The labour movement must fight for trans rights

Photo: Trans+ Pride March, London 12th September 2020, by Steve Eason.

The Tory government has announced that it is ruling out proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA), which would have made it easier for transgender people to have their gender legally recognised. As Amnesty International, Liberty and Human Rights Watch have said in a joint statement, this was a “missed opportunity to ensure that the law kept pace with human rights standards”.

Under the GRA, transgender people must pass through a number of bureaucratic obstacles to getting their gender recognised, including a requirement to obtain a psychiatric diagnosis of “gender dysphoria”.  The proposed changes were a result of a public consultation undertaken by Theresa May’s government in 2018, in which out of 102,818 responses 64% of the public said that the requirement of a diagnosis of gender dysphoria should be done away with. The Tories have decided not to act upon this consultation, primarily as a way of shoring up support with their reactionary base.

Transgender people will continue to suffer the consequences of bureaucratic barriers, discrimination and medicalisation. According to Stonewall’s 2017 Trans Report, almost half of young trans people have attempted to commit suicide. Transgender people are one of the most victimised groups in Britain, and moreover it is considered acceptable by many (including author JK Rowling for example) to delegitimise trans people and publicly question their right to exist.

The process of applying for legal recognition of gender under the GRA is heavily bureaucratic and discriminatory (including the bizarre requirement that you must have lived as your “chosen gender” for a period of two years prior to recognition) and many trans people are discouraged from even applying as a result. However, so-called Equalities Minister Liz Truss has said that the law provides the right “checks and balances” and claimed that gender recognition reform “is not the top priority for transgender people”.

Although the government has made some promises towards reform, including pledging to cut the time involved in obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) to make the process “kinder and more straightforward” as well as reducing the £140 cost to “a nominal amount”, these promises (even if fulfilled) don’t go nearly far enough. As Stonewall has said in a statement, such minimal administrative changes are totally inadequate. The government’s lack of action in support of trans rights simply encourages transphobes to believe their views are acceptable and fans the flames of reaction and hatred.

A recent conference of the British Medical Association (BMA) passed a motion calling for gender self-ID. They propose that the gender stated on a person’s birth certificate could be changed through a witnessed sworn statement, rather the current lengthy process. This right to gender self-ID already exists in Ireland, Malta and Denmark. In ignoring the BMA’s advice, the government is insisting doctors continue to medicalise trans people by diagnosing them as having gender dysphoria before they can be allowed to change their birth certificate.

The government’s announcement was a windfall for the various transphobic hate groups masquerading as supporters of women’s rights. The insidious campaign group Fair Play for Women, allies of the U.S. evangelical Christian right-wing, stated that the legislation as it currently stands “fairly balances the conflicting rights of trans people and women”. This ‘analysis’ is fundamentally incorrect.

In truth, as oppressed groups under the capitalist system, the interests of trans people and women are fundamentally aligned. As we have stated previously, the fight for the rights of both oppressed groups are part of the same struggle against gender and sexual oppression which structure capitalist society. It is only through recognising the alignment of their common interests that working class women (whether cis or trans) can unite in the struggle for a society in which they are no longer oppressed.

Thus far, the Labour Party has not even deigned to respond to this announcement. Possibly Sir Keir doesn’t want to muddy the waters around the launch of his “A New Leadership” slogan by making any comment. It could also be part of the broader strategy to attempt to win “left-behind” white working class voters in Brexit-supporting regions by appearing more socially conservative through an appeal to “family” values, alongside “patriotism” and “aspiration”. This is a total abdication of his responsibilities as leader of the labour movement.

His previous “leadership” on this issue isn’t encouraging. When Rosie Duffield, Labour MP for Canterbury, stated that “only women have a cervix” in early August, no attempt was made to rebuke her by the leadership. When Starmer was asked to address the issue on the Today programme, his response was equivocal, and he appeared to suggest that transphobic bigots and trans rights activists are both equally to blame for the vicious nature of the debate.

Unfortunately, it is quite clear that the Labour Party has no intention to stand in defence of trans rights and interests. It is therefore all the more vital that the wider workers’ movement stands in solidarity with transgender people, and supports and campaigns for trans rights. Those trade unions that have not declared unequivocally for trans rights must do so, and the union movement must recognise its responsibility to fight for the rights of its trans members, both by demanding the support of the Labour Party and participating in trans rights protests and campaigns in the wake of the government’s announcement.

A workers’ movement divided by prejudice cannot unite against the system that exploits and oppresses us. This rotten capitalist system which perpetuates sexual and gender oppression must be torn down and replaced with a socialist system, in which the rights of all people are respected.

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