A message to Labour Party members about the current conflict over ‘sex’ and ‘gender’
[This is (approximately) what I said at the Woman’s Place UK meeting in Brighton on 23rd September 2019. Please note, it is not an attack on the Labour Party. It is a plea to our party to get itself out of the muddle and conflict that all political parties have got themselves into over sex and gender.]
Read text below or, to watch the video, click here.
To gender-critical Labour Party members: thank you for still being in. I know how hard it is. I know about the frustrations and the conflict. Those conflicts are in most socialist and academic organisations. Please remember our party is no better and no worse than others on sex and gender.
If you’re not a Party member, I promise it’s easy to apply what I am going to say to your own organisations, too – but, as we’re in Brighton at this time, I would like to start by congratulating the Labour Party on the magnificent efforts that went into the 2017 Manifesto. Really. We were in the process of working out new and radical policies when a snap election was called. We pulled together the best manifesto for decades in record time, and people loved it.
But the desperate rush to publish “For the Many” did mean that it was not perfect. The worst problem is that across the different sections, the Manifesto built in a conflict between the protected characteristics ‘sex’ and ‘gender reassignment’. That conflict is not inevitable – unless you bring in the idea of ‘gender identity’. This is my message to my fellow Party members: please look into this.
You cannot be against gender stereotyping (because it’s sexist) and protect the idea of ‘gender identity’ – that is, innate gender stereotyping.
You cannot protect sexual orientation, and tell lesbians they must believe that anyone can be a woman.
You cannot support freedom of speech and expression, and treat an unproven idea as sacrosanct.
I believe that Labour needs its women – all of them – working full strength – for an anti-austerity Labour government so, forgive me please if this evening I talk to you, but also to those over there at conference tonight, who I hope will see this later, on film.
This summer, I was one of two people turned down as a council candidate by my local Party because people complain about us expressing our opinions about sex and gender. A third candidate backed out because she was fed up of being slandered and mistrusted for her views. It happens a lot. It happens to Party members up and down the country, and it’s Party members doing it.
I would like to say to the Labour Party – I do understand. We’re under all kinds of pressure, fed up of slanders and controversies and attacks on our people – but you have this one the wrong way around – appeasing noisy complainers does not work. You make them more confident and vastly more unpleasant. In the long run, you move further and further away from what most people want.
By complying with bullies and gossips, you silence the quiet people, the vulnerable people – in our case, that means the abuse survivors, the less ‘out there’ lesbians, the transsexual women who have the misfortune to disagree with Stonewall on this, and parents who are worried about what their kids are learning about sex and gender.
You cannot run all-women shortlists and training schemes under the Equalities Act exemption, with the stated goal of increasing female representation, and support self-ID and admit anyone who says they’re a woman to your lists and courses.
I know you think you proved us wrong on this when you suspended David Leigh for saying ‘he’s a woman on Wednesdays’. Yes, your rule book states that you accept self-ID “when it’s in good faith” and yes, he admitted he was just making a point and you think you “won” by suspending him for that – but if sex self-ID were protected in law, as you say you want it to be, you would have been breaking the law when you said you didn’t believe him, “good faith” or not.
And males are famously willing to say the words that give them power positions. That was David Leigh’s point, and it was well made.
Please look again at that Manifesto and the rule book. The conflict between feminists and gender-ideology people in Labour is there because we have built it into the rules. It is grossly unfair to deny people roles and a voice in the party because of a conflict the Party has made inevitable.
The Three Way Split
You may say ‘well, the manifesto stance has been upheld by motions from many local groups and trades unions.’
Well yes, it has – in the face of the confusion caused by conflicting policies.
I would like to explain how this happens, and how it has subverted democracy everywhere. Our Labour Party honestly believes itself to be incontrovertibly in support of sex self-ID. It believes that defending the rights of trans people means defending the concept of gender-identity. It believes that questioning identity politics is a form of prejudice known as ‘transphobia’, which must be rooted out, along with all other forms of prejudice.
In the last two years, dozens of members – good, socialist women, have stood up at meetings and tried to explain the conflict of interest. That’s not transphobia – trying to explain – Socialist women always have and always will support oppressed minorities and the right to be different. They’ve tried to explain that feminists have always stood against gender-stereotyping, and therefore they reject the concept of immutable ‘gender identity’. They have tried to explain that being against sex self-ID means being against Queer Theory, NOT being against anyone, NOT being ‘transphobic’.
A phobia is an irrational fear. Denying lesbian and gay people the right to live and love as is right to them is often because of a phobia. But in contrast, women do have rational, science-based reasons for fearing male opponents. The ‘sex’ exemption in the Equalities Act is not there because of a phobia – it is there, rightly, because women and girls often need that protection.
