"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


“The Masonic system represents a stupendous and beautiful fabric, founded on universal purity, to rule and direct our passions, to have faith and love in God, and charity toward man.”
— William Howard Taft

Thursday, August 02, 2018

UGLE Issues Transgender Policy



The English and international press finally found a reason to publish positive articles about Freemasonry this week, but I suspect few Masons will find cause for celebration. Societal attitudes and a rapidly shifting legal landscape in Western countries over the last few years have thrust the overwhelmingly male-only Masonic fraternity into a potential cultural and litigious minefield. In the wake of increased legal protections for those who alter their gender, our 300 year old institution is being forced reluctantly into the spotlight.

Two weeks ago on July 17th, the United Grand Lodge of England unveiled its official policy concerning Freemasons under their jurisdiction and the thorny topic of gender reassignment, i.e. transgenderism. In the last three days, articles began appearing in the press:
There are many, many more, all saying essentially the same thing.


Edward Lord

So what set this off?

UGLE Mason Edward Lord has been overseeing a gender identity drive as part of his role as chair of the City of London’s establishment committee. Lord identifies as non-binary and asks to be described by the pronoun "they.” His London committee was investigating ending sex segregation in women-only spaces like public bathrooms, dressing rooms, and locker rooms at well-known public landmarks. But in the midst of contentious online discussions over the matter it was revealed that Edward Lord is a Freemason, and his participation in the world's oldest and best known male fraternal group suddenly turned into a noisy public row. (See The Telegraph - "Gender equality campaigner defends Freemason membership".) He was branded as a hypocrite.

This has come to the forefront now because earlier this year the UGLE sought legal advice to establish its new official policy regarding gender. Their policy was actually announced about three months ago, but it was not yet formalized. The new policy and guidance was just released to their 7,000 constituent lodges on July 17th, so the press is only now just picking up the story.
According to several news sources, the UGLE is protected under English and European Union laws from legal accusations of gender discrimination because of Freemasonry's longstanding male-only admissions criteria. They are recognized in England and Wales under the law as a single-sex association.


The problem arose, however, when existing UGLE Masons chose to undergo gender reassignment, which is when English law kicked in. The UGLE's male-only status does not protect them from accusations of discrimination against current members. According to the Huffington Post article, under the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and the Equality Act 2010 a man who has joined the Freemasons cannot be excluded after transitioning because gender reassignment is a protected right under the law.

The UGLE's full policy can be found on the UGLE website HERE.

Highlights of the new gender policy include:

A candidate for admission to Freemasonry under the jurisdiction of UGLE must be a man.

Should a person who has undergone gender reassignment and has become a man apply to become a Freemason then his application must be processed in the same way as for any other male candidate.

A Freemason who after initiation ceases to be a man does not cease to be a Freemason.

A Freemason who becomes a woman is not required to resign from the Craft.
If a person resigns from the Craft then they and their dependants might no longer be eligible for some of the benefits provided by the Masonic charities now or in the future.

A Lodge may vote to exclude any member for sufficient cause. The following grounds would constitute unlawful discrimination and so could never constitute sufficient cause:
  • The fact that a member has legally become a woman;
  • A mistaken belief that a member has legally become a woman;
  • The fact that a member is in the process of transition from male to female; or
  • A mistaken belief that a member is in the process of transitioning from male to female.
  • Similarly a Lodge must not attempt to persuade a member to resign from the Lodge or discriminate against a member based on any of these grounds. A Lodge must not at any time require a member to prove that they are legally a man.
Female members should still be greeted with the prefix “brother”. Alternatives to the formal suit and tie have been allowed, including a “smart dark skirt and top.”


The question now is how will the rest of the Masonic world react to UGLE's policy. For those readers who are NOT Freemasons, UGLE is sovereign only amongst its chartered lodges. There is no worldwide governing body for the fraternity, and UGLE is just one of hundreds of jurisdictions. So saying "The Freemasons Have Changed Their Policy" applies only in English chartered lodges. 

