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Ed Miliband: Transgender ‘moral panic’ in newspapers is like 1980s homophobia

Nick Duffy November 20, 2017

Former Labour leader Ed Miliband has lashed out at the British press over a series of articles attacking transgender equality.

Transgender people and their friends and families have had to endure a tidal wave of negative coverage from the press in the past few months, with a number of outlets – including the Daily Mail, The Times, the Telegraph and the New Statesman  – running a number of anti-trans articles and opinion pieces.

Mr Miliband, the former leader of the Labour Party, dedicated an episode of his podcast ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ to transgender issues, spending an hour discussing trans issues in detail.

On the podcast the former Labour leader spoke to transgender activist Paris Lees, as well as transgender health expert Dr Helen Webberley, and an anonymous parent of a transgender child – three viewpoints largely excluded from most media coverage of trans issues.

Mr Miliband hit out at the inaccurate coverage in the press, accusing newspapers of propagating a “moral panic” similar to the anti-gay coverage seen in the 1980s.

Referencing a Daily Mail story attacking the Church of England over gender-inclusive school guidance, Mr Miliband said: “A moral panic has broken out, not about Brexit or Boris Johnson or the government falling apart, but about ‘boys wearing tiaras’.

“It’s all sort of classically ranty-pants Daily Mail.”

Addressing a story in the Sun about Drag Queen Story Time, he added: “Maybe the Sun should be having front-page things about pantomime?

“Our children are being corrupted! Little Eugene downstairs, only 18 months old, don’t take him to panto, because he’s going to be corrupted by panto!

“There’s a looming threat out there, not Brexit or the Red Menace, but panto!”

He added: “Isn’t the truth about this that they’re playing on people’s ignorance?

“This is a relatively new issue for people to get their heads around because it’s been so hidden. The whole question of gender identity, and people who feel the sex they were born with doesn’t reflect their true identity – the tabloids are playing on people’s lack of knowledge about this to stoke up a kind of moral panic.”

The politician added: “When I was growing up there was this thing about a book called Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin.

“It was the early 1980s and there was a very similar moral panic. The Sun wrote a story, ‘Vile book in school, pupils see pictures of gay lovers’.

“It turned out to be about Jenny engaging in such nefarious activities as walking down the street reading books. It wasn’t even on loan to kids, it was on loan to teachers.”

Speaking about the reasons for the ‘moral panic’, the former leader continued: “We’ve made massive progress. At the PinkNews Awards Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn both said, ‘we’ve got to update the Gender Recognition Act, we can’t have bullying against transgender people, being trans is not an illness’… and then we’ve got the Times, the Sun, the Mail, are stoking this up!

“These things don’t happen accidentally. The Gender Recognition Act is going to be updated, Justine Greening is the Education Secretary responsible for this, Maria Miller is the chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee that did a report on this and has taken quite progressive positions. I think this is an attempt by people coming from a certain viewpoint to have a go and knock this off course.

“It’s not okay what these newspapers are doing. It’s just not okay. There was a Times leader column [equating trans people to] Marquis de Sade.

“I looked up Marquis de Sade on Google, the first article I came across said, ‘The Marquis de Sade was many things – a rapist, a paedophile, and an eloquent, literary apologist for sexual cruelty’.

“If you’re the Times leader writer and you are listening to this, it’s not okay that you are equating trans people who is described like this. It’s just wrong that you’re doing that. I don’t know what they think they’re doing.

“They don’t think of themselves of supporters of President Trump, but in America President Trump is seen in the margins of this issue, because he’s against gender-neutral bathrooms and trans rights, reverses what Obama did on this, but the mainstream opinion in business, among Democrats and among some Republicans as well, is that this is a really important part of equality. They’re not in a mainstream position, these newspapers.

“In a way I think it’s a bit of a wake-up call, because I think progressives have a lot of other things to worry about with Brexit and all that.

“It’s really important that you worry about those things. Lots of us don’t know much about transgender issues, but you can’t leave them to somebody else – because otherwise nasty stuff gets written.”

He added: “There is a consensus that was developing on both sides of the aisle – it’s right to give credit to Justine Greening and Theresa May on this because they have put themselves in a good position as well as Jeremy Corbyn – but you can’t just take it for granted.”

The wave of contentious stories, many of which are facing complaints, comes after Prime Minister Theresa May and opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn both pledged their support for transgender equality at the PinkNews Awards.

The two leaders have vowed to support proposals to reform the Gender Recognition Act ahead of a consultation set to launch later this year.

Speaking at the PinkNews Awards last month, the PM vowed to push on with proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act, to make it easier for transgender people to gain legal recognition.

