Musician Louise Distras: Bruised But Battling

In January, I interviewed a Castleford comedian about the recent legal claim brought against him citing his act. In this second-of-three interviews with people on the local cultural scene who’ve faced cancellation, I spoke with someone who’s almost a year into their ordeal, Wakefield musician Louise Distras.

In May 2023, Louise Distras was accused of ‘transphobia’ for expressing ‘gender critical’ comments on social media and subjected to a campaign of harassment, stalking and malicious communications. The accusation led to her tour to promote her new album, Beauty After Bruises, being cancelled. Then in November, after being arrested and released without charge after discussing all this on TV, she was forced to start legal proceedings.

LOUISE, can you tell us something about the original accusations of ‘transphobia’ and the reaction of your booking agents.

“I’ve been expressing concerns about gender ideology privately since late 2021, but the first time I expressed my opinions publicly was in May 2023 during an interview with Louder Than War. Afterwards I was called every name under the sun, denounced, and blacklisted by music journalists who said I deserve to be thrown out of the music industry.

When I started receiving rape and death threats on social media, from mostly anonymous accounts run by trans-rights activists, I asked my booking agency, Midnight Mango, for help to keep me and women safe at my gigs. They replied, but not about my safety concerns. Instead, they stated: “…our position as a company is clear, trans women are women, and if you continue to publicly deny that trans women are women your position will have detrimental effects on your musical career.” They then stopped booking my gigs, and radio stations stopped playing my songs.

So, I decided to speak out. And alongside five other women, I was interviewed by the Daily Mail, about my experiences. Then Billy Bragg waded in to give me some fashion advice on X (formerly Twitter), and it all went downhill after that.

When the Daily Mail also asked Midnight Mango to provide a comment, they denied my “allegations” about what they’d said to me, So I posted their reply on social media. Two hours later, I was fired from the agency.

Looking back, I think I was pretty naïve to hope that Midnight Mango would assist me. These industry gatekeepers, by their own admission, aren’t neutral in this debate. Rather than casting artists out, they should support their bookings and let the audience decide for themselves.”

What did you do after being dropped by Midnight Mango?

“I started promoting my Bandcamp page which hosted my discography. Then at the end of October 2023, Bandcamp shut down my page without notice and my discography disappeared, along with my only remaining income stream and my income already held on the platform.

I contacted them to find out what had happened, but as an international company that operates outside the UK, it was impossible to challenge their decision or even find out why they’d de-platformed me. Freedom in the Arts (a new organisation founded by Rosie Kay and Denise Fahmy) also wrote to them and raised my case online with the Culture Secretary, Lucy Frazer, but we’ve still had no response.

Since Bandcamp shut down my page, it’s been almost impossible to reach the international audience I once did and earn enough income to pay my bills.”

Is there anything you can tell us about the legal case brought against you?

“My case is confidential and super complicated. As it stands, I’ve been legally advised not to speak about it publicly and that it’s unlikely it will be reported on in the future. I doubt it’s going to set legal precedents in the way that the Forstater case did. However, my trial in April will engage arguments about my personal rights to free speech and express personal opinions in my music.

I’m facing this case and the prospect of needing to raise funds for my defence because of legally held views that I expressed online. I didn’t ask to for this fight, but speaking my mind publicly is what making music is all about. And I think that freedom of expression is something that should be protected at all costs.”

I want to talk briefly about your arrest by West Yorkshire Police. WYP already have a reputation for overstepping the mark when it comes to free speech issues – including arresting an autistic teenage girl in Wakefield for saying an officer ‘looked like her lesbian nan’ and arresting a woman in Hedben Bridge for tweeting a photograph of a gender critical sticker, as well as presiding over the show trial of the mother of an autistic school boy for scuffing a Quran – to cite just three recent examples. What was their justification for arresting you and then releasing you without charge?

“I was arrested and interviewed under caution about what I said in November during my appearance on GBNews and my speech at a Let Women Speak event in Leeds. After five hours in custody, I was released with no further action to be taken against me. However, the manner in which I was arrested and then forced to endure the indignity of getting dressed in front of an officer with a bodycam…it does feel like they overstepped the mark.

The irony isn’t lost on me that I was arrested by the same force who were policing the Let Women Speak event. In my view, the whole saga raises a lot of questions about the law around speech becoming increasingly subjective and blurred. For me, whether I personally agree or disagree with somebody’s political views doesn’t matter. I don’t think anyone should be arrested up for expressing their opinion – this is the UK, not North Korea.”

What support have you had both over your cancellation and in your legal case?

“I’ve found myself in some very frightening situations over the past twelve months. And this time last year I was completely alone. As a self-employed musician it’s been difficult to challenge ‘rumours’ and defend myself from attacks on my reputation and livelihood because I don’t have recourse to a trade union or litigation as somebody would as an employee. And I can count on one hand the number of women musicians who’ve actually had the courage to speak up about gender ideology without apologising, and I think this is reflective of how monotheistic the music industry is nowadays.

That being said, there’s also been an awful lot of support, mainly from outside the music industry. Denise Fahmy, who won her employment tribunal in June 2023 around harassment due to her ‘gender critical’ views, transferred the remaining balance on her Crowdjustice campaign to my campaign. It’s all thanks to Denise and an angry army of women that I’ve been able to pick myself up and start fighting back.

I’m also now one of a growing list of artists criticising cancel culture, and together we’re building a proper counterculture. There’s loads of brilliant musicians, painters and comedians who have so much to say, like Five Times August, Jay Mack, rapper Hi Rez and The Famous Artist Birdy Rose, to name a few.”

Where does this leave you in terms of promoting your new album, gigging and creatively going forward?

“Being arrested and fighting my legal battle has certainly got in the way of what I’d rather be doing. But it hasn’t stopped me from writing new music, which I’m hoping to start recording after my trial in April. I’m also looking forward to playing live again. I’m playing the Jam for Freedom Festival In St Albans on Friday 9th August, and I’ll be announcing more dates soon.

‘The process is the punishment’. But I refuse to give in to the harassment and I want to honour everyone’s support by winning my legal case, so I can show that no woman should ever be hounded for stating biological facts. Speaking your mind is what making music is all about. And once the trial is over, I’m really looking forward to concentrating on being a musician again.”

Donate to Louise’s campaign and help fight harassment and cancellation in the arts, and visit her website here.

Paul Thomas is co-founder of The Leeds Salon public discussion forum.

One comment

  1. Legal proceedings which she is unable to speak about or post publicly about.
    Doesnt mention what terms she was arrested under suspicion of.

    Wants to raise £30,000…

    … Fishy.

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