To my knowledge, I believe there is only one single U.S. grand lodge that has spelled out in its rules that a petitioner promises he is a naturally born man and will remain so (or words to that effect). I do know it was a hot topic two years ago at the COGMMNA and that other jurisdictions were considering adding such wording to their petitions. How many have actually done so is currently unknown.

Certainly there will be U.S., African and Asian grand lodges that will agitate for yanking recognition of England now. There's no way to argue that their policy doesn't transgress the obligation most commonly sworn by Master Masons the world over. Admitting women into the fraternity under any circumstances will be widely seen as a violation of the ancient landmarks, even if it is England doing it. UGLE's historical status as the premiere grand lodge won't shield them in this situation, even if they insist that they are only following the law of their country. In reality, UGLE was between a rock and a hard place.

From a purely pragmatic and crassly economic standpoint, resignations by angry existing members as a result of this change will no doubt far outnumber any initiations by trans-men and sympathetic-minded new petitioners. And there is a massive undercounted number of conservative and religious objectors who will doubtless become quite vocal as this proceeds. The arrival of a Brother in “smart dark skirt and top” at the Tyler's door in the U.S. will probably not go well. Bear in mind that all regulations are still in place regarding anonymous 'ball and cube' voting for candidates, and objections to visitors.

On the other hand, many younger Freemasons have expressed the opinion online that this is merely a natural progression of society. In my own informal look at online discussions over the last few days I have noticed the sentiment that trans-men (women who have become men) are far more likely to be accepted and welcomed as Masons than existing male members who have become trans-women.  It appears that even the most open-minded and sympathetic Masons almost completely draw the line at permitting trans-women to remain in the fraternity, since the admission of women is vastly regarded as irregular, regardless of how the degrees were conferred originally. However, whether this sentiment translates into votes within grand lodges around the world when it comes time to alter rules in each jurisdiction is a very different question. 

And then, of course, there is the law which must either be complied with, or fought out in the courts and the halls of governments.

Voluntary associations are a tricky business these days when they clash with "social justice warriors" and government bureaucracies. Laws passed to stamp out "discrimination" can often lead to the death of an organization when forced to give up its longstanding foundational precepts. Moreover, laws can't force people to accept or socialize with others they don't like, don't agree with, or feel uncomfortable around, no matter how pure-hearted the intent. 

Regardless of what occurs going forward, UGLE has thrown down the gauntlet now. I suspect phones are ringing and heads are exploding in grand lodge offices all over the globe. 

19 comments:

  1. Gender issues in Masonry dominated the presentations at the seminar in Washington hosted by the World Conference on Fraternalism just a few weeks ago. The videos are at http://www.ipsonet.org/conferences/ritualconference-main/wcf-2018-videos

    One speaker was Brother/Sister Olivia Chaumont, who had been extremely active in European Masonry as a man before becoming a woman, which precipitated the decision by various French lodges to admit women. She certainly is a fascinating and extremely scholarly speaker, with a generosity towards critics of the growing transgender involvement in formerly all male and all female movements. She believes that Masonry has a special and highly useful role to play in supporting the transgender cause.

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  2. I once heard a Doctor of Social Science say she would probably remain silent if she discovered a social truth she thought might greatly upset the public and threaten the very well being of society.

    "You can't handle the truth"!, came to mind. Well, one of the jobs of a Grand Master Mason is to help his members to find, follow, and determine what "truth" is and how to use it in this world as a Mason for the benefit of all. So yeah, our leadership has a full plate dealing with this issue. I cannot think of one VSL (volume of sacred law) which may support gender reassignment or homosexual activity of any kind, except one; The Book of the Law, by (dictated to Crowley) Aleister Crowley. The holy book for Thelemites.

    This is a slippery slope. Terms like "non-binary" and "they" (in my opinion) have no place in regular Freemasonry. It is nonsense. It is based on the premise that men and women are not really different at all. Not emotionally, mentally, or physically. Complete nonsense. Yes, I realize there may be a few medical exceptions.

