Lily Madigan: Meet the woman who wants to be Labour's first transgender MP

The young activist, who has found herself caught in the firing line over trans rights, is the first transgender person to be elected as a women’s officer in the Labour Party

Maya Oppenheim
Saturday 24 February 2018 20:19 GMT
Madigan says not coming out almost killed her and coming out meant leaving home
Madigan says not coming out almost killed her and coming out meant leaving home

Not a day goes by where Lily Madigan is not subjected to vitriol or threats. The 20-year-old, who is the first transgender person to be elected as a women’s officer in the constituency Labour Party, has frequently found herself subject to virulent transphobia on social media.

But it has only made the activist, who is running for the role of Young Labour’s national women’s officer, more dogged. She is determined to become Britain’s first transgender MP.

“The trans community is so under-represented in politics that it can be hard for them to become engaged. It is difficult to get involved when you do not see people like you and there is a lack of role models,” she tells The Independent.

Needless to say, this has not deterred Madigan from politics. On the contrary, it was her own experience as a trans person which ultimately gave her the impetus to get involved in the Labour Party.

“I first got involved in Labour at the age of 19. I had a lot of trouble at school. They would not treat me like a girl which is really tough for a young trans person. I got a lawyer and used Labour’s equality act to threaten to sue,” she recalls.

After her school in Maidstone threatened to suspend Madigan for wearing female clothes to school, forced her to wear a male uniform, denied her access to female toilets, and continued to use her old name, she managed to hire a solicitor in 2016 after scouring London to find one. The school later backed down and apologised.

Incensed fellow students supported Madigan and launched a petition – which received more than 200 signatures – to allow transgender pupils to follow the dress code they feel comfortable with.

Madigan, who is currently writing a memoir about her childhood experiences and the pro trans movement within Labour, has been living as transgender for four years now and has dealt with frequent obstacles.

She has had to leave home and is bullied online daily. “Abusive messages catch you off guard. The violent-ness of it is very alienating and disenfranchising,” she says.

A tweet she sent in December of last year further demonstrates her point: “Please stop. I can’t handle it anymore. I’m so mentally distressed that I can’t sleep or eat or go to school.”

Just two days earlier, she had issued a similar plea. “I’m a strong person but I’m also just a teenage girl,” she says. “I’m not invulnerable and it affects me. Your words have the power to hurt, to heal, to inspire, or discourage. Remember that.”

Madigan has also found herself caught in the firing line of an acrimonious debate over trans rights in the Labour party.

Her election as women’s officer for Rochester and Strood CLP in Kent sparked an internal dispute in the party over whether transgender women should be allowed to gain the title of women’s officer.

Criticism of Madigan was again exacerbated when she applied to the Jo Cox Women in Leadership Programme. Her application was unsuccessful, but she gained the support of a number of senior figures in the Labour world, including former leader Ed Miliband, who sent her a supportive message, activist and Guardian columnist Owen Jones, and MPs Wes Streeting and Angela Rayner. Indeed Ms Rayner has said she is keeping “the green bench warm” for Madigan who she has “no doubt will be a great Labour MP”.

Madigan makes a concerted effort to speak to politicians. “MP’s may not have known a trans person so I try and speak to them just to have a normal chat not even discuss politics,” she says.

She is a fan of current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. “He is pretty good on trans issues,” she says. “He is very clear trans women are women and that is Labour’s position. When I’ve spoken to him personally he’s reiterated that he wants the next Labour government to look at laws to make it harder for the media to create moral panics around trans people and present them in unfair ways”.

Despite the daily abuse the young political activist puts up with, Madigan is enthused by politics and determined to achieve her goals. She is also very relieved to have come out, claiming that not doing so had almost killed her.

Quoting Harvey Milk, the trailblazing LGBT+ rights activist and first openly gay elected official in the history of California, she says: “Coming out is the most political thing you can do”.

“There will be a trans MP, sooner or later, and we will live in a more inclusive society, but history doesn’t write itself,” she wrote in a speech she has delivered to a number of universities. “If we want to escape the weight of past prejudice, if we want to reach a better future, we have to work for it in the here and now. Let 2018 be the year trans people get the representatives we deserve in politics.”

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