Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

JK Rowling criticises Keir Starmer for saying ‘trans women are women’

Labour ‘can no longer be counted on to defend women’s rights’, says author

Adam Forrest
Sunday 13 March 2022 00:00 GMT

Sir Keir Starmer has sparked criticism from children’s author JK Rowling for saying “trans women are women” and calling for a more respectful debate on the issue.

The Labour leader backed calls to reform the Gender Recognition Act – but said existing UK law meant that transgender women can already be considered women.

Asked to define what a woman is, Sir Keir told The Times: “A woman is a female adult, and in addition to that trans women are women, and that is not just my view – that is actually the law.”

Mr Starmer added: “It has been the law through the combined effects of the 2004 [Gender Recognition] Act and the 2010 [Equality] Act. So that’s my view. It also happens to be the law in the United Kingdom.”

Rowling took to Twitter to claim Sir Keir “publicly misrepresents equalities law”, adding: “Women are organising across party lines, and their resolve and their anger are growing.”

The author and political campaigner said Mr Starmer’s latest comments were “yet another indication that the Labour Party can no longer be counted on to defend women’s rights”.

The row followed renewed political debate over the issue, after two of Sir Keir’s shadow cabinet members appeared to struggle to define what a woman was.

Yvette Cooper, shadow home secretary, said she did not wish to go down the “rabbit hole” of definition, while party chair Anneliese Dodds got into a row with Conservative MP Sir Bernard Jenkin on the subject.

The senior Tory told the Commons that MPs should be “clear and courageous about what a man is and what a woman is” – claiming the rights of women in women-only safe spaces such as public toilets were being “threatened”.

Mr Jenkin also accused Ms Dodds of struggling to define a woman during a BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour interview, prompting the Labour MP to fire back: “It’s quite easy for me [to define], given that I am a woman.”

Ms Dodds had told BBC Radio 4 that there were “different definitions legally”. But the Labour chair also said that when it came to trans women “understandably because they live as a woman, they want to be defined as a woman”.

In his interview with The Times, the Labour leader said he supported reform to the Gender Recognition Act. The government has dropped plans to allow people to legally change their gender without a two-year-long process involving medical diagnosis.

“The process that people have to go through does need to be looked at,” said Sir Keir. “If you talk to anybody who’s been through the process there’s a real issue about respect and dignity.”

Labour MP Rosie Duffield said earlier this year she was considering leaving the party, accusing Labour officials of failing to protect her from “obsessive harassment” over the issue.

Ms Duffield has come under fire over her views on trans issues, after expressing her opposition to “male-bodied biological men” being allowed to self-identify as female in order to access women-only spaces.

The Canterbury MP decided to stay away from the main Labour conference at the end of last year, saying she had been unfairly branded “transphobic” for “knowing that only women have a cervix”.

Asked about the row at the time if the conference in Brighton, Sir Keir said Ms Duffield was wrong to say that only women have a cervix.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in