    But really, Masonic candidates must (or should) be SPONSORED. How well did we know those candidates we sponsored years ago or during one of those "one day classes"? Or maybe the bigger question is, how well did they know themselves? Seems like there are no easy answers. However, there is nothing stopping you from getting to know your candidates better. Discussing religion or politics with your Brothers or potential Masonic candidates,OUTSIDE of LODGE, is allowed. Sure, maybe he may still decide on gender reassignment later on but at least you may be less surprised.

    The topic of sex and how to deal with it has troubled mankind for centuries. If left uncontrolled or unmanaged, it can topple entire governments. Brothers, do not allow it to topple regular Freemasonry.

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    1. Thomas Johnson's comments pretty much sum up my feelings on the matter.

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  3. Brother Johnson, without getting into various passages in Hindu and Jain and Zoroastrian scriptures, one notes in the Bible

    1 Samuel 18:1:

    And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. (KJV)[15]

    And 2 Samuel 1:26:

    I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women. (KJV)[16]

    The slippery slope might be interpreting the vast literature of sacred scriptures of the many religions to prove something by exegesis of ancient writings.

    Not so long ago the notion of a couple living together without getting married was highly objectionable to many. It still is in some religions. We have created an enormous prison population by jailing people for possession of a plant which both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew in their gardens. Divorce was so offensive that the Queen as Supreme Governor of the Church of England and the Episcopal denomination would not allow divorced people into areas near her like the royal enclosure at Ascot, until three of her own children got divorced and that rule disappeared.

    I am more fearful of our personal lives being controlled or managed and for the lives ruined by our prejudices than I am of letting people have their own personal space.

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  4. It's worth noting, that the Grand Lodges of Scotland and Ireland will likely follow with policies as they are also bound by the same laws as UGLE - and it's almost certain that the three will have consulted beforehand as they have regular meetings about items of mutual interest. Working on the assumption that they end up with similar statements, are the US GLs going to withdraw recognition from all three?

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  5. I feel that changes are coming to rapidly, and that won't be good for the fraternity.

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  6. “For most people under 50, the variety of gender identities people claim today seem no big issue. Such is not the case for many older people, and the conservative character that all too often dominates the Masonic community, especially in North America, where it often is reactionary, has not made adjusting to modernity pleasant or smooth sailing for the fraternity. Male Craft Masonry might uncharitably be called "the Brotherhood of the Ostrich" for so often burying its head in the sand.

    [...]

    Of course, the writing is on the wall. It is necessary for the Craft to move into the 21st century. Regardless of how many of the old guard fall on their own swords, women will inevitably follow.“

    http://hedgemason.blogspot.com/2018/08/genderbending-freemasonry.html

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  7. I guess I do not quite understand how freedom of association (or whatever the legal term is in GB) can be used to exclude a woman from membership, as a candidate, but not after gender reassignment. "She" is actually NOT being discriminated against as a transgender person (which, as I understand it, is the prohibition) but merely as a woman...the same basis upon which she would have been excluded as a candidate. How is this different from the expulsion of a person who would lie about being a man, to become a member, and later be discovered? I suppose some research on British law is in my future!

    It seems that the law is ever more inclined to hold only institutions--but rarely individuals--accountable for the consequences of their decisions and actions.

    "Getting to know" a petitioner is helpful, but only to a point. It would be my guess, when US courts get around to ruling on the issue, that excluding a person from membership, after coming to know of his inclination (interest? intent?) to undergo gender reassignment, would likely be deemed discriminatory as well.