In her speech Mrs May vowed to streamline the process, saying: “Trans people still face indignities and prejudice, when they deserve understanding and respect.

“We have set out plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act, streamlining and de-medicalising the process for changing gender, because being trans is not an illness – and it shouldn’t be treated as such.”

Jeremy Corbyn, who also spoke at the PinkNews Awards, praised Theresa May on the issue during an appearance on LBC last month.

In a rare joint appearance with the Labour leader, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan challenged Mr Corbyn to name some of Theresa May’s “good points”.

The Mayor explained: “You and I can both agree on many of the things Theresa May is getting wrong as Prime Minister. You do so across the despatch box every Wednesday, but there must be something you admire about her, or some positives in Theresa May as a human being.

“People think we politicians hate eachother, from different parties and tribes, and never get on – but one of the things I’ve tried to explain when I meet young people is, we may disagree on policies but we can find the space I hope to be magnanimous and give credit where it’s due for the other side’s good points. Does she have any good points?”

Mr Corbyn said: “I don’t do personal attacks because I think it just diminishes everybody and diminishes politics as a whole.

“Under demand Theresa May did bring in, or support the bringing in, of [reform to] the Gender Recognition Act. She of her own volition has done a lot of work on modern day slavery and I agree with her on that.”

Jeremy Corbyn at the PinkNews Awards

He added: “You look at another person and agree with them and disagree with them. You look for the good points in them, you recognise differences and try and put your own case. That is what I’m trying to do.

“I fundamentally disagree with the political objectives of Theresa May. Obviously I do. I put out our case, she puts out her case, and there’ll be an election some point soon.”

Speaking at the PinkNews Summer Parliamentary reception earlier this year, the Labour Party leader had led calls for an overhaul of the 2004 Gender Recognition Act that allows transgender people to change their legal gender.

The current law requires trans people to pass a number of bureaucratic hurdles, wait two years and to submit to medical tests in order to change their legal gender, but Mr Corbyn backed trans campaigners in calling for a ‘self-declaration’ system which would eliminate many of the obstacles.

Addressing the Prime Minister at the time, Mr Corbyn said: “We must advance trans rights, and discrimination has gone on too long. Bring forward a Bill to update the Act and improve trans rights and Labour will back you.”

The government later announced plans to review gender recognition rules.

jeremy corbyn getty
(Getty)

Equalities Minister Justine Greening confirmed that proposals to streamline and de-medicalise the process for changing gender will be part of a “broad consultation of the legal system that underpins gender transition, the Gender Recognition Act”.

The consultation on the Gender Recognition Act, to be published in the coming months, will look to improve the recognition process and reduce the stigma faced by the trans community.

Proposals will include removing the need for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria before being able to apply for gender recognition. The current need to be assessed and diagnosed by clinicians is seen as an intrusive requirement by the trans community.

Options will also be laid out to reduce the length and intrusiveness of the gender recognition system.

A self-declaration system is already in operation in the Republic of Ireland.

The government says it will try to “relieve the bureaucratic and medical burdens for those who choose to change their gender”.

Minister for Women and Equalities Justine Greening said: “This government is committed to building an inclusive society that works for everyone, no matter what their gender or sexuality and today we’re taking the next step forward.

“We will build on the significant progress we have made over the past 50 years, tackling some of the historic prejudices that still persist in our laws and giving LGBT people a real say on the issues affecting them.”

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn told PinkNews at the time: “I am delighted that the Government has listened to the demands of LGBT activists and is following Labour’s manifesto commitment. “

“We will vote for any law that improves the rights of trans people.”

Suzanna Hopwood, a member of the Stonewall Trans Advisory Group, said: “I am really pleased that the Government is making good on its commitment to review the Gender Recognition Act. Reform is one of the key priorities in our vision for removing the huge inequalities that trans people face in the UK. The current system is demeaning and broken.

“It’s vital that this reform removes the requirements for medical evidence and an intrusive interview panel, and finally allows all trans people to have their gender legally recognised through a simple administrative process. That’s what we’ll be calling for during this consultation, and I’m looking forward to seeing the law change soon after.”

Ruth Hunt, Chief Executive of Stonewall said: “We’re pleased the Government recognises there is still more to be done to ensure all lesbian, gay, bi and trans people are accepted without exception, and welcome the announcement of new measures to tackle some of the remaining inequalities.

“The consultation on reforming the Gender Recognition Act is hugely encouraging.

“The 2004 Act was ground-breaking in giving trans people a way to have their gender legally recognised, but the process is in dire need of reform.”

More: Ed Miliband, LGBT, Trans, Transgender, UK

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