Fighting bias at the top of the Arts Council

by Denise Fahmy

Fighting bias at the top of the Arts Council

by Denise Fahmy
Denise Fahmy
Case Owner
I'm taking Arts Council England to an Employment Tribunal because I've been harassed for being gender critical. My hearing's soon - please help me win this to beat the intolerance in the Arts.
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pledged of £55,000 stretch target from 1,273 pledges
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Denise Fahmy
Case Owner
I'm taking Arts Council England to an Employment Tribunal because I've been harassed for being gender critical. My hearing's soon - please help me win this to beat the intolerance in the Arts.
Pledge now

This case is raising funds for its stretch target. Your pledge will be collected within the next 24-48 hours (and it only takes two minutes to pledge!)

Latest: May 25, 2023

The Tribunal has been heard - Now we wait for the result!

The Tribunal was heard in Leeds this and last week. There was one witness from my side - me, of course - and three from the Respondent (Arts Council England), Mr Ian Matthews (Director of HR), Mr Sim…

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My name is Denise. I've worked at Arts Council England (ACE) for over 15 years. Now I’m taking them to an Employment Tribunal because they harassed me and victimised me due to my “gender critical” beliefs.

In April 2022 there was a staff meeting in which the Deputy Director of the Arts Council accused LGB Alliance of being divisive and anti-trans.

I believe the Arts Council saw to it that an award of £9,000 made to LGB Alliance by the London Community Foundation was withdrawn. A full independent investigation has never been undertaken.

At the meeting, in front of 400 staff, I spoke out in support of LGB Alliance, questioning the Deputy's negative view and how his position that it was 'a mistake' to fund LGB Alliance effected free speech. I was deeply shocked at how biased the Deputy was, a respected gatekeeper at the very top of a public funding body, one that distributed £943 million to the Arts in 2021-22.

Not only that, I made a formal complaint of bias to the Arts Council Chairman, Sir Nick Serota. And when that was not upheld, I complained to the Secretary of State for Culture. The Arts Council's Chief Executive was twice questioned about the incident by a Parliamentary Select Committee.

But my complaint was not upheld and worse there was no independent investigation to find out what had actually happened to LGB Alliance's grant.  Apparently it's ok to slur and suggest the withdrawal of public funding from organisations if you happen to 'personally' dislike them. What's more the Deputy Director received an OBE for his efforts in the 2022 New Year's Honour's list.

It didn't end there. A few weeks later, in May, some of my colleagues saw fit to circulate a petition to all staff against me and any other 'gender criticals' working at ACE. The petition was hosted for 26 hours on the ACE staff intranet, gaining the attention of 700 staff and signatures from over 100 of them.  People signed it, and made comments, citing gender critical people like me and LGB Alliance as parasites, neo nazis, needing to be stamped out ...

I wasn’t completely alone. Lots of lovely colleagues got in touch with me to check on my well-being give me their support.  They too were horrified at the bias and the vitriol in our workplace, but scared to speak out. I raised a complaint about the petition – this was terrible harassment to experience at work. But in the end, even though the Arts Council asked me to write an Impact Statement detailing how upset I was, and despite the fact I was the only person to publicly support LGB Alliance, they decided the abuse had not been directed at me.  What's more I had no right of appeal on the decision because they had chosen not to follow the internal grievance policy.

My working environment was now toxic. I took sick leave with the stress. But in the end, I decided I couldn't take this lying down. I had seen too many people's careers and their mental health ruined by spurious allegations of transphobia, especially in the Arts.  If it was toxic in the office, I could only imagine what it’s like now for gender critical people and ‘the wrong kind of gays’ working in galleries and theatres across the country.  Actually I know what it's like because artists, performers and venue directors have been in touch to tell me - there is real fear in the Arts.

I lodged a complaint with the Leeds Employment Tribunal in September 2022.   My hearing is on 18th - 25th May. At the moment I'm representing myself. But this is an important case and I need a barrister to help me win it.

This case will show up institutional discrimination from senior public servants, trustees and a government department, against gender critical people and 'the wrong kind of gays', in fact anyone who speaks up to say that biological sex is real and important.

I desperately need legal support. With the help of LGB Alliance, I hope to raise £25,000 from mid- March to mid-April, but my stretch target, to properly meet the costs, is £50,000.  This will give me the best possible representation. I will out the appalling discrimination that has taken placed against LGB Alliance and highlight how the Arts is closing down of free speech and bullying staff and freelancers, particularly women.  I also want justice against my harassers the Arts Council so willingly facilitated.

Winning this case will mean forcing the public sector to abide by the Equality Act, applying Maya Forstater's historic win in 2020, and making sure that no public institution, including in the Arts, can bully their staff or deprive organisations of funding because of their legally held beliefs.

I have a strong case and plenty of evidence - with your help we can win this

Thanks so much 


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Update 6

Denise Fahmy

May 25, 2023

The Tribunal has been heard - Now we wait for the result!

The Tribunal was heard in Leeds this and last week. There was one witness from my side - me, of course - and three from the Respondent (Arts Council England), Mr Ian Matthews (Director of HR), Mr Simon Mellor (Deputy Chief Executive) and Mr Paul Roberts (Trustee, and Chair of Performance and Audit Committee and investigator of my complaint at ACE).

You can read brief notes from each day at Tribunal Tweets.

I am being represented amazingly by Anya Palmer and Liz McGlone. Many friends and supporters came along to observe the hearing including Leeds Resisters and LGB Alliance.

