Earlier this month, my friend Rebekah and I were victimised, harassed, and ultimately unceremoniously ejected from, a major local tourist attraction, because we are mask exempt. Please read the full shocking story, including the letter of complaint we subsequently sent to them, here: https://freedomalliance.co.uk/divisive-disabilities-discrimination-at-major-yorkshire-tourist-attraction/
The only thing more shocking than this extremely distressing and harrowing experience itself, was the deeply disturbing reply we received from the Museum, which you can read here.
To sum, they refused to recognise the legitimacy of our complaint, reiterated that they would continue to operate their illegal, unethical, and dangerous policy of coercive masking of the mask-exempt, and that, if further challenged in any way, they would defend their position "robustly".
Please note that the Museum is not a self-sustaining enterprise, rather, it is heavily subsidised by a wide variety of local and national funders, as listed publicly at the footer of their website. So, today, Rebekah and I wrote to these funders as follows. The Museum was copied in.
We are writing to you today regarding your publicly listed funding of the tourist attraction, The National Coal Mining Museum (hereafter, the Museum), located in Wakefield, Yorkshire.
Regrettably, we the undersigned experienced a profoundly distressing episode of illegal discrimination at the Museum, which is detailed in the letter of complaint (attached) we sent to them immediately thereafter.
We have since received an extremely disturbing and dissatisfactory reply (also attached), in which the Museum confirms it intends to continue operating an illegal, irresponsible, and dangerous policy of disabilities discrimination.
To briefly sum, the Museum states on its website and to visitors that have already purchased tickets that it does not recognise medical mask exemptions under any circumstances, and that all those who are medically mask exempt – including very young children – are required to wear masks in order to participate in the Museum’s underground tour.
This is explicitly illegal under the Equality Act 2010, which protects the rights of the mask exempt to have their exemption recognised in all circumstances in order that they can freely participate in society and not endure disability-based discrimination. There are no situations where the internal prejudices of private companies may override the law and refuse to recognise the rights of the medically mask exempt.
This protective law exists for a very good reason, namely that, if those who are mask exempt are coerced into mask-wearing, there may result a number of undesirable psychological and medical consequences, some of them severe. These include but are not limited to dyspnoea (laboured or difficult breathing), debilitating distress, and disabling panic attacks.
If the Museum intimidates and harasses the mask-exempt into mask-wearing, they are putting such people in potentially grave medical danger, a situation which the Museum is not equipped to adequately respond to, as its staff do not have the requisite training. Moreover, the underground tour takes place in a difficult to access environment, meaning that, were a mask-exempt person who had been coerced into wearing a mask to have a medical episode, it would be difficult or impossible for paramedics to reach them quickly.
Many people – especially those with learning disabilities and sexual abuse survivors, both of whom qualify for medical mask exemptions – do not feel able to robustly defend themselves in confrontational situations where businesses refuse to recognise mask exemptions, therefore it is clear that these people could be and no doubt have been coerced by the Museum’s illegal and discriminatory policies into submitting to mask-wearing, and therefore putting themselves in danger.
This is precisely why the law makes it so unequivocally clear that businesses are not to in any way interrogate, intimidate, or harass the mask exempt. Businesses are permitted to ask them to wear a mask, but if the person replies that they are exempt, the business is not legally permitted to challenge them in any way and must accept their exemption unquestioningly. Businesses are not permitted to refuse people service based on their mask exemption, nor to ask for evidence of the exemption or further details regarding on what condition the exemption is based.
This is all well-established and non-negotiable law which all businesses serving the public are obliged to be familiar with and to adhere to.
If the Museum continues to operate its illegal, dangerous, and discriminatory policies, then we do not believe it is in the public’s interest for philanthropic bodies to continue to fund it. These subsidies allow the Museum and its staff to behave as if they are “above the law”, in a way that they would not be able to do if they were solely reliant on the financial support of their customers, many of whom would choose to vote with their wallets and not support an establishment that engages in such unethical and unlawful discriminatory behaviour.
I have also read the Museum’s risk assessment (which, bizarrely, they refused to furnish me with over email, despite it being publicly available on their website), which is wholly inadequate as it does not address the extensive and well-documented risks of mask wearing, including and especially for the medically mask exempt. They are exempt for a reason and the law protects their exemption for a reason.
The Museum’s policy seems especially reckless and cavalier in the current climate, now that mask mandates have been lifted in schools, and with the rest of the country to follow suit imminently. However, please let me be emphatically clear so that there is no ambiguity: even if mask mandates were continuing, this would make no difference to the absolute legal rights of the mask exempt to remain mask free in all situations. Anything else is a direct contravention of the Equality Act 2010 and is illegal.
If the Museum continues to declare the underground tour as inaccessible to the mask-exempt, then it is not fit for access at all, by anybody. Institutions that serve the public are required to be inclusive, and if they cannot be inclusive, then they must be suspended until they are. In our conversation with them, the Museum attempted to conflate the mask-exempt with wheelchair users, but this is a false and baseless comparison. A wheelchair user is physically unable to access certain environments, a mask exempt person is not. The Museum’s current policy is therefore irrationally and illegally discriminatory, in effect stating that those in good health may take the tour, but those with a wide array of mental and physical health issues, of the sort that qualify them for mask exemption, may not. This is an untenable, and illegal, position, and exactly the sort of intolerant discrimination that the Equality Act 2010 exists to prevent.
Please also note that it has come to our attention whilst highlighting this issue on social media that the Museum has illegally discriminated against mask exempt people on several occasions in the past, and we are aware of at least one other individual who has written a comprehensive letter of complaint to the Museum, citing medical evidence, regarding the Museum’s illegal policy of coercive mask wearing, and the concomitant risks to mask exempt individuals (especially children, who are legally mask exempt under the age of 11, but forced by the Museum to submit to masking). It is clear then that the Museum is not making an “honest mistake” in refusing to recognise mask exemptions, but in fact is unrepentant in its policy of dangerous, unlawful discrimination, and in the callous disregarding of legal facts and medical evidence, which have been brought to their attention on several past occasions. Therefore, we can only imagine how many individuals have been harmed by this policy and how many may go on to be harmed, by this or any other discriminatory and coercive behaviour the Museum may engage in, now or in the future.
I hope you will give the content of this letter your utmost and urgent consideration when making future decisions about where to invest your funding support, and that you will only choose to award funding to institutions that uphold the law. Please be aware that contraventions of the law as I have outlined it can be penalised financially, with offenders at risk of individual fines of up to £5,000 and punitive damages of between £900 and £9,000 as per sections 112 (Aiding Contraventions) and 119 (Remedies) of the Equality Act 2010.