Rebecca Long-Bailey is right – Labour should back trans people like me, and expel those who don't

To those who’ve signed the Labour Campaign for Trans Rights's pledges to support a much-maligned minority, and to resist those who seek to malign us: thank you

Vic Parsons
Thursday 13 February 2020 10:08
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Lisa Nandy comes out in support of trans rights

When Labour leadership hopeful Rebecca Long-Bailey gave her support to transgender rights, the backlash was entirely predictable.

On Monday, the Labour Campaign for Trans Rights launched with a set of 12 pledges. Among other things, the pledges call for a recognition of the fact that trans people are disproportionately likely to be homeless, unemployed and victims of hate crime. It also includes a commitment to listen to trans people about transphobia.

Only three days old, the campaign is already hugely popular, with thousands of Labour members committing to standing up for trans people like me, to believing us about transphobia, to refusing to let our lives be put up for debate.

Rebecca Long-Bailey was the first leadership contender to sign the pledges, on Tuesday, with Lisa Nandy and Emily Thornberry swiftly following suit. Keir Starmer still hasn’t signed, saying that trans rights are human rights, but that the issue shouldn’t become a “political football”, and that the “we need to dial this down”.

Many reacted to the campaign far more strongly than Starmer, however. Hundreds took to Twitter to dare the Labour Party to #ExpelMe, something the pledges demanded Labour do to those expressing transphobic views.

Others took issue with the ninth pledge’s nomination of Woman’s Place UK (WPUK) and the LGB Alliance as “transphobic organisations”, and its request that Labour members reject them and other “trans-exclusionist hate groups” like them. Indeed, even the pledges’ signatory Emily Thornberry released a statement in which she “voiced concern over the use of the term ‘hate group’”.

Of course, both WPUK and the LGB Alliance strongly deny that they are transphobic. They argue that they are advocating for the rights of women, who they claim are being shouted down in what they believe are important debates about gender and sex. Yet just as it is wrong for men to be arbiters of misogyny, or white people to arbitrate over racism, we must see these organisations’ denial of their alleged transphobia for what it is: cisgender people attempting to define what transphobia is, and what it isn’t.

Yet these groups are commonly regarded as transphobic for good reason. WPUK formed in 2017 in response to proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA), one of which would remove the requirement for trans people to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria before being able to have their gender accurately reflected by their birth certificate – a measure most trans people view as a basic step towards trans equality.

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Following a number of meetings across the country, WPUK made five demands of the government as it seeks to reform the GRA. The second of these is that “the principle of women-only spaces be upheld” – a demand apparently derived from a belief among some WPUK supporters that the reformed GRA will enable men to predate on women in women’s-only spaces and, many believe, from a fundamental fear of trans people.

Now I am no expert on men. Perhaps they would fill in the requisite forms, collect the evidence to show that they’d been living as a woman, and make a statutory declaration to legally change their gender – all so they could harass women in a bathroom. But from what I understand, men’s violence against women has never relied on their access to a female birth certificate.

Yet it is not merely WPUK’s apparent ignorance of the trans community that concerns many of us who belong to it. It is that both WPUK and the LGB Alliance shroud what we see as blatant transphobia in a concern for women (when in reality, their concern is only for cis women), in demands for “reasonable debate” (when our lives and rights should not be up for debate), or in pleas that they are being silenced by what a founding member of the LGB Alliance calls the “international, all powerful, wealthy & totally out of control trans lobby” (despite regular appearances in newspapers and on TV).

It is high time that Labour banished such groups and their supporters from the party. All power to the Labour Campaign for Trans Rights, the backlash against which tells us it’s already succeeding. To those who’ve signed the campaign’s pledges to support a much-maligned minority, and to resist those who seek to malign us: thank you. And to those who can’t bear this powerful show of solidarity: don’t forget to close the door on your way out.

Vic Parsons is a gender and identity reporter at PinkNews.

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