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Lesbian peer Baroness Barker tears down tired transphobic arguments in powerful House of Lords speech

Emma Powys Maurice February 25, 2021
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House of Lords

Baroness Barker speaking in the House of Lords (Parliament live)

Lesbian peer Baroness Barker tore apart the tired transphobic arguments in the House of Lords with a powerful speech in defence of an inclusive maternity bill.

The UK’s Maternity Bill is the focus of an ongoing debate in the unelected chamber this week as peers pick apart proposed gender-neutral language.

The debate has remained largely one-sided as lords parrot a number of incorrect assertions about trans issues – until Thursday (25 February), when Baroness Barker swiftly debunked them all in under five minutes.

She began by drawing obvious comparisons between previous campaigns that persecuted minorities, highlighting the common patterns of bigotry.

“The classic campaign identifies a minority group, preferably one about which the majority population knows little, ascribes to them characteristics and motivations which make them a threat, repeats those assertions, preferably with the backing of a neutral body of experts, over and over until they become received wisdom,” she said.

“It’s what happened to migrant communities in the UK in the 1970s, and in the 1980s it was lesbians and gay men. Today, it’s the turn of trans people.”

Anti-trans arguments use ‘alt-right’ tactics, Baroness Barker claims

The baroness recalled the opposition to same-sex adoption and civil partnerships, when ministers were sent documents “that purported to be research”, but which came from biased sources like the Christian Institute.

These days the alt-right have become “a lot more savvy”, she said, changing their tactics to hide their motivation.

“They support campaign groups and individual academics to produce those documents which look like research, but under closer inspection, they’re just the same dodgy dossiers as in the past.”

She said documents such as these are the basis for the “passionate assertions” coming from Lord Hunt, one of the unelected peers raging against the bill’s trans-inclusive language.

Much of his argument has been a simple reheating of tired anti-trans talking points, including the debunked but widely-promoted claim that a Brighton maternity trust had erased female-focused terms in favour of those such as “chest feeders”.

The Baroness continued breathing fresh air into the stale debate by pointing out that Hunt had yet to offer any evidence that trans people represent an actual threat to cis women.

“If you closely examine his speech, there is no actual evidence of any threat by trans people to individual women or women’s rights. It’s just an opinion, admittedly widely repeated,” she said.

Baroness Barker addresses Lord Hunt in the House of Lords (Parliament live)

She dismissed the “carefully crafted” phrasing intended to avoid accusations of transphobia, drawing parallels with the language used to describe gay men and women decades ago.

“As a woman who lived through Section 28, I know what it’s like to be portrayed as a member of a group that constitutes a threat to women and children and families,” she said.

“[It was] unsafe to let us into changing rooms because we pose a threat – all without evidence. That was an expression of classic homophobia, often expressed in the exact same arguments and phrases we’re hearing today. The effect of what you’re proposing is the same.”

Baroness Barker then moved onto the “gender-critical” feminists supporting the anti-trans amendment, ridiculing their refrain of being “silenced” by the media, which is repeated by that same media “week in, week out”.

“They’re not being silenced, it’s just that some of us have the temerity to disagree with them, and to call them out for what they’re doing,” she scoffed.

She had sympathy for the women who’ve been scared by “the deluge of this incessant campaign”, and acknowledged that many peers will be influenced by female friends and colleagues who have understandably been convinced that trans people are a threat to them.

“But I stress again: the evidence behind it is not there,” she insisted.

House of Lords votes against gender-inclusive language

Despite her powerful speech Baroness Barker met with little support or agreement in the House of Lords, with a majority voting to insert the word “mother” in place of “person” in the bill.

Baroness Fox of Buckley condemned Barker for “demonising” people by suggesting their arguments were those of the alt-right. Her anger was shared by Jane Clare Jones, founder of the Feminist Institute, whose research informed the debate.

“Baroness Barker just slandered me as a member of the alt-right in the House of Lords,” she declared on Twitter.

“There is a research report Lady Barker. I suggest you read it and refute its actual contents with evidence rather than using the classic trans rights tactic of slandering me as bigot.”

 

Related topics: baroness barker, house of lords

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