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  8. The question may very well boil down to whether or not a GL uses the words "man" and "woman" instead of "male" and "female." The fact that a male chooses to become a trans woman does not change the GENETIC fact that they are still a "male" genetically, although they PHYSICALLY appear to be a woman. Same thing the other way around for females that choose to become a trans man. If you look at the constitution and bylaws of the GL's, it may well depend on whether they use male/female or man/woman in their verbiage. If a man takes the degrees of freemasonry as a man and later becomes a trans woman, then there is no particular violation of the rules because they weren't a woman in the ceremonies. A woman, before deciding to become a trans man will NOT have undergone the degrees anyway, so it is a completely different situation. However, if the Constitution and ByLaws stipulate male/female, then you have a completely different situation because the trans activity does NOT change their genetic makeup as a male/female.

    Interestingly, when we talk about other single sex groups being required to admit members of the opposite sex, I'm always drawn back to the college campus fraternities and sororities. I'm absolutely sure that no sorority will "welcome" any male into their all-woman environment; likewise, fraternities the same for the idea of admitting a female. And, there are way too many alumni that are members of these groups and are in positions of power and authority to force the groups to admit the other sex. That may change over time, but the idea is that there is a good reason for single sex organizations - both kinds.

    Bill Hickey
    Boulder, CO

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  9. I can't hold my words the moors accepted the Europeans in the yr 700 today with the topic at hand big mistake.just some years back the grand lodge of England wanted to disband the knights templar. I myself as a FREEMASON am against accepting transgenders / homosexuals into the lodge' don't force your i'll will upon people who don't accept your illness!!!!!
    Everyone has forgotten the law of YAHWEH Deuteronomy 23:1

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    1. Brother, homosexuality is not a 'lifestyle' as you phrase it, and if we're going to talk about homosexuality in the old testament I'm going to want to raise the issue of adulterers, mixed fabrics and so on. You can't just pick and choose biblical passages to suit your particular worldview...

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  10. Some context.

    In England, gender and sexuality are not seen as huge cultural issues in the same way these issues are in the United States. LGBT equality enjoys broad, cross-partisan support. The law allows gender recognition - in which case the person's sex becomes, for all purposes, that of the acquired gender. The law outlaws discrimination on grounds of gender reassignment - which is defined broadly and protects people from the moment they think about going through the process.

    Finally, the gender recognition law has criminal penalties if someone in an official capacity, which includes voluntary organisations, discloses information about an application for gender recognition or, once granted, details of someone's gender history.

    And that's the position the UGLE finds itself in. "Born male and remain so" isn't an option.

    This clearly causes difficulties: the UGLE's own criteria for grand lodge recognition says that lodges must be composed exclusively of men. Trans women are women. And if you don’t agree with that, then are trans men men?

    Personally:

    no obligation I have ever taken said anything about women. And we’ve been using this ritual since the 1820s. The exclusion of women has no moral significance whatsoever - it’s just what organisations did in the 1700s. There are societies far older than Freemasonry (e.g. the ancient craft guilds of British cities) that very recently (last 30 years) decided that women could join, and the sky has not fallen in.

    As masons we are required to be exemplary in the discharge of our civic duties. We cheerfully conform to the laws of the country in which we reside, and submit to the decisions of the supreme legislature. According to the the old charges, submitting to the law of the land takes priority over everything.

    It seems awfully mean spirited to exclude transgender brothers at the time they might be suffering a crisis.

    David Baker, London, UK.

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  11. Brother Rich, as a member of the "Order of the Secret Monitor" (English Constitution), I am well aware of the two passages from scripture you quoted. But it may not have anything to do with 'Physical' attraction or homosexuality. If you see it as something else, that is fine. Even if it is as you may be implying (but I doubt it is) , I still have seen no evidence that such behavior is explicitly condoned, encouraged or sanctioned by scripture, except possibly, Crowley's Book of the Law.

