With this weekend’s RadFem2013 conference, there has been sizeable controversy due to it taking place at the Camden Centre, which is a conference venue owned by the London Borough of Camden Council. Because of this, several people, including myself, have FOIed the council for documents relating to the booking. While we’re waiting for that, one of the councillors for the ward the centre is in – Sarah Hayward, Leader of the Council and one of the three councillors for Kings Cross – has been rather helpful in elaborating some of the council’s reasons over the weekend. With her permission, I am publishing the correspondence.
My email to her, sent at 1pm this afternoon:
?You asked me to email you so you could explain the booking of RadFem 2013; I’m aware that you may have been in contact with other members of the transgender community, especially as it takes place within your ward (which is why I sent mentions to all three on Twitter).
?Additionally, do I have your permission to make the reply public? As I’m asking you in your official capacity, I think that, especially with outstanding FOI requests to the council, that such a reply should be available publicly.
And her reply, at 2pm:
thanks for the email and once again, sorry I didn’t check yesterday’s tweet had sent. I’ve attached a reply to another correspondent (name and address removed as I don’t have their permission to use it) that explains the background to the decision. You’ll see from the correspondence that they’d also put in an FOI request about some of the organisational detail that, when answered, will be published on our website.
This was not an easy decision to make and needed to balance the competing interests of two protected groups under the public sector equality duty and our own desire to simply do the right thing. Where issues of free speech are at stake the balance is never straightforward.
I know I am probably on to a loser in trying to convince you, or others, that we made the right decision. But I hope that knowing that we considered all the issues carefully and fully, and sought specific assurances from the organisers, before offering an alternative venue offers some comfort.
I’m happy for you to publish both the contents of this email and the letter attached.
Happy to correspond more if you want or need to know more.
Leader of Camden Council
King’s Cross Ward
Office: 020 7974 5707
Camden Town Hall
London WC1H 9JE
The attached FOI request, pre-redacted, is available here.
It doesn’t really tell us anything we didn’t already know — Camden Council apparently requested and received “assurances” that transgender people would be allowed to attend. However, I’m still skeptical the council did their duty, especially as both Conway Hall and the London Irish Centre had Equality Act concerns regarding the same conference. Personally, I really want to believe it was just negligence and not malice, or even including TERF strongarming, but… I’m not holding my breath.