Campaigners have urged the equality watchdog to investigate whether the Royal Academy of Arts discriminated against a feminist artist because of her opinions about the ‘ideology’ of gender politics.
The RA has been accused of breaching the Equality Act by removing from sale embroidered flowers by Jess de Wahls, a textile artist born in former East Germany over what it called her ‘transphobic views’.
Miss de Wahls said she was targeted by trans activists last week over an essay she published in 2019, in which she called a woman ‘an adult human female’ and criticised controversial LGBT charity Stonewall.
The RA removed her work from sale after just eight complaints were made that she was transphobic. Miss de Wahls called the institution ‘insane’ and claimed it had ‘dumped’ her in the ‘centre of a s***storm’.
Campaigners at Fair Play for Women now want the Equality and Human Rights Commission to launch an inquiry into the gallery, which has exhibited work by Botticelli, Tracey Emin and David Hockney.
The EHRC successfully intervened in the case of tax expert Maya Forstater, who was fired over tweets that criticised plans to enable people to self-identify their gender.
Nicola Williams, the founder of Fair Play for Women, has written to the watchdog, urging it to investigate ‘a possible breach of the Equality Act’.
She wrote: ‘Removing Jess de Wahls’ work from the market based on her protected beliefs is a clear infringement of her rights under the Equality Act.
The RA has been accused of breaching the Equality Act by removing from sale embroidered flowers by Jess de Wahls, a textile artist, over what it called her ‘transphobic views’
The Royal Academy issued a statement online on Thursday, in which it said it had received complaints for selling works ‘by an artist expressing transphobic views’
‘I would like the EHRC to consider taking this case as part of its strategic litigation work if the RA do not reverse their decision.’
A source close to the RA said that its chief executive Axel Ruger had written to trustees last week to say there were ‘lessons to be learnt about how to react to social media crises’ from this episode.
The source told the Sunday Times: ‘It’s tricky. It highlighted that the RA had not given enough thought to potential issues that are going to come out in society around diversity and inclusion. These things now are so sensitive and you have to be ahead of the game in PR terms.’
MailOnline has approached the RA for comment.
Miss de Wahls had criticised ‘gender identity ideology’, warning that it enforced censorship akin to that found in the former Soviet empire and had a detrimental impact on the rights of women and girls.
Though she defended the rights of transgender people, Miss de Wahls claims her work was pulled from the gift shop as a result of a ‘concerted effort’ from online activists over her alleged transphobia.
In a statement published on Instagram last week, the RA said it had received complaints for selling works ‘by an artist expressing transphobic views’ and said that Miss de Wahls’s work ‘will not be stocked in future’.
The academy added: ‘The RA is committed to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and does not knowingly support artists who act in conflict with these values. We would like to reiterate that we stand with the LGBTQ+ community’.
Miss de Wahls said she was targeted by trans activists last week over an essay she published in 2019, in which she called a woman ‘an adult human female’ and criticised controversial LGBT charity Stonewall
The Instagram statement added: ‘The RA is committed to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and does not knowingly support artists who act in conflict with these values. We would like to reiterate that we stand with the LGBTQ+ community’
Miss de Wahls wrote in 2019 that a woman is ‘an adult human female’ and ‘not an identity or feeling’, adding: ‘I can not accept people’s unsubstantiated assertions that they are in fact the opposite sex to when they were born.’
She wrote: ‘I have no issue with somebody who feels more comfortable expressing themselves as if they are the other sex (or in whatever way they please for that matter). However, I can not accept people’s unsubstantiated assertions that they are in fact the opposite sex to when they were born and deserve to be extended the same rights as if they were born as such.
‘And I do not believe that these beliefs should override existing protections that are in place as a result of the biological realities of women, since their purpose is to relieve oppression based on women’s physicalities and reproductive functions (not identity or feelings). Feelings don’t have human rights. Humans do.
‘I am also completely at a loss over Stonewall’s (the LGBTQ lobby group) updated description of transgender, seeing that, by their logic, almost anybody would fall under this category, including those that don’t identify as trans.
‘How is it okay for an organisation in Stonewall’s position to categorise somebody as transgender, even if that person doesn’t do so themselves?’
She added: ‘With everything said, I am genuinely deeply worried.
‘I worry that we have increasingly become a society where valid concerns regarding women’s rights, children’s safeguarding and freedom of speech, are being classed as hate speech to stop any debate from happening.
‘I worry because this notion of ‘wrong think’ and wrong speak’ feels eerily reminiscent of my East German childhood, and that’s actually quite terrifying.’
Maya Forstater, who won an appeal after losing her job following tweets stating trans women were ‘not women’, warned of the growth of ‘McCarthyism’ in society.
She told the Telegraph: ‘Organisations have got used to overreacting to complaints of transphobia. They need to take a deep breath, look at the Equality Act and consider that everybody has rights.’
The campaign groups Sex Matters has called on the director of the RA to reinstate Miss de Wahls’ works and apologise to the artist.
In a letter, they claimed the decision to pull her work came after a ‘handful of coordinated complaints’, adding: ‘The Royal Academy is carrying out an egregious and blatant belief discrimination against textile artist Jess de Wahls.’
Miss de Wahls is a textile artist who makes embroidered portraits, often dealing with feminism. Her work was sold in the RA gift shop, where prints of controversial artists have previously been made available for sale.
Prints of the work of Paul Gauguin, who reportedly had sexual relationships with young girls, were sold during the 2020 exhibition Gauguin and the Impressionists.
Eric Gill, an artist and sculptor now known to have sexually abused his daughters, was an associate of the RA during his lifetime.
MailOnline has approached the RA for comment.