was condemned as transphobic by the students union but in July the university’s vice chancellor Adam Tickell ventured where the Green Party would not tread by affirming both trans people’s human rights and academic freedom, ‘I hold a deep rooted concern,’ he wrote, ‘about the future of our democratic society if we silence the views of people we don’t agree with.’
Girl Guide leaders who opposed the Guides’ imposition of policy declaring that boys transitioning to girlhood can be Girl Guides have been ‘sacked’ and their groups disbanded.
Nothing is real
The Challenor case is an arrow to the heart of Britain’s twisted sexual politics. Already gay activists are joining feminists in saying they are sick of the narcissism and misogyny of some trans activists, and gay people are increasingly alienated by the seemingly endless expansion of categories attached to ‘gay and lesbian’ that have nothing to do with sexual orientation.
The Liberal-Democrats, the Tories and Labour, unions, gay organisations and mass media commentators across the political spectrum should all start asking how they fell for a folly that is not sustained by science, that isn’t inscribed in human rights law and doesn’t enjoy consensus among trans women and trans-sexuals, and certainly not among maybe most women.
The dogma has been promoted as a new civil rights frontier; it is fortified by cultish religiosity, by no-platforming, bullying, what can only be called blacklisting of dissenting voices deemed ‘terfs’ and ‘bigots’ on the wrong side of history, and by the resort to complaints procedures and ‘administrative methods’ to quell debate.
The mantra ‘There is no debate – a transwoman is a woman!’ is recited not only in the Green Party but across the political firmament.
It is as though nothing is real, there is only ‘gender fluidity’ and freedom of choice that synchronises marvellously with neo-liberal erasure of oppression, exploitation and power, not to mention material reality. The notion that anyone can be anything, that a man is a woman if he says he is, empties ‘woman’ of meaning. Some Greens refer to ‘non-men’ to satisfy trans sensitivities. The Green Party’s crisis is, therefore, more important than the Green Party itself.
Although the party has vigorously promoted an extreme trans policy and practice, you have to dig deep, and know where to look, to find its child safeguarding policy - despite massive public concern in the wake of the Savile scandal in 2012, despite the work of Caroline Lucas and her Parliamentary colleagues in securing the launch of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, and its public reports on institutional complicity in child abuse.
Aimee Challenor was a teenager undergoing transition with the support of Mermaids, an organisation chided by the High Court, and criticised by some for advocating medical interventions at puberty that, they claim, amount to child abuse.
The Challenor family had been subject to High Court proceedings because of the parenting the children in the family received. Many children who exit the care system do so with dignity, independence, qualifications and readiness to enter the adult world. After leaving care, however, *Aimee apparently turned to the parents for reconciliation.
If any Green Party members recognised the consequential vulnerabilities - which the leadership were at pains to stress when offering support for her in the wake of David Challenor’s trial - then they were muted by the aura around Aimee Challenor, an equalities spokesperson who specialised in bullying and silencing feminist critics.
If there were to be a Serious Case Review - a local authority review in the event of serious harm to a child - it would undoubtedly be interested in the context and culture of the child’s family and her abuser, and his activity in other contexts and other institutions.
It might want to know whether the party’s early, strident rush to endorse an extreme trans position, and Aimee Challenor’s resort to ‘terf-blocking’ and intimidation, obscured child safeguarding responsibilities.
On a personal note, I should say that I am a Green Party member. I’ve stood as a candidate in local and parliamentary elections. My own journey into the debates was provoked nearly a decade ago by no-platforming and censorship.
This forced me to address the issue itself. I have benefited from feminist writing, obviously, the eloquent essay on gender, race, class and identity politics in the Jenner and Dolezal cases by US political scientist Adolph Reed Jnr, and the intelligence of many transgender women and trans-sexuals. They are profoundly dismayed by the authoritarianism and speciousness of trans policy in the Green Party and elsewhere, and the spectacular nastiness of some extreme trans advocates: Sarah Brown, a Liberal Democrats candidate in Cambridge, notoriously rebuked a fellow councillor Richard Taylor with ‘suck my formaldehyde balls’.
I support Gender Critical Greens and Woman’s Place_UK and their campaign for women’s places and safe spaces, I have chaired two of their public meetings. Trans activists have harassed the organisers and the venues, frequently obliging the organisers to change venues. In Newcastle this summer Northumbria University agreed to a last-minute booking of their out-of-town campus after another venue cancelled. A local trans activist put out an alert warning trans people that they’d not be safe in the city: watch out there’s terfs about.
Many heart-sick Green Party members are coming out, voicing their worries and urging a full review that goes beyond the Challenor debacle and reassesses policies on trans, gender and sexual politics generally, and the safeguarding of children specifically.
Some of us will send submissions to the consultation on the Gender Recognition Act. Given the fate of others, and aside from my own decisions about whether I remain in the Green Party, we need to know whether this will this result in disciplinary action, and whether the Green Party is prepared to forfeit seasoned and intelligent activists because of misogyny and cultish trans dogma.
Members of other organisations should be asking themselves the same questions.
*On 15 January 2019, at Aimee Challenor's request, I have erased her 'dead name'.