A trans woman in the UK has found herself at the center of an online, gender-critical backlash after taking on a new work role. Steph Richards [above], 71, was recently appointed CEO of a charity called Endometriosis South Coast. It helps those affected by endometriosis and adenomyosis.
When news of Richards’ new role emerged, it quickly prompted a firestorm of criticism. This extended beyond X and included some sections of the press.
Writing in the Daily Mail, Milli Hill said, “I do not believe it is an exaggeration to say that no man, not even a caring husband whose wife suffers from endometriosis, can ever fully understand all the physical and psychological implications. For a trans woman to imply she has an innate right to represent women with endometriosis is insulting and cruel.”
Richards took to X to post a response to her critics and to put her appointment in context.
“Endometriosis South Coast (ESC) are a small local charity with an annual income of around £8,000 [$10,000]. Our team consists of six trustees and five volunteers, all of whom were assigned female at birth and myself,” Richards said.
“None of us are paid a salary; we do it to improve the lives of those who suffer Endo.
“In the UK, 10% of those assigned female at birth suffer from this awful disease, which, via the NHS, takes on average eight years to diagnose. The cost to the economy every year is £8.2 billion, but honestly, how do you put a price on pain?
“Our chair at ESC suffers from Endo very severely and is currently working towards her endometriosis research PhD – understandably, she wants to take a step back.
“The trustees decided that the organisation needed an activist with a proven record to drive the charity forward and advocate for a women’s health hub in our city, and when asked, I duly obliged – I feel very honoured; thank you @EndoSouthC.”
My statement in regards to media interest in my appointment as CEO of Endometriosis South Coast— Steph Richards: (She/her). (@PompeySteph) November 14, 2023
Endometriosis South Coast (ESC) are a small local charity with an annual income of around £8000. Our team consists of six trustees and five volunteers, all of whom were assigned…
“My birth sex doesn’t come into it …..my CV [resume] does,” Richards continued.
“CEO’s are appointed by boards/trustees because of their ‘skill set’, not because of their sex (note I have a GRC [Gender Recognition Certificate]).”
“Many gynaecologists are men — I don’t see any headlines about them”
Richards then went on to point out that people have led bigger health charities without comment, even if the clients they serve are primarily of a different sex.
“There are numerous examples of charities/organisations employing CEO’s whose sex doesn’t correspond with those they serve – look no further than Laura Kerby at Prostate Cancer UK and Simon Cook at MSI Reproductive Choices.”
“Many gynaecologists are men — I don’t see any headlines about them. Some midwives are men — I don’t see any headlines about them either. And how about the male paramedic who may deal with miscarriage or prolapse — there are no headlines about them either. Am I wrong?
“No, I am not.
“I do believe the complaints against me are transphobic.”
In a phone call to INTO, Richards said she was “gobsmacked” at the furor her appointment had caused. She said she initially found the reaction “traumatizing.”
It’s not the first time she has received hatred online. She says she began her medical transition 13 years ago. She later set up the trans support organization, Translucent. This alone has prompted gender-critical comments online.
It was when Translucent won an honor last year at a UK diversity awards ceremony that Richards first met the team from Endometriosis South Coast. Both organizations are based in the seaside city of Portsmouth.
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a medical condition where tissue similar to the uterus lining grows outside the uterus, causing pain, inflammation, and potential fertility issues. Each month these cells react in the same way to those in the womb, building up and then breaking down and bleeding. Symptoms include pelvic pain, painful periods, and pain during intercourse.
Richards has a background of she has a background of working in women’s healthcare for much of the last 20 years. However, she admits she wasn’t an expert in endometriosis at the time she met the ESC team. She decided to become involved and quickly learned from the experiences of others. What Richards discovered left her angry.
“I didn’t realize how bad it was for women with endometriosis to get a diagnosis, which can be around eight years on the NHS. Or how debilitating it is. I didn’t realize that one in ten women suffer from endo to some extent. I didn’t realize there’s no cure for it or how difficult it is to diagnose.
“The whole issue of endo really made me quite cross, that women’s health care was basically as bad as trans healthcare, which in the UK is shocking.”
Richards describes herself as a human rights activist rather than a trans rights activist.
“Trans is just a part of who I am.”
She’s also confident in her abilities to advocate for women. She’s been the Women’s Officer for the Portsmouth Labour Office (the UK equivalent of the Democratic Party) for the past three years.
“That’s an elected position. You don’t just turn up. If I didn’t do a good job for them I’d be kicked out. And I’ve not been kicked out.”
Appointment leads to huge boost in donations
Endometriosis South Coast is standing by its new CEO. Richards and the charity’s chair, Jodie Hughes, appeared on BBC’s Women’s Hour radio show last Thursday. Asked if she regrets Richards’ appointment, Hughes said, “Absolutely not.”
“It will still be me fronting the charity,” said Hughes. “I will be the face of the charity; Steph is here to do the running of the day-to-day.”
After the initial shock of the backlash, Richards says she’s found the negative reaction “empowering”. It’s driving her to really put ESC on the map. She’s already planning lots of initiatives for 2024. The media attention has also had a very unexpected but welcome consequence.
“Incredibly, I had a meeting with the chair today and we’ve had more donations in the last week than we got in the entirety of 2022,” Richards says. “One year’s worth of donations came into the charity in one week.
“There are a lot of people who realize this is about transphobia and nothing else.”
As the first openly transgender (and fa’afafine) professional footballer, Jaiyah Saelua represented trans folks and Samoans in soccer.
In 2017, Jenkins made history as the first out Black trans woman elected to public office in the US.
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