Women have tried, and sometimes succeeded, in passing motions on the topic but generally, they fail. This has led to the extraordinary situation where most Party branches apparently agree to suppress ‘gender critical feminism’ as though being critical of gender is some sort of aberration, rather than the core premise of feminism that it is.
This is how it happens: a woman stands up to speak to a motion against sex self-ID, or against ‘affirmation only’ in schools, or against accepting ‘gender identity’ as though it were a fact. She begins to explain how the language around this issue has been pulled around until even attempting to define ‘woman’ becomes contentious, and a Three-Way Split develops.
Those who have studied the issue divide into supporters and opposers, but most of the room sit in doubt, wondering how to be good socialists in the middle of a linguistic and emotional minefield. The motion goes to the vote and many abstain in confusion.
The balance between the few on each side decides the outcome, but it’s likely that doubters will defer to anyone who’s had LGBT or Stonewall training, for fear of looking prejudiced.
That does not mean the majority of Labour members support gender-identity theory or sex-self-ID. It means the majority are confused by these conflicting ideas that were shunted into our policy in 2017 in the rush to publish our manifesto for the snap General Election.
Let’s not do that again.
Sadly, those ideas have been held in place by an all-too common belief in this thing, ‘transphobia’ that so many feminists who spent a lifetime working for equality have mysteriously gone down with. Complaints fly to and fro, gender-critical feminists get pushed out of officer posts on the grounds of ‘transphobia’, and the more this happens, the more gender-critical voices disappear, the more firmly the party believes itself to be pro sex-self-ID.
I have watched women lose roles and motions up and down the country because of a belief in ‘transphobia’. I have watched democracy go down to the Three-Way-Split, in Labour, in Trades Unions and in other leftie organisations. In the mean time, I have conversations with MPs, with party officials and with union reps and execs, all saying “This is wrong. We need more people to speak out!”
We need more people to speak out
We need calm, informative conversations within the Party – but now things have got so heated, how do we do it?
We offer our profound gratitude to organisations like Woman’s Place who have led the way. Most people do not like conflict –
Dear Labour Party, you would get such different results if you required secret ballots on sensitive issues. You would have more women, with more energy, out campaigning for you if you would publicly accept their views – not necessarily agree with – but accept their views. Please look into this –Scotland managed it – you will have to sooner or later. We know that. That’s why we are still campaigning for you.
You may be wondering – especially if you’re a man, why women in particular are so afraid of speaking on this issue. You’d best do some research. Do you know how many of the women around you are abuse survivors of one sort or another? Do you know what that does? Do you know how efficiently most women are brought up to believe their value as women depends on being seen to be inclusive and caring, and how scary it is to say something that will be taken as ‘anti-trans’? Do you know just how painful that becomes, for women who have looked after anyone suffering from gender-dysphoria? And – this is huge – do you know just how many perfectly ordinary men around you are just longing for a chance to slap those women down, or how keenly women feel that threat around them every day?
In my branch, any woman applying for a place that’s reserved for women at some point gets cornered and has to listen to one of the men (good, stanch, socialist party members) who feel the need to explain to them how places reserved for women mess up men’s careers. Do you know how hard it is, after a lifelong training in not getting in the way, for women to get through that without saying ‘sorry’ and stepping aside? Can you imagine how I felt, after surviving that, when I was turned down for having said things that “could offend transgender people”?
And – Dear Labour Party, do you know how keenly our many loyal Labour Party women here feel the urgency of winning a Labour government? How deeply and painfully divided against themselves they are, when they feel the need to speak on an issue that the Party seems profoundly intolerant of?
Where women’s groups have led the way, the Left is lagging behind. Here’s a shout-out to those socialists out on the campaign trail now, under the weight of this worry about their sisters, and about their children.
RAG stands for Rise Above Gender. Let’s build a national network of gender-critical socialists, so no-one has to speak out alone. If you’re a leftie, woman or man, Labour Party or no, please don’t leave here tonight without a RAG card.
And please take a look at the Women’s Place Manifesto for some inspiration. I promise you, it’s socialist through and through.
Remember – radical means roots. Radical feminism, radical socialism – Real feminism is gender-critical, and socialism cannot succeed without feminism. Liberating half of humanity isn’t socialism. The left needs to accept gender-critical feminism. It is not ‘anti-trans’ it is not anti-anyone – but it respects women. And men. It respects reality, and humanity, and will make all of us stronger.
~ speech ends ~
NB The people outside were invited to talk to us. They preferred to stay outside, pretending to be trying to break in.
The RAG card and information can be viewed on our temporary Facebook page. We at RAG are in the process of building a group we can use to help gender-critical socialists find each other and work together.
Now, please help us win recognition of women’s rights throughout British politics, and a Labour government. Here is the leader’s speech at conference, 24th September 2019