Choice matters

Donald Taylor, Head of Legal Services at UGLE, explains the thinking behind UGLE’s Gender Reassignment Policy and its practical applications

Why has UGLE developed a Gender  Reassignment Policy?

We wanted to assist members to understand and comply with the law. This is not like other areas of discrimination law, where much of the time what is lawful and what is not is understood. For many of us, gender reassignment is outside our experience and knowledge. The second reason for the policy is that we need to give consistent messages for the media, which often misrepresents Freemasonry. This policy helps to educate the media and the public that many of the prejudices they may hold about Freemasonry are wrong. Freemasons have diverse views on this topic, but should be very proud of the compassion and courtesy with which they treat other people.

What are the main elements of UGLE’s Gender Reassignment Policy?

Equality law impacts the way we operate in two main areas in relation to gender reassignment. First, admission. Lodges under UGLE admit men and only men. Now we need to be precise about what we mean by a man. We must use the legal definition: somebody born a man but also someone whose birth certificate states ‘female’ but has since undergone the legal process of changing gender. If a new member was born female but has changed gender, he is as eligible as any other man, providing he meets the other requirements. 

The second area is retention. Equality law allows bodies like the Women’s Institute and Freemasons’ Lodges to discriminate on gender at the point of admission, but it doesn’t allow them to discriminate after entry. That means a Freemason who becomes a woman is entitled to remain a member of her existing lodge(s).

What should a lodge secretary do if a Freemason says that he is planning to change his gender?

Nothing. We don’t collect information on gender and it is a private matter for the individual. The privacy of the individual should be respected and there will normally be no requirement to inform the Metropolitan, Provincial or District Grand Secretary or the Grand Secretary about this change.

Should a Freemason who has switched gender automatically transfer to female Freemasonry?

If an individual requests information about contacting female Freemasonry, we will assist and, if it is desired, support her to transfer, but the secretary has to be led by the individual. No member should be pressured to resign from her lodge simply because she is no longer male. Whether she wants to remain with her lodge or move to female Freemasonry, it’s entirely her choice.

If a Freemason is changing gender to female does she need to inform her lodge secretary?

A Freemason changing gender only has to think about what she wants to do. If the member wants to announce to the lodge that she has changed her name or title, then that is fine, but it should be left entirely up to her. 

What should other Freemasons do if one of their members has changed gender?

This can be a tricky time, when people often need support and sometimes lose friends or family, so if a lodge can offer support it’s a wonderful thing to do. Some people feel uncomfortable with gender reassignment and we respect their views, but a Freemason should always strive to act lawfully and with courtesy to others.

Is this the last word on the issue?

No. The law in this area is liable to change, and policy and guidance may be amended from time to time. But the fundamentals will remain, of masonic values and of being sensitive to anyone affected by this topic, at least until you know them well enough to know which comments and jokes are acceptable to them and which are not. 

What is the thinking behind this policy?

Ultimately, this is a topic that won’t affect many lodges and is no threat to Freemasonry and its values. But we must ensure we apply the law correctly. It’s also an area where we can demonstrate the shared values of Freemasonry to the public. UGLE is not telling anybody what to think or feel, but Freemasons have to act within the law. And no matter how much a Freemason may disagree with somebody, they should still treat them with respect, dignity and compassion.

Published in UGLE

Freemasonry on file

With new data protection laws putting personal data, privacy and consent in the crosshairs, Donald Taylor, Head of Legal Services at UGLE, explains the impact on the day-to-day running of lodge business

What do Freemasons need to know about the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)?

There’s been a lot of foolishness from other organisations about data protection, but actually not a lot has changed. Members entrust us with their data, and we always strive to be worthy of that trust. That was the case before the new law and it’s the case now. So, we are determined to comply with the law in a way that minimises red tape, as we really don’t want to impose new burdens on our members except where absolutely necessary.

How does Grand Lodge currently use data?

We use data in the way Freemasons would expect, which is to facilitate the administration of the organisation. At the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE), we have a data protection policy that explains how we use the data – that is set out on the website. The important things to remember are that we never sell data and we never share it outside Freemasonry without the individual’s consent. 

What about lodges? Do they need a policy?

All lodges should adopt a data protection notice. We have circulated to Metropolitan Grand Lodge, Provinces and Districts a template data protection notice for lodges together with draft guidance in the form of a Q&A for lodge Secretaries. The template will need to be adapted by each lodge if it holds or uses data for any purpose not covered by the template. The notice must contain contact details so that lodge members can ask queries or request a copy of their personal data.

What else do lodge Secretaries need to know?

Essentially, members’ details should only be used for normal masonic activities relating to the lodge, such as issuing summonses, arranging Almoner visits, chasing subscription payments or lodge committee business. There are also the activities relating to the Metropolitan Grand Lodge, Provinces, Districts or UGLE, such as submitting annual returns or contributing to disciplinary processes. 

Any other use of details held by the lodge requires the consent of the individual. For example, the lodge mailing list should not be used to circulate requests for charity donations except for those on the list who have provided their consent to receive such requests. If a lodge circulates its summonses by email, care should be taken not to reveal email addresses to other members.

Should a Freemason be concerned if they haven’t heard from their local lodge?

Most lodges will not need to contact their members in relation to data protection. Normally a lodge will not require explicit new consents to use your data for ordinary masonic activities.

What about Almoners?

Almoners sometimes hold data about people’s health or finances. This is sensitive information that requires a slightly different approach. We are preparing specific guidance for Almoners that we are aiming to circulate to Metropolitan Grand Lodge, Provinces and Districts soon.

Does a lodge Secretary need to obtain individual consent from lodge members or new joiners? 

The standard application forms collect the necessary consents. There’s no need to obtain consents from existing members for normal lodge business.

The crucial point to remember is that what was once a matter of courtesy and common sense is now a matter of law. People need to act sensibly, and masons can take responsibility themselves regarding masonic data. For instance, if they print out information or get a printed copy of their lodge summons, they should shred it or dispose of it in another responsible way. 

Similarly, if masons have taken photographs at a private event such as a lodge meal or other masonic gathering and wish to publish them online, they need to check that everybody captured in the photograph is happy with this.

So, it’s business as usual?

The key message is that while there has been some running around behind the scenes to make sure we are compliant – and everyone needs to continue to think carefully about how they store or use other masons’ data – nothing should change for most members’ experiences.

To find out more, go to the UGLE data protection notice, or contact your Metropolitan Grand Lodge, Province or District.

Published in UGLE

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