“You can do it when you B and Q it” - just one example of a strapline, an easy-to-remember phrase that B & Q's advertising agency devised to remind us of the services B & Q offers. I guess every retailer has one, as too would charity organisations and campaign groups. "A woman's right to choose" and "trans rights are human rights" are straplines, that as a trans inclusionary feminist, are very close to my heart.
Just now, though, the right to choose and trans rights are under a massive and sustained attack. And more to the point, they are being rolled backwards at an alarming speed in many countries.
In the UK, we look in amazement at what is happening in Poland, for example. Protests in hundreds of locations - by hundreds of thousands of people - because a woman's right to abortion has been reduced. In the United States too, abortion, trans kids’ healthcare, and their right to play sports are being drastically reduced in states controlled by the Republicans.
Kids like Rebeka, an American 14-year-old trans girl, the centre of a heart-tugging video produced by the Human Rights Campaign, begging (along with her mum) that she should be allowed to play field hockey with her friends- all cis-gendered girls.
Dozens of states are rolling back or even revoking trans kid's rights - with Florida going so far as to permit schools to inspect the genitals of any child suspected of being trans and partaking in a sport alien to their birth sex.
In Arkansas, trans girls and women have been banned from participating in school sport and have given the option to healthcare professionals in the state to refuse medical treatment of LGBT+ people.
Even more alarming, a bill heard in committee in the Texas Senate recently suggested they should redefine child abuse to include (parents) administering, supplying or consenting to provide puberty suppression drugs, hormone replacement therapy, or surgical or medical procedures to anyone under 18 “for the purpose of gender transitioning or gender reassignment.” The measure would make such acts a felony, levying punishments that critics say could range from jail time to having their children taken away.
Abortion rights are also being attacked, with some states threatening doctors and mothers with criminal charges - even the ultimate charge - murder.
At the core of much of the rollback of these human rights is an organisation called the ADF - 'Alliance Defending Freedom.' They are normally back door sponsors to promote the changes in the law and legal action. However, in Connecticut, they broke ranks with their normal role - taking direct legal action themselves because of Connecticut's trans inclusion in sport policy. The website Outsports reported:
“The Alliance Defending Freedom filed suit in federal court against the Connecticut Association of Schools over its trans-inclusive policy toward student-athletes.
The ADF’s goal is to stop two trans girls of color — who they repeatedly misgendered by incorrectly labeling them as “males,” “boys”, and “biological males” — from competing against these girls who are not transgender.
Among the smiling, almost all-white faces, nobody’s was brighter than Christiana Holcomb, whose job as legal counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom is given just as much significance, according to her bio, as her role as a key member of the Center for Christian Ministries.”
But Outsports were not the only organisation to call out ADF’s involvement. The world-renowned non-profit news agency Associated Press said this:
“Legislators in more than 20 states have introduced bills this year that would ban transgender girls from competing on girls’ sports teams in public high schools. Yet, in almost every case, sponsors cannot cite a single instance in their own state or region where such participation has caused problems.
The Associated Press reached out to two dozen state lawmakers sponsoring such measures around the country as well as the conservative groups supporting them and found only a few times it’s been an issue among the hundreds of thousands of American teenagers who play high school sports.
The ADF and others like it are the behind-the-scenes backers of the campaign, offering model legislation and a playbook to promote the bills, most of them with common features and even titles, like the Save Women’s Sports Act.”
The ADF is based in Scottsdale, Arizona, and they have a genuinely massive budget to sponsor their agenda. Wikipedia reported it as over fifty-five million dollars in 2017 - in terms of pounds sterling around £40m. The ADF defends the source of their income - often it is not known who contributes to their causes - this has been referred to by other investigative websites such as Open Democracy as "dark money."
But not all of their budget is spent in the US. Some of their funds are transferred to ADF International who in Europe has headquarters in Vienna with offices in other strategic cities, including Strasbourg, Brussels, and London.
In London, ADF International (UK) has a registered office in Old Queen Street, just yards from Downing Street and Westminster, and has a company registration number of 09923116. Their last accounts, signed off by one Mr Paul Coleman, were filed at Companies House on the 13th of April 2021 and show they had a UK income of £522,323.
