The Emperor has no clothes. The famous Hans Christian Anderson story has kept coming to mind in recent months as the battle over trans ideology in Britain and abroad has intensified.
More than one nation is in need of a sanity check just now, as battles rage on both sides of the Atlantic on the subject of whether men who identify as women should be permitted to use the same bathrooms as girls, as young female athletes lose out to males competing as females, and a female professional can have her unfair dismissal case thrown out because her view (that a biological male is a man not a woman) is “not worthy of respect in a democratic society.” Some years ago, I was cornered by a group of incredibly smug students at the University of Stirling who seemed to think it the job of the Gender Equality Society to attack a female speaker fighting to expose the horrors of gendercide.
When I last spoke to Caroline Farrow, an outspoken commentator on ethical issues, including transgenderism, she was fighting claims of “misgendering” following a debate on the BBC with the head of the UK trans advocacy group Mermaids. Late last year, I heard on social media that Caroline had been prevented from entering the United States for a business trip in which she was to present a petition on behalf of the organization CitizenGo and speak at a conference. Besides some gloating words from an LGBTQIA activist, I found little information about what had happened, and contacted Caroline for an update.
The subsequent interview raised more questions than it answered. According to Caroline, what happened to her at the airport as she attempted to check-in for her flight to the US is almost unprecedented. “I had this trip to Orlando booked which I was very excited about,” said Farrow, “it was mostly to talk at a conference, but as part of the trip, I was going to hand in a CitizenGo petition to Disney asking them not to hold Pride parades. It’s our most successful petition so far, we had over half a million signatures. My tickets were booked, everything was ready.”
It is no easy business arranging to be away for a week when you have five school-age children, and the trip took a great deal of planning. At the airport check-in desk, it rapidly became clear that something was very wrong. “The woman at the desk tried to scan my passport, then she was on the phone trying to sort something out. Next thing, she’s blocking off the conveyor belt and going to find her supervisor. A few minutes later, she’s telling me I can’t fly because my ESTA’s been revoked.”
Caroline had applied for and been granted an ESTA, the standard visa-waiver document used by Brits traveling to the US for 90 days or less. It is not a difficult document to obtain – I have traveled to the US on a number of occasions using an ESTA – and Caroline was told when she went to the airline help desk that the revocation of ESTAs “doesn’t happen.” The staff at the desk could not understand what had happened and gave her a list of US embassy numbers. She was on the phone for over an hour without being given any information as to why she was being stopped from traveling. Eventually, she was told that she would have to go to the US embassy to get a visa and could not travel that day.
“It really was a warning to be careful about giving away information on social media,” admitted Farrow, “I knew someone must have done something and all I could think of was that I had mentioned on Facebook that I was going to Orlando. I thought of it as a fairly closed, secure group, but I should never have mentioned my travel plans.” According to Farrow, activists quickly started posting photographs of themselves online with the US embassy in shot, speaking of their “important business” at the embassy. One activist in particular (name withheld) posted gloating references to the embassy and claimed that Farrow had been denied entry to the US because she was a criminal. “I have no criminal convictions whatsoever. I have ongoing civil proceedings against me but I have a completely clean record. There were simply no grounds to bar me from the US,” Farrow told me.
Frustratingly, the US embassy will not give out information about why an ESTA has been denied or revoked, meaning that Farrow cannot defend herself against whatever allegations have been made about her to the embassy. Nor did the US embassy do her the courtesy of informing her that her ESTA had been revoked, causing her the considerable distress and inconvenience of discovering the truth at the airport, just hours before her flight was due to leave.
Farrow’s own investigations have led her to the belief that activists may have used a technicality to get her ESTA revoked, such as claiming that she lied about the purpose of her visit (which Farrow denies). “Activists go on and on about tolerance, but where is the tolerance here?” she said. “They’re the ones trying to force the rest of us to endorse and validate their lifestyles.”
Does Farrow believe there a case for banning certain individuals from entering a country? “I never felt I had a right to enter America,” she says, “but I feel devastated that the US embassy was misled about my application, that they were led to believe that I had lied to them.”
Farrow could not reclaim the considerable cost of her trip, was given no chance to defend herself, and may never have an explanation as to precisely what happened. What makes the situation feel more like a vendetta is that other members of Caroline’s organization were not prevented from flying, even though they presumably share the same views.
My biggest fear as a writer is that we have sleep-walked into a form of totalitarianism in which our most cherished freedoms are quietly being undermined and destroyed, not by war or revolution, but in the name of a progressive agenda. A number of UK universities now have Free Speech societies to try to protect the rights of students to express unpopular opinions; I have had normally confident and outspoken friends contact me tentatively, almost fearfully, to ask my opinion on trans issues. One friend jokingly suggested that “TERFs” like her ought to wear a badge so that like-minded individuals would know they could safely talk to her.
In the meantime, activists like Farrow are on the receiving end of constant harassment and rape threats. In her words, she “lives in constant fear of a knock at the door.” She has been accused of harassing others through anonymous accounts (which she fervently denies) and of faking her own harassment. Farrow says the police, who are supposed to protect citizens going about their lawful business, have told her to “stay off social media,” which feels like a cyber form of “if you don’t want to be raped, dear, don’t go out after dark.”
In the meantime, Caroline Farrow is still seeking answers, not just from the US embassy, but from those responsible. “I was handing over a petition and I was attending a conference. What else did they think I was going to do? What sort of threat am I supposed to pose?” she asks.
The answer may be as simple as the question. Activists like Caroline Farrow are a threat because they are prepared to say what no one else wants to say or hear. The Emperor has no clothes.
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