Stop the Tory attacks on trans rights
Updated: Jul 6, 2020
by Laura Miles
Deep-rooted Tory racism has been repeatedly demonstrated through the Windrush scandal, the hostile environment, the Grenfell fire and in their panicked reactions to the explosion of BLM protests following George Floyd’s murder. Now, we see a rising transphobic hate crimes, such as toxic transphobia like Trump’s exclusion of trans people from medical support and Hungary’s new law restricting trans people’s ID documents to their birth sex. In this context - the Tories’ blatant transphobia has also been starkly revealed.
In mid-June, in the middle of the unprecedented Covid19 crisis, the Tories signalled their intention to reject updating the 2004 Gender Recognition Act. Self-identification to obtain a gender recognition certificate is a key reform to allow trans people to change their birth certificate more easily. But it is now off the cards it seems. This and other trans-supportive proposals originally came from the parliamentary Women and Equalities Committee in 2017, after a survey of trans lives revealed shocking levels of oppression. Self-ID would replace the current medicalised process with a legal declaration - after a period of time living ‘in role’, to live in the acquired gender for life - made before a registrar specially trained to detect fraud. Similar changes have already happened elsewhere like Ireland without reported problems.
A public consultation on the proposals still has not reported eighteen months after it closed. Yet the undemocratic Tories have caved in to gender reactionaries and will ignore the 70 percent positive responses for self-ID from 100,000 respondents. Claiming the results were ‘skewed’ (i.e. trans people’s views don’t count) they’ve ignored the fact that transphobic groups like 'Women’s Place UK' and 'Mumsnet' openly organised negative responses. The Tories will offer the sop that conversion therapies will be outlawed, something that should have happened decades ago anyway.
The Tories’ lurch into the transphobes’ camp coincided with JK Rowling doubling down on her transphobic views, in an essay full of confused and erroneous claims. Not the least of these is that trans rights threaten women’s rights, for which there is no evidence at all. While socialists have sympathy and solidarity with Rowling for suffering domestic violence, and don’t endorse the abuse she’s suffered since, that cannot justify her dangerous transphobia. It’s great that so many, including several Harry Potter stars, immediately repudiated her. But she’s undoubtedly fed an increasingly hostile environment that directly threatens the lives and well-being of trans and NB people.
The writing was on the wall some weeks earlier when Women and Equalities Minister Liz Truss, indicated the government were considering: in addition to blocking self-ID, making it more difficult for trans women to access single-sex spaces by strengthening the exception clauses in the 2010 Equality Act. These allow trans exclusion from services and employment in certain circumstances.
If Truss gets her way this would constitute a UK ‘bathroom bill’. This would reprise US Republican attempts to block access to toilets, changing rooms and refuges depending on genitalia, not gender. Quite how this would be policed boggles the mind.
Truss also proposes making it harder for young trans and NB people to access medical support and intervention. This is on the unsubstantiated and scaremongering basis that they’re being ‘groomed’ by a ‘transgender lobby’, which is fast tracking them into ‘irreversible life-changing measures’.
Any notion of agency by young people; or recognition of their often years-long struggles to access help and support via GPs, gender identity clinics and support groups like the children’s charity 'Mermaids' - are simply dismissed. In slurs reminiscent of the vile homophobia of two or three decades ago, the transphobes (of the religious right, far right and ‘trans-critical’ feminist and left minority) claim young people need to be safeguarded from ‘trans groomers’.
One tactic the transphobes currently favour is to attack the 'Gillick Competency' guidelines for determining informed consent by under-16s. They want to make it illegal for doctors to treat under-16 trans people unless they make individual court applications.
'Gillick Competency' was established, following the Victoria Gillick test case in 1985. This allows under-16s to make independent decisions about contraception on the basis of informed consent. Those proposing to implement restrictions or exceptions for trans young people perhaps ought to consider that if 'Gillick Competency' is undermined it will open the door for sex puritans and anti-abortionists to challenge under-16 access as well.
No wonder trans and NB people are feeling deeply threatened and discussing whether the situation now heralds a ‘Section 28 2.0’ for them. Some feel they may have to retreat to the closet, de-transition or even leave the country.
Transphobic groups, including some feminists and socialists, are cheering on the Tories. But trans and NB people’s rights to respect, well-being and life are being directly threatened. Trans people will be more likely to face increased hostility, physical and sexual assault, murder and suicide if these measures are implemented.
We need a fightback. Trans and LGBT+ people in general have a proud history of resistance. Organisations like 'Stand Up To LGBTQ+ Hate Crime', 'Mermaids' and some unions like University and College Union (UCU) and National Education Union (NEU) have issued excellent statements following the recent attacks. We know protests work, from Stonewall to the recent Black Lives Matter uprising. Many trans people carried Black Trans Lives Matter placards on protests, mindful of two Black trans women recently murdered in the US, Riah Milton and Dominique Rem’mie Fells. The uprisings forced authorities to bring more serious criminal charges against police, racist statues have been removed, and debates rage about defunding the police and decolonising the curriculum.
Now’s the time for trans and NB people to organise collectively and demand active solidarity from unions, communities and political organisations. Sadly, Labour’s leadership and most union leaders have been sitting on the fence – that needs to end. Protests have been organised in various cities – we need more of them. We need solidarity motions in trade unions, mass online meetings, lobbying, petitions, and we need to take to the streets where we can. If the Tories succeed in attacking trans rights - how long before women’s rights, LGB rights and the rights of other oppressed groups come under threat?
This article will appear in the next Socialist Review magazine. Reproduced with the author's permission