Opinion: Why I Was at the Fly the Flag Event in Portsmouth

Over the weekend of 16th/17th October 2021, the FiLiA feminist conference took place at Portsmouth Guildhall, while outside demonstrators gathered to protest in support of trans rights at the Fly the Flag demonstration. Here, Deborah Shaw explains why she attended the protest outside the Guildhall.

On 16th and 17th October 2021 there was a feminist conference run by the FiLiA organisation at Portsmouth’s Guildhall. As a feminist academic and a lesbian, I should have welcomed this event, and I certainly commend the work and research done by many attendees. Why then did I attend a concurrent event outside this conference, the Fly the Flag event?

I was aware that many of my feminist friends, non-binary people, trans people and trans allies had many concerns about FiLiA and the conference being held in our City. I did some research into FiLiA to understand this concern and I  noted that while many of the blogs on their website are very valuable, other blogs on their site were authored by “gender critical” feminists and are, in my view, trans exclusionary. I also noted that many FiLiA volunteers support the LGB Alliance, which its critics claim “exists solely to differentiate between LGB (lesbian, gay and bisexual people) and Transgender people”, and that a key volunteer is associated with “Get the L Out”, a lesbian activist group that has been described as including ‘anti-trans’ protesters.

This brings me to why I, an academic at Portsmouth University, attended the Fly the Flag event in a personal capacity. It really is about what kind of feminism I and the academics I work with believe in: an intersectional and trans-inclusive feminism. For us violence against women, including violence against trans women, and trans and cis men stems from toxic masculinity which we are all against. This systemic oppression is an issue we should come together over. For us there is no conflict between trans rights and cis women’s rights, and I agree with trans feminist and author Julia Serrano on this point.

It appears as if trans rights are a central point of debate about inclusion or exclusion in contemporary society.  This in itself is a problem as too often trans people are not invited to these debates and involve people who do not know them excluding them and distorting their lived experiences. I also question the whole concept of debate in terms of discussing other people’s identities. In the media trans people rarely get to speak about the oppression they experience, and are expected to debate on the terms of those who are hostile towards them, as Shon Faye has argued.

Controversial Drawings

At the event the organisers had chalk for people to use (a mistake in hindsight?) and it appears that there were a few misogynist drawings, and an offensive banner addressed to trans exclusionary feminists. I was there on Saturday morning and did not see them, and a colleague of mine was there all day and also did not see them. That is not to say that they were not there, but they did not capture my experience; I saw people writing “trans rights are human rights”, and banners expressing support for trans rights. Nonetheless, the few offensive images are what gender critical feminists seized on and these drawings flooded my Twitter feed, those of my friends who attended, and their social media posts in an attempt to invalidate those who wanted to express their support for trans rights in a peaceful way. They also ignored the fact that the organisers of the event did not endorse them or support them; Steph, a trans woman activist of Steph’s Place   explicitly called for a peaceful event and for no one to cause offense.

Screenshots from Steph’s Place on Twitter, used with permission.

My experience on Twitter with being at Fly the Flag demonstrated that while some feminists who appear obsessively hostile to trans rights are very keen to flood social media with images of any attacks on them, however non-representative, they are less worried about making attacks on feminists who support trans rights. I was told on Twitter that I support rape culture, and that I cannot be taken seriously as a feminist, despite working as a feminist academic throughout my career. One sign and a few drawings do not represent a demonstration, but you would not know this from the social media interaction.

To single out, exclude and vilify trans and non-binary people causes much pain to those of us who are trans inclusive feminists and more so to trans and non-binary people themselves. They are too often the subject of misinformation, discrimination and violent attacks. I was there for them as I do not want my city to be associated with transphobia and I want them to know I support them. I want to be in the conference hall sharing my research, but I have to know that my trans and non-binary friends and students are supported.

Feminism has to be a broad movement and be inclusive if it is to thrive and engage with all generations. Let’s fight domestic violence, rape culture, and femicide, let’s fight sexual abuse and harassment, let’s work to protect girls and young women from being drugged in bars and clubs; let’s protect boys from toxic masculinity; let’s fight homophobia and transphobia; let’s support non-binary and trans members of our communities. There’s much work to do; let’s do it together.


This article is published alongside this piece from Rosy Bremer, who explains why she attended the FiLiA conference and shares her experiences of the event.

Image credit: Kat Love via Pixabay.


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