Woman’s Hour presenter Emma Barnett clashes with transgender CEO

  • Excruciating row unfolded on Woman’s Hour this morning on BBC Radio 4 

The transgender CEO of an endometriosis charity had to be pressed today into using the word ‘woman’ and admitting the disease affected women in a car crash BBC interview.

At one point Steph Richards, 71, astonishingly told presenter Emma Barnett – who has the condition herself – that 29 men also suffered from it during the heated row.

And in another excruciating moment the trans activist insisted the widely used slur Terf – used frequently to attack the likes of JK Rowling – was embraced by some people and seen as ‘really positive’.

In the exchange on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour both the controversial CEO and the Endometriosis South Coast charity founder Jodie Hughes defended the appointment.

But the flashpoint occurred when Ms Barnet pointed out Ms Richards had not used the word woman in a statement.

She asked her: ‘There is a concern that as a trans activist, now running, being the CEO of an endometriosis charity for women, that you will not preserve the importance of things like the word “woman” and that experience because in your statement on X, 10% you say of those assigned female at birth suffer from this awful disease. Is the word you are looking for there, woman?’

Critics have labelled Steph Richard's appointment as 'an insult to women' and 'an absolute disaster' (pictured is Ms Richards)

Woman's Hour host Emma Barnett, seen here attending the Women of the Year Lunch & Awards at The Royal Lancaster Hotel on October 16, 2023

The CEO hit back: ‘I look at woman, but also look at the issue of trans men and non-binary people. There’s something like 5,000 trans men who have endometriosis who probably feel absolutely rather left out. There’s also non-binary people’

Ms Barnett cut in ‘But the vast majority are women’ before Ms Richards then insisted ‘Yes of course the vast majority are women, does that mean we should leave behind trans men Emma?’

Richards was then challenged on her use of the word Terf – which is an acronym for Trans Exclusionary Radical Femnists. 

The activist insisted: ‘The term Terf can be seen by some as a slur, and others actually embrace it as being something really positive.

‘I was brought into endometriosis south coast to raise the awareness of endometriosis full stop and also raise the profile of endometriosis south coast. It’s pretty amazing that in five days I’ve achieved that and the vehicle that’s done that is transphobia.’

Endometriosis South Coast was this week condemned by women’s rights campaigners after the organisation – which offers support to sufferers of the agonising womb condition – named Ms Richards as its new chief executive

Furious critics branded the appointment an ‘insult’ to women, while one mother who has suffered from the crippling health condition for decades said she was ‘sickened’ and ‘appalled’ by the news.

But Portsmouth Labour activist Ms Richards – who spent £30,000 on an operation to transition from male to female and has previously clashed with feminist campaigners – has now broken her silence and accused her critics of ‘transphobia’. 

In a lengthy statement released on X, formerly known as Twitter, a defiant Ms Richards insisted: ‘My birth sex doesn’t come into it – my CV does.’

Ms Richards, who uses the pronouns she and her, has undergone £30,000 in treatment and surgery to transition

Ms Richards' issued a statement on X following the backlash against her appointment as CEO

She added: ‘CEO’s are appointed by boards/trustees because of their “skill set”, not because of their sex (note I have a GRC).’

Ms Richards said her experience included founding a TransLucent, which ‘became LGBT organisation of the year and I did that in 27 months’. She also won the Inspirational Women of Portsmouth Awards 2023 in the ‘Inspirational Elder’ category.

Her appointment, announced on Sunday evening, was met with a wave of outrage on social media. 

Jeannette Towey, 66, who has suffered with endometriosis since she was 15 and has had five miscarriages due to it, said she was ‘sickened’ by the appointment.

The mother-of-two, from Crowborough in East Sussex – whose daughter also has the condition, said: ‘To appoint someone like that to a role with an endometriosis charity is an insult in the extreme. It’s appalling. I never thought we would see an endometriosis charity succumb to this kind of woke ideology.’

While Kellie-Jay Keen, founder of Let Women Speak movement, lamented: ‘Everyone has lost their collective minds. 

‘This is an absolute disaster and affront to all women who suffer from endometriosis, which is about 10 per cent of women. It’s really insulting.’ 

Speaking earlier today on LBC, Ms Richards said ‘duly obliged’ to take up the the role of leading the Portsmouth-based charity after being approached by its trustees.

She said the charity’s current chairman, Jodie Hughes, was ‘stepping back’ to focus on her PhD research on endometriosis, an incurable condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows in other places, including the ovaries and fallopian tubes, and one that Ms Hughes suffers from.

‘The trustees decided that the organisation needed an activist with a proven record to drive the charity forward and advocate for women’s health in our city, which is desperately needed,’ Ms Richards told LBC’s Nick Ferrari. 

Mother of two Jeannette Towey, 66, has suffered from endometriosis since she was 15 and was outraged by the appointment

Kellie-Jay Keen, founder of Let Women Speak movement, was critical of the language used by the charity and said it 'ignored women' and added: 'Everyone has lost their collective minds'

What is endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows in other places, including the ovaries and fallopian tubes. 

The long-term condition affects women of any age, including teenagers. 

Common symptoms include:

  • Pelvic pain
  • Period pain
  • Pain during or after sex
  • Pain peeing or pooing
  • Feeling sick
  • Difficulty getting pregnant

Treatments include:

  • Painkillers
  • Hormone medicines and contraceptives
  • Surgery to cut away the patches of endometriosis 

Source NHS 


Responding to the furious wave of criticism against her, Ms Richards continued: ‘Simon Cooke is the CEO of MSI Reproductive Choices – a man, he has been there for 10 years. He hasn’t experienced transphobia on the level that I have; Laura Kirby is CEO of Prostate Cancer UK – no one’s calling for her head.’

