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Labour members plead with Keir Starmer, Marsha de Cordova and the party to come out swinging for trans rights in the wake of alleged Tory attacks

Vic Parsons June 19, 2020
Keir Starmer's 'deafening silence' on trans rights slammed by activists

Labour members are calling on Keir Starmer to stand in solidarity with the trans community over the Tory attack on trans rights. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Trans and cis ally Labour activists have accused leader Keir Starmer of “complicit silence” in the face of reports the Tories plan to attack trans rights.

Several trans Labour activists told PinkNews that their membership is “hanging by a thread” in the wake of Starmer’s “deafening silence” on equalities chief Liz Truss’ comments regarding the trans community.

They accuse Starmer and Labour’s shadow minister for women and equalities, Marsha de Cordova, of refusing to talk to trans party members, paying “empty lip service” to trans rights, and of a “dereliction of duty” in failing to “stand up for the most disenfranchised minority in the UK”.

Moreover, the party leader has been accused of “pandering to prejudice” with his tepid response to reports that Truss and prime minister Boris Johnson will scrap planned reform of the Gender Recognition Act.

After it was reported that the government plans to cancel reform in favour of a ban on trans women using public single-sex spaces, Starmer, the only Labour leadership contender who refused to sign up to the Labour Campaign for Trans Rights list of pro-trans rights pledges earlier this year, said he would only “take a view” on the government’s proposals when they are published.

“Keir is absolutely clear that trans rights are human rights, and we stand by that commitment,” Starmer’s spokesperson said on Wednesday (June 17).

The spokesperson added that this is a “nuanced debate” that “has to be considered carefully”, saying “we want to work with all sides of the debate”.

These comments have sparked fury from trans Labour members.

“We wouldn’t work with racists on BAME rights. So why work with the anti-trans lobby?” said Emily Brothers, who in 2015 was the first openly trans Labour Party candidate to run for parliament.

The Labour Campaign for Trans Rights slammed Labour for being “shamefully silent” on the issue Thursday night (June 18) and demanded Starmer speak up for trans people “before it is too late”. Torr Robinson, chair of the group, called Starmer’s comments “very disappointing”.

“Human rights are not a debate, and trans rights are not a debate,” they said.

“Trans people exist and we have value – that is the reality.”

Keir Starmer ‘pandering to prejudice’ with silence on trans rights.

Eighteen months after closing a huge public consultation on potential reforms to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) – the process trans people have used since 2004 to gain legal recognition of their gender – Liz Truss told the women and equalities committee on 22 April, 2020, that she would be ready to publish the government’s response this summer.

Despite the point of reform being to modernise the GRA – which fewer than 5,000 trans people have used to gain legal gender recognition in 16 years, despite there being up to half a million trans people in the UK – Truss said her plans followed three important principles, only one of which was relevant to the legislation she is responsible for.

The other two principles Truss set out – the protection of women’s single-sex spaces and protecting under 18s from making “irreversible” healthcare decisions – were recognisable transphobic tropes that position trans people as a threat to women, and trans children as confused and being persuaded they are trans by a sinister “powerful trans lobby”.

In the two months since these remarks, Truss has continued to make public statements about trans rights that have been condemned by LGBT+ groups and human-rights organisations and caused widespread anger, panic, fear and confusion in the trans community.

And then last weekend, The Sunday Times published a story, based on a leaked report, that said Johnson and Truss were scrapping plans to reform the GRA.

This is despite 70 per cent of the more than 100,000 respondents to the Tories’ GRA consultation backing proposals to de-medicalise the process and make it simpler for trans people to gain legal gender recognition, in line with the system in several other countries.

Rather than listening to these calls, the Times reported, the government would instead bring in “new protections” for women’s single-sex spaces.

Starmer’s response to all of this has, according to one Labour member, been “unacceptable”.

“It’s just pandering to prejudice,” said Andrew Copeman, a Labour member and racial equality campaigner.