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  12. There is evidence that women participated significantly in operative lodges in the period 1300-1700, and indeed they still do today in those lodges that are part of the Compagnonagge movement in Europe: This is touched on in two presentations introduced by Professor Margaret Jacob See

    "Restoring the Compagnonnage to Fraternal History: Further Considerations"
    Margaret Jacob, Chair

    "The Stone and the Compass: The Company of the Humanity of the Stonemasons of Tours: Cross Paths Between Companion, Mutualism, and Freemasonry"
    Jean Michel-Mathonière, Center for the Study of Compagnonnages in Avignon

    -- videos at http://www.ipsonet.org/conferences/ritualconference-main/wcffh-2017-videos

    as well as

    Savoirs et emblèmes du savoir chez les compagnons tailleurs de pierre à la fin de l'Ancien Régime (Translation: Knowledge and Symbols of Knowledge Among Stone Cutters at the End of the Ancient Regime)

    Above at http://www.ipsonet.org/conferences/ritualconference-main/wcffh-2015-conference-videos

    This is not part of the anecdotal history of women who overheard Masonic rituals while inside grandfather's clocks !! and were initiated to protect secrecy. nor is it part of the discussion of co-masonry and women's masonry during the Enlightenment. Rather, it is part of the discussion of operative crafts during the later Middle Ages. Women continue today as part of this ritualistic operative tradition and are the presiding heads of the companion houses or lodges in many European cities.

    American Masonic history almost completely ignores this material and hence discusses gender issues without reference to it. See https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1542-734X.1997.00105.x

    There are indeed lots of 19th century photographs showing women as lodge members. See http://www.museecompagnonnage.fr/compagnonnage-esprit-an.html

    Now, just what the links between operative and speculative fraternalism were and are can be vigorously debated and are, though not alas in light of much real research in Masonic circles, but it certainly does introduce a whole different perspective on the gender discussion and raises questions about the assertion that the Craft has been or is historically an entirely male society. Unfortunately Masonic history buffs are absent from the various scholarly groups discussing medieval life and its aftermath, a conversation where operative masonry's literature figures.

    Certainly the issues involving homosexuality, lesbianism, transgenderism can be discussed as they involve Freemasonry, but in doing so let us not invoke a nonexistent past of exclusion.


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  13. Let me add that the challenge of always following UGLE is pointed up by the confusion over accepting its strange new symbol of hovering compasses over floating square, which is like renaming Coca Cola as Mixed Fizz or Massachusetts as Cranberry Land. Given how proud we are of Masons in the Revolution, American decisions should be made by rational reasoned discussion rather than by by the fact that the English selected their life grand master partly because he was born to Princess Marina of Greece and became the Queen's cousin. Albeit he is a decent responsible hard working chap. We are such a diverse and very old movement that we invariably tie ourselves in knots when someone mentions landmarks.

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    1. A lot of US GL's aren't known for 'rational' decisions or discussions - given as they are to the whim's of the annually changing GM

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  14. "I cannot think of one VSL (volume of sacred law) which may support"
    Eyeglasses.
    Prosthetic limbs.
    Divorce.

    Etc.

    All sorts of things which aren't supported (referenced positively, if at all) in any of the holy books of the Christians, Jews, or Muslims.

    But then again, I'm not claiming to know what all the holy books in the world discuss, unlike others.

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  15. Yay to Paul Rich!

    Seriously: in medieval England the main reason women weren't listed as members of the ancient craft guilds was the common law doctrine of coverture: married women were, legally, the same person as their husband. Mrs John Smith! Yet unmarried women could practice professions separately, as could widows.

    There's a Margaret Mason listed in the rolls of freemen of the City of York. The customary law of the City of London allowed women to practice their trade - and be sued - separately from the protection and cover of their husband.

    There's a decent history out there that suggests that actually women were far more involved in their crafts than public records let on - and that actually a lot of the problem was caused when people like Blackstone codified the English common law in the 18th century.

    The courts of equity found plenty of reasons to allow women rights separate from their husband.

    Freemasonry is, clearly, famous for its animosity towards women members. But is that not just because that's how things roll in the 1720s? And if the itinerant operative masons didn't have women members is that just because their apprentices had to lift great big enormous rocks to the tops of cathedrals?

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