Labour’s transphobia failure

Labour's shifting stance on trans rights reflects a deep-seated failure to prioritise the dignity and safety of transgender people, instead using them as political pawns in a bid to capture votes from Tory heartlands. By Alex Burt


With hindsight, it’s easy for the trans community to look back on 2019 fondly. Things were not perfect, but progress towards dignity and equality for transgender people seemed inevitable.. For a start, 64% of respondents to a government consultation had expressed support for the concept of ‘Self-ID’, a de-medicalising of the Gender Recognition Act. Labour would carry a promise to do similar into the 2019 election. Public attitudes indicated broad support for an extension of trans rights.

Why do I say this? Because that, as we now know, is not what happened. Self-ID was canned by Liz Truss in 2020, ostensibly because she felt it “was not a priority” for trans people. Since then we have become an ever more tempting target in an ever more vicious culture war with an ever more hostile political and media class. From being the party of Self-ID under Theresa May, Sunak’s manifesto contains several anti-trans pledges, including one to ensure the Equality Act explicitly excludes trans people from any definition of sex.

Unfortunately, as with so much else, when offered the chance to set out a progressive stall, Starmer instead decided to shift to a right wing stance. And in this case, I do mean a right wing stance, not a rightward shift. The 2024 manifesto includes halving the amount of time someone must live as their preferred gender to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate and a trans inclusive conversion therapy ban, but that is about it for any limited trans positive policy. The promise to implement the Cass Report recommendations, despite the flawed and biased methodology they come from (rejecting all non-double-blind studies in an area where that is deeply unethical, being a particularly bad example), is a deeply reactionary approach to trans rights which puts people like me on the altar of appeasing those in the media who are obsessed with us.

The problem with Labour’s approach to trans rights isn’t just policy either. It is the words our leadership uses. It is the way we are seen, not as people, but as a pawn used to get votes, and it’s not our votes he wants. Figures across the shadow cabinet have repeatedly engaged in dog-whistle politics around transphobia, but in particular Wes Streeting, and Keir Starmer himself have become some of the frontbench’s most outspoken transphobes. This goes alongside NEC intervention to dismiss a complaint against Rosie Duffield for transphobia and antisemitism after she denied trans people were targets of Nazi German genocide, and the similarly insidious statements from other backbench MPs to create a climate where queer people do not feel safe in the Labour Party.

The Starmerite approach to trans rights is a triangulated gamble that values the votes of trans people and, perhaps more crucially, our comfort and safety, behind the votes of those in Tory heartlands. When we complain, we are told vague lines about how the debate is ‘toxic’ (it is), that the Tories are worse and that we should be more considerate. When middle-class media trans-exclusionary radical feminists complain, we get the front bench stumbling over themselves to say that trans people will, where they can get away with it, be excluded from society if they want to live as their authentic selves. It would be pathetic if it wasn’t so personal and terrifying.

The ‘trans debate’ is toxic. It is toxic for the thousands of people, like myself, who will face abuse, slurs and threats if we even dare to stick our heads above the parapet. It is toxic for the trans people who see our politicians debating their validity and using what rights they should have as a political football. It is not toxic for those in our ruling class who debate and legislate on us. It is not their lives that are threatened by the consequences of their actions, nor is it their rights on the line. 

This manifesto was an opportunity. Labour could have used the political space created by the incompetence of the Tories and the rise of Reform to put forward at least some progressive social policy. It was an opportunity we were never going to take. I don’t know if Keir Starmer or a majority of the shadow cabinet believe what they say about trans people, but that is not the point. The point is, they have decided we do not matter to their political project, and a generation of queer people won’t forget that the side of history the leadership chose was the wrong one.

Allyship matters. Even in opposition, seeing a major party standing up for progressive social values gives queer people hope that somewhere in the future, it will get better. Theory without practice is useless, and it is important that those that say they stand with us, do so in practice rather than in theory. For many in positions in the Party, transphobia is an inconvenient facet of the Labour party to be ignored. My message to all those who read this is to not let that become the norm. Do not be a bystander, hold those in power accountable and just maybe, we will find that things can only get better from here.

Source >> Labour Hub

Main Image by Steve Eason

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Alex Burt is a Labour Party and Momentum member in Leicester South, currently serving as Youth Officer. They also chair their university Labour Society and Leicester Young Labour.

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