Labour MP Caroline Flint today intervened in a debate about transgender equality to claim that gender-neutral toilets put women at risk.
Ms Flint made the unexpected intervention as Maria Miller, the chair of Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee, was launching the first ever Parliamentary debate on transgender issues.
The Labour MP, a key critic of her party leader Jeremy Corbyn, cited sexual offences as a concern about transgender policies – appearing to parrot the campaign tactics of anti-LGBT Republicans in the United States.
Ms Flint said: “I welcome this debate today because it’s important we look at transgender rights, but would she agree with me that we also need to be mindful of creating neutral-gender environments that actually may prove more of a risk to women themselves?
“A recent case at my old university, the University of East Anglia where they have gender-neutral toilets, discovered that a man was using that to harass women in those facilities, and has been convicted on charges. Could she make some comment about that issue and how we protect women from male violence in gender-neutral environments?”
Ms Flint was referring to the voyeurism conviction of student Luke Mallaband, who placed phones to secretly record women in campus toilets and showers on numerous occasions.
Although much media attention focused on an incident in a university library gender-neutral toilet, the court heard that cameras were placed at a number of locations including female-only facilities.
Voyeurism and sexual assault are crimes regardless of any toilet designation.
Mrs Miller responded: “It’s not a zero-sum game. Giving rights or enforcing rights that one group has does not mean that we have to see those rights taken away from another group. I think we have to be careful in this place that we don’t appear to be undermining the rights of trans people to be able to enjoy they are afforded under the Equality Act.
“I believe that particularly when it comes to gender-neutral toilets, frankly many organisations have had gender-neutral toilets for a great many years.
“If you go on an aeroplane, you don’t have a men’s and a ladies’, and you don’t see particular problems there. I think we have to be careful that individuals are not necessarily using or perhaps misinterpreting what is a serious problem in terms of threats to women in those sorts of environments by undermining the rights of transgender people, which we should be upholding as Parliamentarians.”
The SNP’s John Nicolson also rebuked the comments.
He said: “The point that has just been raised is a matter for criminal law. This has nothing whatsoever to do with transgender equality.”
Ms Flint’s intervention is surprising as the Labour Party has been a strong proponent of transgender equality.
The previous Labour government passed both the Gender Recognition Act, which gave trans people legal recognition for the first time, and the Equality Act, which outlawed discrimination based on the characteristic of gender reassignment.
Ms Flint is a former Labour minister.
She told PinkNews: “I fully support the LGBT community and welcome this important debate on transgender equality.
“The issue of concern I raised during today’s debate was about women’s safety at the hands of men. I fully appreciate the risks faced by the transgender community, who live with violence, intimidation and hate crimes.
“I do not want women preyed upon by, or vulnerable to, male violence in shared spaces, if it could be avoided. A woman friend reported leaving the cubicle of a gender neutral pub toilet to be confronted by five drunk men, one of whom urinated in a sink while she was washing her hands. The chances of that happening in a women’s toilet would be minimal.
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“There has to be room for a progressive discussion which addresses transgender discrimination and rights, alongside that of women’s safety.”
PinkNews has asked Ms Flint whether she will retract her comments about the University of East Anglia case. She did not immediately respond.
Young Labour Women called on Ms Flint to rethink her stance.
The group said: “We call on Caroline Flint to withdraw and apologise for remarks she made today, in a debate about trans equality, that gender neutral toilets increase the risk to women of male violence.
“Gender neutral toilet facilities do not make women less safe- there have been no reported cases of transgender people attacking someone else in a public bathroom, though there have been scores of cases of transgender people who have been victims of violence or harassment in public bathrooms.
“It has also led to cases of cisgender women being misread as men, and subjected to violence or harassment for having been deemed to be using the ‘wrong’ toilet- something which has a disproportionate impact on lesbian women.
“The voyeurism case Flint referred to, as the article below details, occurred in specific toilets for women too- the issue is therefore not one of gender neutral toilets, but the law.
“Gender neutral toilets are not a new or particularly innovative idea- most disabled toilets and toilets on public transport are gender neutral already!
“We hope Caroline will reflect on her remarks, and how scaremongering around women’s safety in the debate around gender-neutral toilets is being used as a trojan horse to undermine the rights of trans people.”