I almost joined Labour this year – but Keir Starmer’s silence on trans rights is deafening

I can’t in good conscience support a party that has left the question of my humanity and dignity up in the air like this

Gemma Stone
Sunday 12 April 2020 10:42 BST
New Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer in profile

I come from a very apolitical working class background. No-one in my family ever brought up politics other than to occasionally yell expletives about whoever had messed up this week. So I was largely politically apathetic myself, at least until I came out as transgender and began blogging. Labour always seemed like the best fit for everything I believe in, however there’s one problem; the constant transphobia.

I began blogging around the time Lily Madigan was elected as Young Labour’s National Women’s Officer. Lily Madigan is a transgender woman and has alleged that she has been in receipt of endless vitriol for being a transgender woman. One incident involved an anti-trans activist, who Madigan says made her feel unsafe at a Labour event after attacking her on social media and misgendering her. Though the activist, along with some other members have been suspended from the party, steps to deal with transphobia haven’t gone far enough.

A number of transphobes retain their membership despite using the hashtag #ExpelMe to ask to be expelled for transphobia. Many of them support hate groups which almost exclusively push for trans exclusionary policies. While Keir Starmer himself refused to sign a pledge condemning these groups stating he doesn’t want the issue to become a “political football”, two of his fellow contenders in the Labour leadership race did.

The fourth contender who didn’t sign, Emily Thornberry, spoke out in support of trans rights after the event, but said we should be careful about calling things hate groups. Whereas I do agree with the sentiment, I don’t think there’s any difficulty in applying “hate group” to organisations who invariably espouse what many trans people like me perceive as hatred. It doesn’t take much to look at some websites or social media and see they are single-issue lobby groups and nothing else. We are being told to tolerate intolerance just because they themselves say they aren’t bigoted when they clearly are.

Meanwhile, the hate groups themselves are becoming more and more emboldened. This, of course, results in more and more harassment and abuse of trans people online. Every day that politicians dither on the issue, trans people, like me, are forced to face bigotry down on our own.

Rebecca Long-Bailey: 'There is no place within the Labour party for trans-phobic behaviour'

Starmer is right that the issue shouldn’t become a political football but has seemingly failed to understand that the political dithering is itself what’s making it a political football. We need strong and robust support for the human rights of trans people, we need to put the bigots back in their box and tell them they won’t be tolerated. They need to be told they don’t have reasonable concerns because right now the lack of clearly and pointedly telling them “no” is leaving them the open window to assume a “yes” is still on the table somewhere. They need to know it isn’t. Otherwise they’ll just keep coming and trans people will continue to be degraded, abused and harassed. Labour is no place for transphobia. Say it.

I almost joined Labour this year, I was so close. Moves were being made and it seemed like there were positive steps being taken towards opposing the rotten transphobia within the party. However, I can’t in good conscience do that while the question of my humanity and dignity are still up in the air like this.

Starmer needs to make his position as leader clear. I hope he follows in the words of former speaker John Bercow: “You cannot appease bigots and homophobes. You have to confront them and defeat them”.

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