AstraZeneca under fire after LGBT+ staff group issue training saying ‘sex is not binary’

Lord Robert Winston photographed at home
Lord Robert Winston has called the training material 'completely unscientific' and 'confused' - HEATHCLIFF O'MALLEY/HEATHCLIFF O'MALLEY

Pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca has been criticised after training material was distributed to staff claiming that the biological sex of individuals is not binary.

The material states that “biology has a spectrum” and that classifying a person’s sex as either male or female “fails to capture even the biological aspect of gender.”

It was distributed by managers and employees on AstraZeneca’s intranet system, as part of gender diversity awareness promotion by the company’s independent LGBT+ staff group.

The Telegraph understands that the training was sent by a manager to at least one employee who raised questions about the use of pronouns and the term “queer”.

One former employee told The Telegraph: “AstraZeneca has been the most extreme company I have worked at in terms of gender identity ideology.”

Lord Robert Winston and Richard Dawkins, two of the country’s most pre-eminent scientists, have criticised the material as “scientifically ignorant” and running counter to the basis of the pharmaceutical and biotechnology firm’s work.

AstraZeneca had denied the material is part of the company’s official training or that it represents the firm’s official policy on gender issues, stating that it was produced and distributed only by AZPride, the staff group for LGBT+ employees.

British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins photographed at his home in Oxford
The biologist Richard Dawkins referred to the AstraZeneca material as a 'ridiculous document' - JOHN LAWRENCE

One of the most controversial documents, titled Sex Spectrum, states: “Many societies view a person’s sex as either male or female, but this binary view fails to capture even the biological aspect of gender.

“While we are often taught that we inherit either XX or XY sex chromosomes, in fact, biology has a spectrum too!”

It adds: “People might have XXY, XYY, X, XXX or other combinations of chromosomes – all of which can result in a variety of sex characteristics.”

That claim appears to contradict established biological science. Having XXY or XYY chromosomes can lead to rare genetic conditions for men, but does not alter a man’s biological sex, while triple X syndrome is a genetic condition found in females only.

Staff at AstraZeneca are encouraged by AZPride to state their pronouns in work-related correspondence and at work events in order to make everyone feel included.

But this is understood to have angered some employees on the basis that it assumes support for the belief that someone’s sex can change from the one they were born with.

Apparent support for chest binding

Another AZPride document appears to support the controversial practice of chest binding, used by biological girls or women who want to present as men.

During a health awareness week run by AZPride, in 2020, staff were given material that stated: “Chest binding can be a vital practice to improve self-esteem and body positivity for many LGBT+ people.

“The material used can sometimes place pressure on the airways and so amid growing concerns around Covid-19 some organisations have provided some tips to looking after your respiratory health for trans and non-binary people.”

Breast binding can restrict breathing, irritate the skin, cause overheating and even bruise or fracture ribs, and its use by children and young women whose bodies are still developing has raised concerns.

Much of the material distributed among AZ staff has been criticised as unscientific by scientists and critics of transgender theory.

Permanent genetically

Lord Robert Winston, known for his pioneering work in the study of fertility, said: “It’s very disappointing. This sort of material is confused and doesn’t take into account the difference between sex and gender.

“It’s completely unscientific.You inherit your X or Y chromosomes from the moment of conception. You can’t change your sex. Your sex is permanent genetically. They have confused sex with gender and sexuality.”

Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist and award-winning author, said: “As a biologist, I shall comment only on the scientifically ignorant statement that ‘this binary view fails to capture even the biological aspect of gender’. The only definition of sex that works universally is based on gamete size. It’s the one used by biologists, and it leads to the conclusion that the male-female divide is purely binary. Males produce numerous small gametes, females fewer large ones. No other definition works coherently and universally.

“Even sticking to human sex chromosomes, the statement that there’s ‘a spectrum too’ misuses – abuses – the useful word ‘spectrum’. Those much-vaunted ‘intersexes’ are extremely rare. If we represent the number of unequivocal males and unequivocal females by the heights of New York’s twin towers, the number of intersexes would approximate the height of a molehill planted between them. Some spectrum!”

He added: “I don’t know who, in AstraZeneca, dreamed up this ridiculous document. Evidently not a scientist. Let’s hope that AstraZeneca’s research staff are better educated. And capable of at least a modicum of logical thought.”

An AstraZeneca spokesman said: “At AstraZeneca our aim is to cultivate inclusion and belonging by fostering an environment where everyone feels valued, heard and respected.”