A couple of weeks ago a 12-point plan emerged on the rights of transgender people. It has not yet been adopted by the Labour Party (this would presumably have to be done at Conference) but two out of the three remaining leadership candidates have endorsed it. I’d like to say why I have problems with it.
The first part of the plan is perfectly fine; it deals with protecting people from abuse and discrimination due to their ‘presentation’ or ‘identification’. That is all of a piece with general anti-discrimination policy, so for me, points one to three are fine. The problems begin with point four which asks us to ‘accept that trans women are women, that trans men are men and that non-binary people are non-binary.’
What’s my beef here? Surely people should be accepted for who and what they are? Yes, I agree – but to accept a person as a fellow human being is not the same as accepting a particular narrative about that person. I’m not sure I even understand what it means to say ‘trans women are women’ and in an environment where it is proposed that people should be simply allowed to self-identify without any kind of medical examination, this is something that requires thought. What is a woman? What does it mean for someone to have male genitalia and say I am a woman? And if we accept this narrative, what follows? There has been little or no public debate on these topics, and without free and open debate how can we achieve any kind of understanding? In the last fifty years or so we’ve had the debate about feminism, we’ve had the debate on gay and lesbian rights and as a society we have come (largely) to a consensus on these issues, one that is enshrined in law. No such debate has taken place on transgender people; the ‘T’ has simply been tacked onto the end of LGB and we are told to accept this or be labelled as haters.
We need to look at the consequences of accepting trans women as women (I’m focussing more on women but there may be problems for cis men as well in men’s groups such as Men in Sheds). We are now obliged to accept the presence of trans women in previously safe environments such as toilets, changing rooms and prisons, and this may present problems for a number of reasons. I’m not suggesting that trans women are likely to be abusers, but that the system itself is open to abuse; that in our rush to be inclusive of some we may actually be excluding others.
But my biggest problem with the plan is point nine, which describes organisations such as A Woman’s Place and the LGB Alliance as ‘transphobic and trans-exclusionary’ hate groups. This is clearly wrong and I hope they will think better of this clause if nothing else. But my plea is this: we desperately need open, tolerant and above all respectful debate. Because without it my fear is that we will be even more divided, both as a party and as a society.
Ballots are, as they say, ‘dropping’ at the moment for Labour leader and I still don’t know who to vote for! I’ve been up and down, back and forth, side to side and round and round and I’m currently spiralling towards the outer arm of the galaxy because I just don’t know!!! Every item of news, everything I see on social media, every new thing I learn about each of the candidates, sends me spinning in a new direction like a pinball on a table, and no clear answer is emerging. Opinions are now hardening among the membership and those helpful posts asking ‘still not sure who to vote for? Read this’ are no help at all because they are just a pitch for one candidate slagging off the others.
I’ve tried writing down the pluses and minuses of all the candidates. On the one hand, Keir Starmer has backed the readmission of Alistair Campbell to the party after he voted Lib Dem (and bragged about it) and has declined to say where his funding comes from; on the other hand he has refused to sign up to the 12-point pledge on Transgender rights. (I too am opposed to some of this, for reasons I’ll probably put in another post.) Lisa Nandy has some positives; she’s Northern and down-to-earth and might win back some of the lost seats in that region: on the other hand she lacks experience and until recently most people hadn’t heard of her. The same goes for the candidate who in all other respects I like, Rebecca Long-Bailey. The fact that she is seen as the ‘Corbyn continuity’ candidate is a plus for many, but also a minus for those who see his era as discredited and tainted by huge losses at the polls. But in the end whatever else I may feel, I think RLB lacks the experience to be Leader of the Opposition. So what to do? I still don’t know and in the end a little voice keeps telling me that it won’t matter anyway because it’s probably going to be a walkover for Starmer.
Which brings us to the deputy; and here there’s a wider field to choose from. I’d like it to be a woman, but then again I like some of Richard Burgeon’s ideas and he too has expressed reservations about the 12-point Trans rights plan. Angela Rayner is favourite but she has been critical of both Corbyn and the membership and I’m not happy about that. I’m half-tempted to vote for a BAME candidate, if only because we haven’t had one in the leadership election (I don’t know why Diane Abbott didn’t stand; maybe she’s had enough of the abuse she’s already getting, but I hope it isn’t that.) So I may vote for Dawn Butler but I just don’t know.
Fortunately it’s a different system from ‘first past the post’ so we get second, third and fourth choices which are added up if at first there is no clear winner.
Oh well. My ballot hasn’t come yet so we’ll see. Who knows what I’ll do? In the meantime if you’re a member let me know what you’ve decided – and if you’re not, who you’d vote for if you were.