Ms Richard insisted ESC was about being ‘inclusive’ and added: ‘If you’re a trans man, where do you go unless you’ve got an inclusive organisation like ours, where do they go for support?’

About one in 10 women are thought to suffer from endometriosis. Ms Richards claimed that approximately ‘5,500 trans men’ were thought to be living with the condition in the UK.  

But pressing Ms Richards on her new charity role, LBC presenter Mr Ferrari said: ‘You’ll never fully understand what it is like to have heavy periods or to have this condition because of your birth sex. How do you respond to that?’

‘Laura Kirby, the CEO of Prostate Cancer [UK] isn’t going to get prostate cancer, is she,’ responded Ms Richards.

She continued: ‘When you appoint a CEO, you do that because of a skillset. That’s why I have been appointed into this position because I am very good at creating campaigns. I’ve founded an organisation that became LGBT organisation of the year and I did that in 27 months.’

ECS’s announcement of Ms Richards’ appointment on Sunday came with a statement next to her image that said: ‘Isn’t it ridiculous I’ve got to my 40s before any medical professionals even mentioned endometriosis.’

Trans women, who are biological males that identify as women, do not and cannot have a uterus and, therefore, can never suffer from endometriosis. 

Health charity Endometriosis South Coast provoked outrage on social media by announcing trans woman Steph Richards was their new chief executive with a quote implying biological men could suffer from the condition

The charity, which runs support groups for women who suffer from the debilitating condition, later apologised for the ‘misunderstanding’.

‘This quote is from a person that our charity supports. Not from Steph herself,’ the organisation wrote on X.

‘Steph is a huge advocate for what people in the endo community go through. This is why they were appointed, not because they have their own endo journey.’

But they continued to face backlash, with one person writing: ‘You have failed every single woman who is currently using your services.’

Women’s rights activist Ms Keen was critical of the language used by the charity and said it ‘ignored women’, adding: ‘The losers are women who suffered from endometriosis who have to rely on a charity that won’t call them “women” but “people” but who will call a man a women.

‘I think it’s doubly insulting they will use female language for him but not for a sufferer the condition.’

While Conservative activist Ms Towey claimed to have previously worked as a regional organiser in the south for Endometriosis UK, operating across Southampton and Portsmouth – where ECS is based. 

She added: ‘This is a tin pot charity. I don’t know who they are… I have never heard of this lot.’ 

Ms Richards is pictured at an event with Portsmouth's Labour party

Ms Richards, who uses the pronouns she and her, has repeatedly clashed with women’s rights advocates, some of whom she has branded as ‘terfs’, and was previously involved in a protest outside the FiLiA feminist conference.

On LinkedIn, the activist, who is also a Women’s Officer at Portsmouth Labour Party, lists her professions as journalist and publisher, having started the website and blog Steph’s Place UK.

Steph’s Place UK was one of the trans rights organisations which unsuccessfully attempted to have the Equality and Human Rights Commission stripped of its international accreditation after it warned about changes to legal gender recognition and conversion therapy.

The new chief executive described the questions over her appointment as ‘transmisogyny’ and said she did not apply for the role but were asked to take it on.

She said on X that she had begun ‘researching issues around pregnancy and women’s health well over two decades ago’.

Speaking today, she added: ‘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?’ 

But Caroline Ffiske, director of Conservatives for Women, said she was in ‘disbelief’, adding: ‘It’s an insulting appointment. It’s an insult to women.

‘It’s an absolutely shocking appointment. There’s just disbelief and despair among the entire community.’

Another critic on X, who claimed to have suffered from the condition for years, wrote: ‘As a woman who suffered with endometriosis for decades, I simply cannot fathom why you’d think this appointment is appropriate.’

On its website, ESC said it is an ‘inclusive charity set up to support people who haven’t started their diagnosis journey, are going through the diagnosis stages, or have been diagnosed with endometriosis and/or adenomyosis’.

Caroline Ffiske, director of Conservatives for Women, said she was in 'disbelief', adding: 'It's an insulting appointment. It's an insult to women'

Feminist author Milli Hill argued that the appointment was no different to a controversial case last year where a man was appointed Scotland's first ever period dignity officer

The charity was eventually forced to issue an apology and clarify that the quote came from a person the charity supported rather than Ms Richards herself

Some endometriosis suffers, like a user who only went by IDD64, said they struggled to understand how the charity could consider this appropriate

It added it aims to create a ‘safe space for all people with the condition regardless of race, gender, or religion. 

‘This disease does not discriminate and neither do the people who run this charity,’ the organisation added on its website.

The charity’s founder and chairman of trustees is Jodie Hughes, who was diagnosed with Endometriosis at the age of 29.

Ms Hughes has previously spoken as a keynote speaker at a round table event on transgender health care and had studied transgender and gender bias theories at university. 

Her PhD at the University of Roehampton was looking at the disparities in the care of Endometriosis patients

In an article written by Ms Hughes, entitled ‘Managing Endometriosis When You’re Trans: Suffering In Silence, she said: ‘Managing endometriosis is a feat in itself, but it can be an even more difficult and isolating experience for transgender individuals.’

‘Too often, transgender and non-binary people are left out of the conversation when it comes to this disease. This can lead to a lack of understanding and feelings of helplessness, which in turn, can cause worsening symptoms.

On ECS’s website, the charity added endometriosis in the ‘gender non-conforming population is a highly stigmatised and scary area of diagnosis and treatment’. 

It claimed that ‘focussing research and treatment plans on gendered constructs is not progressing either research or treatment’. 


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