“This idea that streamlining documentation updating will lead to sexual assault is completely abnormal, and irrational,” he said, refuting the un-evidenced claims that GRA reform would empower cisgender men to sexually assault women in bathrooms, commonly parroted by fringe anti-trans pressure groups opposing reform.

“Feeding these opinions is the kind of behaviour one associates with the far right,” Copeman continued, “not a party who claims to be fighting against class and civil inequality.”

Author, Muslim drag queen and Labour member Amrou Al-Kadhi agrees: “At a time when the current Tory government are making life immeasurably harder for trans people, are erecting racist immigration policies and are even criminalising anti-racist protestors, the Labour Party has done nothing but pander to damaging narratives that only help support the right.”

Trans activists accuse Keir Starmer of refusing to engage with them.

During his leadership campaign, Keir Starmer said that if he was elected then “fighting for LGBT+ communities would be at the core of my leadership of the Labour Party”.

“We must listen to the concerns of the trans community and their voices must be central in our policy making,” Starmer said. “We need to reform the GRA to include self-identification and legal recognition of non-binary gender identities.”

But trans and non-binary Labour activists told PinkNews they have repeatedly asked Keir Starmer, and other senior Labour figures, to talk with them about GRA reform and trans rights over the past couple of months – and received no response.

“Their refusal to listen represents a disregard for our community and our concerns,” Robinson said. “It speaks to a serious and long-term fraying of relations between the party and the trans community, as well as other communities who are being targeted by this government.”

Emily Brothers says she worries that “obfuscation from Keir and silence from Marsha” indicates a shift in Labour’s position on trans rights.

“The leadership isn’t talking with trans members or our wider community,” she said.

“As trans people are invisible in public life, we depend on Labour allies to support the trans cause. That why I want Keir and Marsha to be unequivocal about GRA reform and engage with us.”

Hold the government to account, trans Labour members ask party leaders.

In March, the Labour leader told PinkNews that Labour “stands up for people who are being abused and vilified, we always will and we always should”.

Keir Starmer added: “Trans rights are human rights and I support the right to self-identification. The Gender Recognition Act was a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t go far enough.

“I agree about the dehumanising aspects of the [gender recognition] process. But we want to have this debate in the right spirit. I don’t think it helps to have too heated a debate about it, it must be possible to move forward in the right spirit.”

But Charlie Caine, another trans Labour member, believes “trans people have been left to stew without any support from the front bench”.

He continued: “I’d like Keir to ask the government why they are leaking worrying policy to the Times rather than having it scrutinised via the proper channels.

“I’d like him to ask why when 70 per cent of people responded positively are they ignoring the democratic mandate. Mostly, I’d like him to send a message of solidarity to trans people that Labour, the party of equality, will stand in solidarity with us and fight for our rights.”

The desire for solidarity from Starmer was echoed by every Labour activist PinkNews spoke to.

I want a firm commitment that Labour will argue for positive change that extends trans rights and holds the government to account for any regressive proposals,” Brothers said. “That must involve trans people.”

Copeman said Starmer was paying “empty lip service” to trans people, while “barely doing anything at all”.

Trans allies quitting Labour over inaction on trans rights.

All of the Labour activists interviewed by PinkNews knew of trans and queer Labour members who had quit the party over its perceived inaction and silence on trans rights.

Amrou Al-Kadhi warned that they are also considering resigning from Labour: “If they do not come out in support of trans people unambiguously, I, as well as many other queer people in the Labour Party I’m sure, will renounce my membership.”

Starmer’s commitment this week that he will “scrutinise” GRA legislation once the Tories publish it is insufficient, Robinson said. “He has to speak up for the marginalised and tell the government this will not happen without a fight,” they added.

Copeman was blunt: “I’d like him to be quoting facts and data to fight such rampant discrimination, and holding the Tories to account for their broken promises.

“I’d like him to say: ‘We’re with you, we won’t stand for this.'”

Keir Starmer has been contacted for comment.

 

More: Emily Brothers, gender recognition act, GRA Reform, Keir Starmer, Labour Campaign for Trans Rights, Labour party, liz truss, Marsha de Cordova, single-sex spaces, trans rights

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