The judgement has been reserved, so we await a decision in due course, and will let you know the outcome as soon as we can.

Being in court over such a length of time was fascinating.  The environment is highly staged, every sound and movement carries weight, like a contemporary dance piece.  Speaking is a highly magnified act, as meaning and intent is drawn out of every sentence. The air is thick with emotion, exhaustion and irritation.

Giving evidence over about a day and quarter, on 19th and 22nd May, was very intense.  I was helped by Anya’s sage advice, drawn from this video, that honesty is always a tactical advantage. 

So, now we wait …

Update 5

Denise Fahmy

May 17, 2023

My hearing starts tomorrow

Just to let you know all is well, and I am looking forward to the case opening tomorrow.

Thank you to the 1,117 people who have already contributed - you have helped me bring on a fantastic legal team.  I now have a final 23% to raise, so do let people know.


Update 4

Denise Fahmy

May 6, 2023

Thank you and do keep spreading the word! Me - on video

Watch here -!AswjnzAlBRt9mxxM9hEY94GxS-XE?e=75AeF4

12 days til my case opens at Leeds Employment Tribunal.  And it's all systems go to prepare for the hearing, together with my legal team Liz McGlone and Anya Palmer.  We are confident we have a sound case, and I'm looking forward to the hearing.

@tribunaltweets will be covering the hearing which is open to the public and press.  

I've met so many people through this process and heard about the harassment others have experienced too. Sometimes it's really hard to believe the situation we've got ourselves into, when believing biological sex is real can actually lead to harassment and victimisation.  

Please keep sharing my case - I still have significant funds to raise - let people know !

I do think this is a significant case, not just for me but for the arts and public sector institutions too - but I do have to win it !

In case you missed my first TV performance - here it is !  

You can find the court listing here but you need to set up a log in

Update 3

Denise Fahmy

April 25, 2023

Me - on telly !

Hi friends 

Thanks for your support.  I have some good news.  I was able to join Andrew Doyle on Sunday at GB News' Free Speech Nation.  

You can watch it here -

It was nerve wracking as I've never been on telly before, but I felt it was a good interview and experience.

I still have a way to go to meet my legal costs - in the region of £23,000.  So spread the word and follow me at @denisefahmy 

So many have seen the importance of this case, particularly in the arts, to preserve freedom of expression and freedom from harassment in our industry.

Thanks x and do share

Denise Fahmy

Update 2

Denise Fahmy

April 11, 2023

One more month to reach my stretch target of £55k !

Today I reached £29,000 towards my final target of £55,000.  Thank you x

I now am working with Liz McGlone of Didlaw and Anya Palmer KC, preparing for my hearing in May.

Even though I reached my first target, I still need to raise a further £26,000 in the next month.  So please keep spreading the word !!

The support has been amazing - the comments from backers are sobering and speak of what’s going on, especially in the arts.

I work in the arts and lost 2 jobs last year - one for standing by a lesbian colleague who was accused of transphobia and another for asking inclusion and engagement officers not to use the word TERF as it is divisive and used to incite violence. Good luck, too many women are losing jobs xx

I work in the same sector and see this new authoritarianism and social shaming poisoning freedom of expression. ACE should be a facilitator of creativity not an arbiter of wrongthink. Good luck!

Very best with your case. These are bizarre times. After more than 20 years in film sector in Ireland have pretty much given up on it and moving on. Arts were rational, tolerant & progressive but now so ideological & unpleasant. I’ve no doubt this ideology will not triumph. 

I left my job in Education after trying to speak out against unethical practice that was counter to all the knowledge we have of child development and safeguarding. I met a wall of Institutional stitch-up. I feared the bullying you faced. I am donating because you have the bravery I lacked then.

Solidarity from another Yorkshire woman. Investigated at work after a colleague complained that I said Women's Place UK was not a hate group & women should be able to openly discuss issues that effect them. There are a lot of women who support you. Anon as can't face a 2nd vexatious investigation

I work in the arts, & it’s a nightmare! I really hope you win this, good luck.

Follow me at @DeniseFahmy

Update 1

Denise Fahmy

April 4, 2023

I've reached my target but now for the stretch !

I am so delighted to tell you yesterday, thanks to the exceptional generosity of over 760 people I reached my trigger target of £25,000.  This means the funds can now be released to my wonderful solicitor Elizabeth McGlone at Didlaw's @LizMcG_emplaw.

Finally, I can get the help I need to progress this case, and quickly too.  It's just over 6 weeks to my hearing, and I'm now busy with some very legal paperwork. 

Getting the word out has been helped a lot by Steve Bird's piece in the Telegraph

And also speaking at Manchester Women's Right Netwok after a screening of Adult Human Female 

I still have a lot more to raise in the coming weeks.  My costs are estimated at £55,000.  All contributions go directly to Didlaw's, and thankfully I don't see a penny to me.  If there is an excess, following the hearing, it will be donated to other gender critical fundraising campaigns such Dr Laura Favaro's, Kenny McBride or Prof Jo Phoenix.  It's still crazy to me that so many people are having to fight through the court's for the simplest of beliefs - that sex is immutable.

So please do continue to spread the word, as I will be too, especially amongest arts people.  It's very important to me that the arts world knows we can regain a positive, liberal and joyous sector again. 

Now, I'm sure you're desparate to hear the data on this 'campaign'.  Well, the page has been viewed 13,000 times and 55% of donors are women - how very strange ! The largest age group donating are 25 - 34 year olds.  

Thank you all !  And spread the word


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