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A world-famous British literary prize fell prey to the cancel culture virus in response to another anti-woman campaign by trans activists. Emma Nicholson, who was one of those who established the Booker Prize, was targeted for removal by those outside of the organization who disapprove of her views.
The Prize complied, stating "We have today decided that these titles and roles should, with immediate effect, cease to exist. Those holding them have been informed and thanked for their longstanding interest." This stripped Nicholson of her title as honorary vice-president, a role she had held since she retired from the Board in 2009.
The novelist Susan Hill, herself a former Booker judge, and a stellar list of prizewinning authors, were among 500+ signatories protesting against Nicholson's removal.
Baroness Emma Nicholson is a Conservative peer of the House of Lords, and a humanitarian with a lifetime record of supporting good causes, in particular the suffering of women and children. She has helped to save Romanian orphans, Yazidi women and girls held as sex slaves by ISIS, and victims of genocidal rape. She adopted a boy disfigured in the Iraq war.
Nicholson helped her late husband, Sir Michael Caine, to set up the Booker Prize.
Within 24 hours of the trans activists’ co-ordinated complaints, led by fiction author Damian Barr, and L'Oreal model Munroe Bergdorf, the Booker Prize hastily stripped Nicholson of her honorary vice-presidency.
Trans activists proceeded to send her pornographic, abusive tweets.
The trans activists claimed that they campaigned for Nicholson’s cancellation because they objected to her having voted in Parliament against equal marriage in 2013, something which she did because of her Catholic beliefs. This struck observers as strange, because Barr’s group didn’t make any objection to the presence of David Willetts as a current trustee of the Booker foundation. Willetts’ record of voting against LGBT campaigns is far more extensive and sustained than Nicholson’s, yet he remains conspicuously un-cancelled, and free to continue working for the literary prize.
A key difference between Nicholson and Willetts, which critics claimed would explain the disparity in treatment, was that Nicholson recently became a high-profile voice in the conflict of rights debate between feminists and trans activists. She has publicized her prolific and effective letter-writing, to politicians and business leaders captured by trans ideology, on Twitter. She first waded into the debate in the spring, just as JK Rowling ramped up her public commitment to speaking out in defense of women’s rights.
In response to the allegations of homophobia and transphobia, Nicholson denied that these terms captured who she is, saying that she has changed her mind about equal marriage since the vote in 2013. She issued a public apology to Bergdorf for the offending tweet, and invited the trans activist to discuss their differences over tea.
It is no co-incidence that Nicholson is connected to JK Rowling—the most high-profile victim of an attempted cancellation campaign by trans activists and their allies–via the children’s charity Lumos which they established together. While Rowling has proved too big to cancel since publishing her essay, and has held firm to her woman-centred political beliefs, Nicholson was a softer target.
Critics of the Booker decision say that she was a proxy target for trans activists enraged that one woman can speak her mind about the threat to sex-based rights posed by trans activism, without being unceremoniously stripped of her livelihood and social status.
In the days subsequent to Booker’s cancellation of Nicholson, Damian Barr crowed on social media about his moral victory over her, as if a great wrong had been righted, and a terrible figure had been toppled by his morally courageous stand. And then came the twist. Intrepid hypocrisy-hunters unearthed a number of Barr’s hateful tweets.
The plot thickened when it emerged that, while Damian Barr and Munroe Bergdorf campaigned for Nicholson’s removal because she had, on Twitter, referred to Bergdorf as a "strange creature"—inspired by Shakespeare's first sonnet—it transpired that Barr's Twitter account was hardly the last word in purity. Since 2013, he had referred to transsexuals with the outmoded term "tranny," and made a bleak attempt at humour, mocking the suicide of a transexual man.
Barr also frequently referred to women as "b*tches" and "whores," although his apparent misogyny was left mostly unremarked on by media outlets. Such public language exemplifies casual misogyny, which would go some way to explain why Barr targeted Nicholson, leaving Willetts in peace. In a deeply ironic twist, Willetts himself signed off on Booker’s decision to distance from Nicholson.
Concerned by the implications of Booker’s decision for freedom of expression, its apparent sexist bias, and their readiness to cancel a women's rights campaigner at the behest of trans activists, a group of authors (including me) wrote an open letter to the Booker Prizes calling upon them to apologize to Nicholson, and reinstate her as honorary vice-president.
However, despite sacking Nicholson within 24 hours of soliciting complaints from trans activists, eight days after receiving the open letter on 6th July, the Booker foundation is yet to acknowledge receipt of the letter, let alone respond formally to the authors. The Booker Prizes issued two similar statements on the day on which they stripped Nicholson of her title and publicly dissociated themselves from her.
They said "We, the Trustees of the Booker Prize Foundation, met today and wish to reiterate that the views expressed by Baroness Nicholson on transgender people are her own personal opinions. The issues are complex, but our principles are clear. We deplore racism, homophobia and transphobia—and do not discriminate on any grounds.”
It seems that, when it comes to sex discrimination against women, Booker has a conspicuous blind spot.
Then, they clarified that her honorary position had no impact on the judging of the Booker prize—indeed, gay male authors won the prize during her years of active involvement. They said "She is not involved in selecting the judges nor in choosing the books that are longlisted, shortlisted and win."
This would seem to go against their reasons for cancelling her. If she had no influence, why was it so important to get rid of her? Booker stood quietly by as Barr and others publicly pilloried Nicholson, despite the work she had done for Booker, and all of their work for other good causes. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that they saw fit to punish a woman for expressing heretical, woman-centred views.
Critics accused the Booker of behaving in a discriminatory manner, exhibiting bias in favour of the trans activists, and of operating a sexist double standard to women's detriment. Some suggested they were wrong to publicly humiliate a respected figure for an historic position taken because of her religious beliefs.
The open letter said "We cannot believe that the Booker endorses Barr’s behaviour as representing the values of the Booker Prize where Nicholson’s did not... The Booker Prizes are not a vehicle for advancing the aims of individuals, nor of setting personal agendas. As writers, as readers, and as citizens deeply proud of being the home of the greatest literary prize in the world, we ask you to reconsider the Booker’s position in the light of all the new information."
At the time of writing, Booker has kept silent, perhaps pondering how to save face while also saving its reputation as a bastion of literary freedom and humanistic values.
As for Damian Barr, he continues to enjoy his bully pulpit, TV show and literary salon at a Saudi-owned luxury hotel, untroubled by scruples.