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Labour leadership faces backlash on trans rights

Ruby Brown explores the debate over trans rights currently taking place within the Labour Party

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Image Credit: Ted Eytan

The growing divide within the Labour party on the issue of trans rights has only widened after an allegedly accidental investigation was launched into its youth chair’s series of tweets criticising trans-exclusionary radical feminism. One Guardian report states that the investigation was triggered by two of Labour youth chair Jess Barnard’s tweets last year, with one tweet alluding to blocking trans-exclusionary radical feminists (known as TERFs), with the other informing a Labour councillor that she would not be “intimidated into giving transphobes energy.”

While the investigation was swiftly rescinded, with an apology from the party issued shortly afterwards, Jess Barnard took to Twitter again to reiterate her determination to fight transphobia within the Labour Party, writing: “I will be writing to @Keir_Starmer to request an urgent meeting to ensure this doesn’t happen again and that party staff begin to work with young and LGBTQ+ members, not against us.” Since then, however, there has been no report of a meeting between both parties.

On the very day as the investigation against Barnard ground to a halt, Rosie Duffield — MP for Canterbury— similarly took to Twitter to address her contrasting “feminist and gender critical beliefs,” stating that she does “not accept self-ID as a passport for male-bodied biological men to enter protected spaces for biological women,” despite claiming she has “always fully supported the rights of all trans people.” This comes just two months after it was announced that Duffield would be put under investigation by the Labour Party for liking a series of tweets accusing trans people of “colonising gay culture” and “cosplaying” as the opposite sex, in addition to liking and posting tweets implying that only cis-gender women could have cervixes.

Since then, Duffield opted to pull out of the annual Labour conference, claiming that she did “not want to be the centre of attention” following the controversy. In conversation with the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Duffield spoke of the abuse and threats she has received since outlining her beliefs, and told the show that she did not want to subject herself or others to the extent of that abuse at the conference.

Whilst Labour leadership have not formally banned the MP from attending, fellow Labour MP and shadow Treasury minister, Pat McFadden, has since spoken out in disdain for the reportedly uninviting atmosphere created following the debacle, arguing that the party needs to move towards a more open and tolerable plane when discussing difficult issues. Speaking in an interview with Andrew Marr, Sadiq Khan emphasised his similar belief that conversations regarding subjects such as identity should be dealt within a “civilised” manner, expressing his view that the party must find a way to deal with the issue of trans rights in a way that does not encourage abuse or hostility.

In the exclusive Radio 4 interview, Duffield stated that both her and several other female MPs have requested a meeting with Keir Starmer to talk through the topic of trans rights on several occasions, but later revealed that such a meeting had not occurred. Since the interview was aired, Starmer has stated his continued support for the implementation of the Equality Act, which “allows the provision of women-only spaces” including transwomen - but only in “specific circumstances.”

It is undoubted that levels of trans hate crime are on the rise, with Galop reporting that four in five transgender individuals were the victim of a hate crime within the years of 2019 and 2020. Critics of Rosie Duffield are therefore now questioning why Labour leadership continues to evade the discussion of trans rights.

One respondent told Galop that “the fear [of being a victim of hate crime] is particularly prevalent when public figures — politicians, high profile newspaper columnists etc —demonise trans people in print or on air... it makes the fear more pronounced because you worry some-one’s going to act on it.” This message merely amplifies the calls for Labour to further clarify its stance on trans rights. Many LGBTQ+ voices are now asking why the party has acted so quickly in response to Barnard’s anti-transphobic rhetoric, when it has yet to adequately address the issue of transphobia within its own factions.

In the shadow of frustration left by these recent events, it is critical for Labour to acknowledge the grave con-sequences of its inner party discrimination and exclusionary discourses if it is to move past allegations of neglecting trans issues.

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