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Arts Council England employee claims she was 'harrassed and victimised' due to her views.

Arts Council England logo
Arts Council England is facing claims a member of staff suffered harassment and victimisation
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Howard Lake

An employee of Arts Council England (ACE) is taking the organisation to employment tribunal, claiming she was harassed and victimised due to her “gender critical” beliefs.

Denise Fahmy, who has been employed by ACE for more than 15 years, said her claim relates to her speaking out in defence of LGB Alliance during an internal meeting.

The Alliance, which has been accused of being anti-trans, an allegation it refutes, is facing an ongoing challenge to its charity status, brought by transgender support charity Mermaids.

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LGB Alliance was awarded a £9,000 grant through Arts Council England’s £4.58m Let’s Create Jubilee Fund last year, which was distributed by London Community Foundation.

However, London Community Foundation subsequently withdrew the grant, saying it took the step after it became “aware that the charitable status of the organisation is being questioned”.

Writing about the case on a crowdfunding page to raise money to cover legal costs, Fahmy said she believes ACE "saw to it" that the grant funding was withdrawn, adding that a full independent investigation into what happened has never been undertaken.

She said that at a meeting of 400 ACE staff in April 2022, during which the issue was discussed, she spoke out in support of LGB Alliance and questioned the views of a senior member of staff at ACE who, she claims, "accused LGB Alliance of being divisive and anti-trans".

A source told Arts Professional that the senior member of staff speaking at the meeting was ACE's Deputy Chief Executive, Simon Mellor, adding that Mellor told those in attendance that he was expressing a personal opinion on the matter.

Formal complaint

Fahmy made a formal complaint of bias to ACE's Chair, Sir Nicholas Serota and Secretary of State for Culture Michelle Donelan - neither of which were upheld.

"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," Fahmy said. 

"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."

Fahmy said she raised a complaint about the petition, but ACE deemed that the abuse had not been directed at her. 

She said that after taking sick leave due to stress, she subsequently lodged a complaint with Leeds Employment Tribunal in September 2022. The hearing is scheduled to take place from Thursday 18 May until Thursday 25 May.

"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," Fahmy said.

An ACE spokesperson said: "We are not able to comment on ongoing legal cases however we strive to create a respectful and caring work environment for each of our colleagues."

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