Mr Coleman, born in March 1985, lives in Austria, and the registered office in London is, in fact, a prestigious office space, rented out by the Argyll Club. ADF International is very open to what Coleman does, saying "
"Paul Coleman serves as executive director of ADF International from its headquarters in Vienna, overseeing the advocacy and operations of the global, alliance-building legal organization".
Coleman and ADF International target same-sex marriage, abortion rights, free speech (potentially meaning the freedom to say hate speech), and LGBT rights. They have been involved in various court cases in the UK, including Lee v Asher’s Bakery - often known as the gay cake case.
Cited from their Companies House file ADF International (UK) claims these achievements and performances.
To further the above objects and vision, the Charity engaged in several different activities in the year. To these ends, ADF International (UK) engaged in public commentary and the production of resources, public speaking, and training, engaging at a local level or with significant decision-makers.
ADF International (UK) continued to promote the resource 'Christianity in the Workplace: An Employer's Guide to Christian Beliefs', launched last year. In addition to the existing booklet, which helps employers to better integrate Christians into the workplace, ADF International UK launched a series of short educational videos to better communicate the core messages of the campaign. These videos are designed to be used by employers in staff training sessions as well as by the general public. Staff were able to present the material and provide training on a number of occasions during the year, including during a workshop in Warrington attended by 50 people from local churches, businesses, and law firms.
ADF International (UK) has continued to support several students and student groups across the United Kingdom who have been subject to unlawful censure. ADF International (UK) continues to draw the attention of the student representative bodies to their legal obligations and has supported a student in reversing a suspension from studies as a result of her involvement with a pro-life student society.
ADF International (UK) staff members have been invited to speak to various student groups on campus during this period. Such visits included lectures at Oxford and Cambridge universities regarding students' rights to affiliate, speak and book facilities.
In addition to defending and training students and student societies, ADF International (UK) has prepared a 'Free Speech' campaign to prevent ongoing attempts by universities and student bodies to censor speech and opinion on campus.
ADF International (UK) staff have continued to carefully monitor the cases coming before the courts of the United Kingdom and highlight cases which have a particular bearing on Christian principles and ethics. In particular, ADF International (UK) has prepared legal briefings on a number of cases - including Dulgheriu v The London Borough of Ealing, Ngole v. The University of Sheffield, and Whittington Hospital NHS Trust v. XX - highlighting the implications for Christians being able to live and worship in accordance with Christian principles and ethics.
ADF International (UK) staff have made radio appearances. Staff have continued to contribute opinion pieces to a variety of media outlets (&) have included The Times, The Spectator, and Spiked.
ADF International (UK) staff have participated in conferences (&) hosted a leadership development day in London for around 50 young professionals from across the UK. Those present benefited from training delivered by leaders in communications, advocacy, and politics.
ADF International (UK) has submitted responses to public consultations that assessed the status of fundamental rights in the United Kingdom. These included submissions to the consultation on the newly introduced Hate Crime and Public Order Bill (Scotland), and the Joint Committee on Human Rights inquiry regarding freedom of speech in the UK.
ADF International (UK) staff members have provided assistance in respect of a case filed at the European Court of Human Rights (Dulgerhiu v. The United Kingdom). The case concerned the extent to which Public Spaces Protection Orders can be used to criminalize speech and prayer and the case seeks to protect the freedom of Christians to pray and offer charitable assistance in accordance with their faith.
Other company officers of ADF International (either past or present) include Benjamin Bull, a lawyer. Southern Poverty Law Centre, said this about him:
Benjamin Bull has taken a position with the Plano, Texas-based anti-LGBT and anti-choice group First Liberty Institute. Bull has been charged with launching and leading First Liberty’s efforts in Washington, D.C. Bull has a long history on the anti-LGBT right, serving not only with ADF International but also in the past as general counsel of the American Family Association.
It appears, however, that Mr Bull also has close associations with other right-wing and Christian extremists’ groups with byelinetimes.com reporting:
On International Women’s Day 2021, an unlikely alliance of radical feminists and radical right activists will march on Washington D.C. to protest against an executive order from President Joe Biden, which expands the prohibition of discrimination based on sex to include gender identity and sexual orientation.
