Hampstead Ladies’ Pond is no place for men

Gender ideology has ruined my favourite women-only swimming spot.

Venice Allan

Topics Identity Politics UK

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I have become the first woman to be banned from an association representing users of a ladies’ swimming pond in Hampstead Heath, north London. The Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Association (KLPA) stripped me of my membership last week, after I objected to its decision to support biological males’ access to what is meant to be a women-only space.

Allowing transwomen into Kenwood Ladies’ Pond is yet another blow to hard-won women’s rights. Nobody knows how long people have been swimming in the deep, dark ponds on Hampstead Heath. But we do know that, for the most part, it has been a predominantly male activity. In the early 19th century, William Blake described the ponds ‘where boys to bathe delight’. When what is now the men’s pond officially opened as a swimming spot in 1893, women were only allowed in on Wednesdays. It wasn’t until 1926 that the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond opened as a single-sex swimming spot.

When I first started taking a dip there in the 1990s, I was stunned by the beauty and serenity of the place. Surrounded by a wood to shield swimmers from public view, it was a place where I and other women could bathe in peace, free of the judgments and gaze of men. It showed me the joy that a women-only space could provide.

But this joy all but evaporated in 2017. That was the year that the City of London Corporation, the local authority in charge of the ponds, announced that it would be allowing transwomen to access the ladies’ pond. Many women who had previously enjoyed the seclusion of this single-sex space immediately raised concerns about the decision. But in 2019, the CLC rubber-stamped the 2017 policy. Edward Lord, the chair of the CLC’s establishment committee, said that there ‘shouldn’t be a debate’ and that ‘transwomen are women’.

The decision of Lord – a man who identifies as nonbinary and uses they / them / their pronouns – was hardly a surprise. Far more shocking was the whole-hearted endorsement of the CLC’s decision by the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Association itself. The association ought to be protecting the interests of the pond’s female users, but instead it’s throwing women under the bus.

Things came to a head at the KLPA’s annual general meeting earlier this year. Historically, these meetings, where members get to elect committee representatives and vote on policy proposals, were sparsely populated affairs. But they’ve become considerably better-attended since 2017, when the decision to open a women-only pond to men who self-identify as women was announced. So in March this year, over 200 women, and two men who call themselves women, crammed into the large hall of Parliament Hill School to vote on a motion to restore the pond as a single-sex space.

As the meeting progressed, it became clear that those who supported allowing biological males into a women-only space heavily outnumbered those who opposed it. Gender-critical candidates for positions on the board were overlooked. When the time came, the motion to restore the pond to single-sex use was rejected.

It was at this point that I went to the microphone and asked for the opportunity to say my piece, but I was refused. So I stood on my chair and when the KLPA turned off the PA to stop my voice being amplified, I shouted as loud as I could. I accused the the KLPA of creating a ‘fantasy porn set’ for ‘perverted men’ and issued a warning: ‘When the inevitable happens, as a result of your trans-inclusive policy, that the majority of women, and, so I’m told, two men, have voted for today, and one of these men, that you’re so inclusive of, attack or rape a woman or girl, I want you to remember that you voted for that.’

My intervention caused uproar and the meeting was shut down. Two months later I received an email from the KLPA telling me that I had ‘deliberately acted against [its] interests’, and that the ‘committee has decided to unanimously revoke’ my membership.

I am still free to swim at the pond. However, I’ve made the personal decision not to do so until the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond becomes, well, a ladies’ pond again. If I want to swim with men, I will go to the pond on the other side of Hampstead Heath, which is openly mixed sex and does not masquerade as a space for women.

This pond, once a sanctuary exclusively for adult human females, has been ruined by the CLC and KLPA, by their embrace of trans ideology. They should be ashamed.

Venice Allan is a campaigner for women’s rights.

Picture by Peter S, published under a creative-commons licence.

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Topics Identity Politics UK


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