A Labour MP has received a barrage criticism from anti-transgender feminist campaigners after defending the right of transgender women be stand on all-women shortlists.
The UK’s Labour Party uses women-only shortlists in a number of constituencies in a bid to boost the number of female MPs in Parliament.
Under the system, some local Labour Parties are required to pick a Parliamentary candidate from a list exclusively comprised of women.
Dawn Butler, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, this week gave her backing to transgender women who stand under the system.
There are currently zero openly transgender MPs in Parliament, though several ran for election in 2017, and many serve as local councillors.
Speaking to This House Magazine, Ms Butler said: “I think if a trans woman wanted to be included in an all-women shortlist then that should be considered.”
Transgender women are already permitted to stand on all-women shortlists.
But her comments have led to a barrage of abuse from anti-transgender campaigners on social media, with messages branding her a “rat” and calling for her deselection.
One said: “What on earth is the point of all women shortlists if they include men? Will equality be achieved if there are 650 men in Parliament as long as 325 claim to feel like a woman? This is so regressive.”
Another tweet added: “Transwomen are not women, they are TRANSwomen, ie biological males. Or are you joining the ranks of the ‘bugger science’ brigade & expanding ‘female’ to accommodate ‘male’ too?”
But trans women are already competing for seats under long-standing Labour policy.
PinkNews spoke to a transgender Labour activist, Dr Heather Peto, who has made it onto an All Women Shortlist for selection in the Labour target seat of Rushcliffe at the next General Election.
Dr Peto said her nomination had been supported by local people, but that some Momentum and trade union activists had attempted to campaign to block her from standing.
She told PinkNews that her main critic, who tweets online under the nom de plume ‘Dr Radfem’ was a “a rent-a-quote for being nasty to transgender people, and being hostile to us”.
Dr Peto added of reaction within the party: “Most Labour people, I’d say 90 percent of Labour people, are very supportive.
“It is just the vocal transphobes that are not supportive. I got messages sent to me saying they hoped the hormones I take cause me breast cancer and I die a horrible death.
“I get those types of comments sent to me, but those are just a vocal minority. I spoke at Labour conference this year and I was warmly accepted, and everyone was supportive. There’s just a few vocal people who I just ignore, really.”
She added: “Locally, members have been very supportive, because they’ve always known me as a woman. I’ve been out for 20 years, and I’ve always championed women’s rights as well as transgender rights.
“I’m sure there’s probably a few people who are not supportive, but they’re keeping their heads down.”
Labour MP Stella Creasy was also barraged with abuse last week when she spoke out in favour of transgender equality.
Not all Labour MPs are united on the issue, however.
Ms Flint said: “We need to think through how to support those from the trans community but not in such a way that compromises women’s and girls’ rights.”
The Labour politician went on to question whether transgender women who “look and sound like a man” should be allowed to access women’s spaces.
Ms Flint, a prominent critic of party leader Jeremy Corbyn, added: “It’s important that women feel safe there. It’s difficult to judge if someone says they define themselves as a trans woman but for all intents and purposes they look and sound like a man.”
“We need to make sure we don’t end up undoing the work to give women the space they need to be safe. There is some concern that a wider group of voices wasn’t heard on the women and equalities committee.”
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Labour’s Sophie Cook came within just a few thousand votes of becoming the country’s first transgender MP during the 2017 election.
Cook was the Labour candidate for the Shoreham and Worthing seat, a Conservative stronghold for over 20 years.
She has spoken about the abuse she expected to get as a trans person campaigning for the seat, and the positive reaction she was actually met with.
Cook said the campaign marked a turning point in people’s acceptance of her and her gender identity.
“Something unexpected happened. Instead of the abuse, I was greeted with love and support, sure there were still a few transphobic remarks online but nothing like I’d experienced previously,” she said.
She had heard how some transgender people in the constituency had moved away because of the abuse, but she was met with open arms in the community.
Cook came away from the election with almost 21,000 votes, increasing the Labour vote by 114 percent and making it one of the biggest swing seats in the country.
She added: “They weren’t voting for a trans woman, they were voting for Sophie Cook, they were voting for the Labour Party. They saw beyond the headlines and the things that made us different and in their way struck a massive blow for trans equality.”
“We need transgender politicians, after all, everyone in society needs to feel represented. But the main reason why I believe that the time is right for a trans MP has nothing to do with equality or diversity, it’s down to the constituents who put their faith in me to represent them, regardless of my gender identity.”