Outrage as London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Board chair says she was sacked over concerns about trans access to refuges

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The co-chair of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Board has been sacked by the mayor’s office after expressing concern about allowing trans women to use refuge centres for victims of rape and domestic abuse.

On Thursday, Joan Smith, an author, activist and adviser on violence against women, took to Twitter to announce that she had been sacked by the London mayoral office, directing people to a short story recounting her experience published in The Times. 

I've been sacked as Co-chair of the Mayor of London's Violence Against Women and Girls Board. By email. After eight years.Story in today's Times. pic.twitter.com/NfAjc4TsqM

— Joan Smith (@polblonde) August 19, 2021

Smith claimed she was removed from her position as co-chair of the Mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Board after eight years in the role following a disagreement over transgender access to refuge centres. 

Mayor Sadiq Khan’s office sacked her, she says, after she expressed concerns about transgender women being allowed into refuges that were created to host victims of rape and domestic abuse. Smith claims she was actually raising the issue on behalf of charities funded by the mayor who were concerned about the prospect. 

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The author also said she wrote to Khan personally, arguing that while trans women should have access to all the services they need, female victims of male abuse should not have to share safe spaces with people who inhabit male bodies. 

Khan did not respond but his office said Smith’s ousting was due to structural changes and thanked her for eight years in the role. 

Nevertheless, Smith’s removal has provoked somewhat of a backlash of social media with #IstandwithJoanSmith trending on Twitter in the UK. Some people called it a “disgraceful example of discrimination” and advised the women’s rights activist to get legal assistance to fight back. Others contended that it was a great loss for the city and that the mayor was damaging all women of London “by removing one of their best champions.” 

Smith’s sacking also triggered further debate about transgender access to facilities and services designed for women, somewhat mirroring the infamous rows induced by JK Rowling’s tweets on trans use of female bathrooms. 

One person wrote that women have a legal right to single-sex facilities and services, claiming that people who described rape victims as “bigoted” were displaying the “most disgusting and sickening misogyny imaginable.” 

#IStandWithJoanSmith Women have a legal right to single sex services and calling rape victims bigots for needing this is the most disgusting and sickening misogyny imaginable. pic.twitter.com/nra9NJ5Nwp

— flumposaurus vexed (@Flumposaurus) August 19, 2021

“We need to fight back against this,” wrote another Twitter user, who said most Britons are thoroughly aware that women’s rights should be protected. These sorts of actions, they argued, are deeply unpopular. 

Others put the blame on Khan. One person claimed that the mayor hates women, adding, “I remain convinced only a man that hates women would deny female rape victims safe female-only spaces. No if’s, no buts, #SadiqKhanHatesWomen” 

While most people backed Smith, several weren’t so sure. One social media user labelled Smith a “transphobe” and said she was trying to stop victims of domestic violence from accessing domestic violence services. “Thats what the tag [#IStandWithJoanSmith] is about, a bunch of abusive transphobes.” 

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