Labour’s Nadia Whittome expertly explains why trans allyship is essential to queerness, feminism and socialism
It’s 4pm on a Monday and Nadia Whittome is trying to unobtrusively wolf down a spicy panini.
She hasn’t had lunch yet and is apologising profusely – both for eating over Zoom and for trying to talk while gently choking on her food. “I’m brown but I’ve got such a white palette, anything spicier than pepper is a bit much,” Nadia explains.
The Labour MP is quick to crack jokes – “Trans rights? What about my right to misgender people?” – but slows down as we approach the interview proper, clearly serious about her position as one of the most vocal proponents of transgender civil rights in the House of Commons.
It’s not a stance that’s gone unnoticed. Nadia has also fiercely condemned Tory equalities chief Liz Truss over changes to the Gender Recognition Act and openly called for any aspiring trans or non-binary politicians to get in touch with her for support.
Partly as a result of this unequivocal support, Nadia – who’s now been Britain’s youngest MP for almost a year – has been jointly awarded PinkNews Politician of the Year. It’s an honour that last year was won by Conservative MP Penny Mordaunt and Labour’s Jess Phillips.
But it’s not just trans rights that Nadia has been fighting for in parliament. The Nottingham East MP sat down with PinkNews to talk about how LGBT+ issues are central to her socialism, why the climate crisis is a queer issue, navigating a pandemic during her first year as a politician, and trans liberation.
Nadia Whittome: LGBT+ rights are ‘central to my socialism’
Explaining that she finds being labelled the “baby of the house” infantilising, Nadia Whittome says that as someone on the cusp of the Gen Z and millennial generations, she sees herself as representing a demographic whose lives have been defined by insecurity.
“It’s the greatest privilege of my life to represent the constituents of Nottingham East. It’s also a great privilege to represent our generation: those of us whose lives have been defined by insecurity, whether it’s the insecure job market, having to pay for education, insecure housing,” Nadia Whittome says.
“But at the same time we’re a generation that is brave, we’re collaborative, we’re open, we’re celebrating of difference. And we’re not going to get back in our box.”
“LGBTQ equality and the rights of LGBTQ communities aren’t some sort of sideshow in my socialism,” she adds. “They’re not expendable. They’re central to my socialism.
“It’s a matter of health care, education, workers rights. And it’s just a huge honour to to be made PinkNews’ Politician of the Year – especially in my first year as a member of parliament.”
Asked when LGBT+ rights became an important issue to her, the queer MP says they’ve always been important, almost innately, as it’s “always been part of my lived experience”.
And she swiftly adds that it “shouldn’t be radical” to believe that “everybody, no matter your gender, sexuality, race, class, background, disability, religion, etc, should have equal rights and equal opportunities and demanding liberation for all of those marginalised groups”.
‘Hosting climate youth strikers in parliament was my proudest moment’
It’s been a wild first year in politics, and it was a huge change for Nadia Whittome right from the get-go – she was only selected to fight the Nottingham East seat on the eve of 2019’s election being called, and in the space of one weekend her life completely changed.
Proud of her record on supporting care workers and championing minorities, she says that one of the highlights of her first year has been the platform she’s been able to give to those fighting for climate justice.
Climate change is “a queer issue, a class issue, a race issue, it’s a feminist issue”, Nadia says. “It’s the people who are most marginalised who often are going to be most impacted by climate disaster, and often, particularly in the Global South, have also done the least to bring it about.”
As a result, one of Nadia’s proudest moments from her first year as an MP was bringing youth climate strikers into parliament.
“We just got working together on a bill that would green the education sector,” she recalls, “and to put climate education on the national curriculum. I also lead a debate on climate justice.
“That was a real highlight.”
Transgender liberation ‘is for transgender people to decide’.
Nadia Whittome is clearly awkward receiving praise for her vocal and unflinching allyship to trans and non-binary communities. “I’m just doing my job!” she says. “For me, it’s clear that standing in solidarity with trans people is my duty both as an MP and a human being.”
It’s “sad” and “shameful” that trans lives have become a political debate, she continues, saying that “even for me, as a cisgender person, the exhaustion I feel [about the debate] is nothing compared to the trauma and exhaustion that trans and non-binary people must feel”.
“One day, we’re going to look back on this time, and feel shame that this was ever a matter for debate,” Nadia says firmly.
“Just as we look back on the so-called debate about gay men not being allowed in the Army or not being able to adopt children, or women being innately inferior to men, or disabled people not being worthy of earning the same wages as non disabled people.
“We’ll look back at trans rights in the same way. And I just wish that we could fast forward to the time where trans people have equal rights and are liberated.”
The MP is also clear that it is for trans people to indicate when liberation is achieved. “It’s not for me, as a cis woman, to tell trans communities when they are liberated!” she exclaims.
But she adds: “It’s a structural, systemic, baked-in inequality and oppression. So the solution is not just about tinkering around the edges. Liberation is when all the structural barriers are removed: it’s about the right to health care, it’s about education.
“It’s about the fact that trans people are far more likely to be victims of domestic and sexual violence, rather than perpetrators.
“I’m a socialist. Trans rights and workers rights are an integral part of the class struggle.”
Finally, Nadia points – as people are wont to do – to the example of her mum, a woman in her fifties who was raised in a convent, didn’t get sex education in school, and has a lot of “cultural baggage” as a result.
“If my mum can be a trans ally and try to understand what it means to be non-binary, then anyone can.”
Swapping notes with the SNP’s Mhairi Black: ‘We disagree on Scottish independence, but we’re both socialists’
In a Guardian interview in January, Nadia Whittome said that she and Mhairi Black, the Scottish National Party MP, had swapped numbers. Did they ever go for that drink?
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“So, we haven’t been for a proper drink yet,” Nadia says. “But we’ve hung out. We’ve had conversations on the terrace between votes.”
There’s solidarity between the two women because of their age and their queerness, but also, as Nadia points out, because they’re both progressive.
“Even though we’re in different parties, and we’ve got different views on the issue of Scottish independence, we’d both say that we’re socialist. We’re both feminists.”
Ending on this note, Nadia adds a final point: “And there is absolutely no conflict between being a feminist and being a trans ally. There is no conflict between the rights of trans people and the rights of cis women.
“In the fight against patriarchal violence, we should be natural allies.”