The Byelinetimes article (a must-read click HERE to see it in full) goes into great depth associating the various groups and then says this:
Concerned Women for America was set up by Beverly LaHaye, whose husband was the co-founder of a shadowy network dedicated to pushing a radical right economic and social agenda: the Council For National Policy (CNP). This highly secretive organisation has strong links to the Republican establishment and the Donald Trump regime, while its members are a who’s who guide to anti-abortion, anti-LGBTIQ organisations and radical right think-tanks.
They include Mat Staver from Liberty Counsel, Tony Perkins and Kenneth Blackwell of the Family Research Council; Alan Sears and Benjamin Bull from the ADF; Edwin J Feulner Jr from the Heritage Foundation.
The accounts of ADF International (UK) also show other names, one is being Robert Clarke, who is their International Deputy Director and an attorney who promotes ADF philosophy across many countries in the name of "Christianity."
Perhaps the scariest issue, though, is the investment the ADF, which openly channels funds to ADF International (UK) - is increasing at. Total turnover as of 30th June 2017 is recorded at circa £58k. Just two years later income had increased to £522,323
The ADF (UK) accounts tell us more about their financial position, saying this:
The Trustees are endeavouring to ensure the financial sustainability and the continued success of the Charity with a combination of measures by focussing on the development of our donor base, financial management, as well as broadening the Charity's sources of income. The Trustees hope in the medium term to move into a position where they can retain cash reserves in the region of 3 to 6 months' running costs, which would be in the region of £98,000 to £196,000. The Charity had £317,262 (2019: £236,861) of unrestricted cash reserves at the year-end, as increased donations have allowed us to continue to bolster our free reserves.
During the year, the Charity has received financial support in the form of unrestricted donations from Alliance Defending Freedom, a linked Charity in the US which operates under the same principles as ADF International (UK). The companies are not related organisations for 'group' purposes due to a different control structure. The donations do not require repayment, and Alliance Defending Freedom has confirmed that it will continue to support ADF International (UK) to meet its day-to-day liabilities as they fall due.
Trans folks and our allies will undoubtedly want to know what other litigation the ADF in the UK has been involved in - the Keira Bell case for one? In time, as ADF International (UK) is forced by company law to publish accounts, we may get to find out. But then again, perhaps not.
Questions still need to be asked.
Is ADF International (Vienna) sending funds directly to anti-LGBT groups in the UK? Is the ADF in the US sending funds to them?
And what about the pro-life (anti-abortion) groups in the UK? This article barely touches on the issue, but the ADF legal website boasts that they have helped closed dozens of abortion clinics in the US and that the ADF has the objectives to ban abortion completely. Their website says, "Abortion harms women and destroys life." Open Democracy an independent media organisation reports.
"ADF International’s UK office has publicly opposed protest-free ‘buffer zones’ around abortion clinics, supported calls for “freedom of conscience” provisions to enable medical staff to independently object to providing legal abortion services."
In short, the ADF supports pro-life supporters in the UK to be able to picket hospitals and clinics that undertake abortion - similar to what we have seen in the US.
The ADF have the utter audacity to boast about their campaigns in controlling womens & LGBT+ peoples lives, and in the next breath, by way of a blog posted by Caroline Roberts on the 29th of April, she subtitles the post "How your freedoms are under threat."
Our freedoms are indeed under threat - under threat because of the ADF!
The extent and speed of increased funding are deeply concerning. It would appear that the ADF (UK) have bottomless pockets in obtaining funds from the United States. We should also not forget that this is foreign interference of the highest order!
The ADF (UK) are clearly trying to (and succeeding) to infiltrate universities - affect our laws and get close to the government. Why else would they pay top dollar for luxury offices so close to parliament?
We worry about foreign interference from China & Russia, but for goodness’s sake, the extremist Americans are doing it right under our nose!
One thing that is very clear from this investigation is that in the not-too-distant future, British and Northern Irish women's abortion rights, LGBT+ rights, including same-sex marriage, and trans rights, the ability to control hate speech, are going to be under considerable threat.
And many good "live and let live" Christians will be appalled at this prospect, as will other faiths and non-believers.
But sadly the ADF is here to stay - and their registered office is just yards from our seat of government.
Thank you for reading my work - and thanks to my co-editors Paul, Julie & Claire for their help in preparing this article. You can follow me on Twitter at @PlaceSteph