Labour’s Angela Rayner has blasted the “transphobic” response to the appointment of comedian and campaigner Eddie Izzard to the party’s executive.
Izzard, who previously identified as a transvestite but has since started using the umbrella term “transgender”, was earlier this week appointed to Labour’s all-powerful National Executive Committee after Momentum director Christine Shawcroft stepped down over an anti-Semitism scandal.
The appointment of Izzard was met warmly by supporters of LGBT representation in politics but was also widely mocked online.
Pro-Brexit campaign group Leave.EU, run by former UKIP donor Arron Banks, posted a photo of Izzard wearing high heels, writing: “Labour know exactly how to sort out a crisis and get back in touch with the base.
“Eddie Izzard: working class hero. We think not 🤣”
Commenters responded with a slew of anti-LGBT messages.
One wrote: “Really opening your front door to see a man in a pink hat dress and heels with pink lip stick that should stay behind close doors can you see this man in the Labour Party Izzard dressed as he is in this picture unbelievable.”
Another added: “Labour is now a joke. Am sure the typical macho working of this country men will identify with this ponce.”
Further comments branded Izzard a “freak of nature” and a “ridiculous tranny” who should have been “drowned at birth”.
Venice Allan, a campaigner against transgender rights who has close ties to Conservative MP David Davies, also attacked Izzard.
The campaigner, who was previously suspended from the Labour Party over alleged transphobic abuse, wrote: “So Labour’s head of disputes is now Eddie Izzard?! This is bad news for anyone under investigation for accusations of ‘transphobia’.”
Anti-transgender activists who organise on internet forum Mumsnet also criticised the news, citing an extract from Izzard’s autobiography in which he references putting on make-up in a women’s bathroom.
He was branded a “misogynist” and a “creepy bastard” by the users.
But Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner hit back at the criticism.
The close Corbyn ally wrote: “I am dismayed by the disgraceful transphobic comments about @eddieizzard after it was announced Eddie was joining the Labour Party NEC.
“Comments have been made mostly via social media. Eddie is a lifelong campaigner for equality and justice with a tremendous record of supporting Labour.”
Izzard previously vowed: “I’ll continue to do all I can to campaign for an open and welcoming Labour Party and to campaign with fellow Labour activists across the country to help Labour win the next election and put Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street.”
He added: “This election has been an opportunity to talk about some of the important issues facing our Party and country, and I’m proud to have run a positive, energetic campaign with ideas on how to open up politics and give excluded groups in society more of a voice in our Party and country.”
Izzard had said previously: “Being an actor and performing stand-up is what I do for a living, but being an activist has been part of me for a long time.
“I have always fought for the campaigns that I believe in, even when they are unpopular or I’ve been advised against it.
“I came out in 1985, joined the Labour Party in 1995 and I have now campaigned for LGBT rights, for the Labour Party, for Europe and have run marathons for charities for many years.
“I have campaigned against racists and fascists all over our country and around the world and I want all of our members to feel welcome in the Labour Party.”
Izzard has pledged to make Labour more diverse.
“I have been a Labour Party activist for many years,” he said in a video, “now I’m standing for an open and welcoming Labour Party to get people from many different backgrounds into the Labour Party, and to fight this narrow minded Tory government.
“To get the Labour Party in, winning at the next general election and Jeremy Corbyn as the Prime Minister.
“I have the energy and the drive to represent labour party members on the NEC.
“I believe in doing politics differently and I want people from diverse and different groups to be part of the Labour Party and part of our political system.”
The ambitious comic had previously teased a run as the Labour candidate for Mayor of London – but given the incumbent Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan is hugely popular, it’s highly unlikely there’ll be a vacancy in the post anytime soon.
He said: “The plan was always to run [for office] in 2020, though Theresa May has changed that with her failed power grab. So now it’s the first general election after 2020.”
The star added that he would give up performing entirely if elected.
The comic said: “I would. It’s like [former MP] Glenda Jackson; she gave up acting for 25 years to concentrate on it, then she turns up back as King Lear.”
In the same interview, Izzard opened up about coming out as trans.
The comic explained that coming out as trans was by far one of the scariest things he could do, and in turn that made other obstacles less threatening.
“I think coming out as transgender allowed me to put myself in other terrifying situations and work them out once I was in them.
“I knew I would get through the bad, terrifying bit – and there was a lot of that when I was a street performer – and eventually get to a more interesting place.”
Izzard sometimes presents as male and sometimes as female.
Despite describing himself as a transvestite in the past, in recent years Izzard has more broadly described himself as transgender.
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Opening up about his gender in 2016 during a marathon challenge, he said: “I use it as a badge of identity – I am a transgender guy who came out 31 years ago.”
The star went on to explain that he often identifies as female and male – but that he felt society should not become so “obsessed” with gender.
“I’ve got boy genetics and girl genetics. We get obsessed by it in humanity. We’ve been obsessed for 5,000 years of civilisation and people are still being murdered – in Uganda they were trying to sentence people to death.
“If you look at a tiger, you go ‘ooh, tiger!’, we don’t go ‘girl tiger’ or ‘boy tiger’. We are obsessed by the genders because we grow up in one gender or another. No other animal is obsessed by our gender – they don’t give a monkeys about our gender.”
Izzard added that sexuality and gender identity should not matter, but rather what you do in life should be what defines a person.
“No matter what sex or sexuality, how you self-identity, or who you fancy, matters not one whit – what do you do in life? What do you make? What do you add to the human existence? That’s what’s matters.
“It all comes back to Nelson Mandela: Try and put something into the world, and leave something positive.
“The confidence that it has given me, coming out 31 years ago in 1985, is immense – but it was a very hard journey. Very hard.”