How to beat transphobia

Submitted by AWL on 19 February, 2020 - 11:08 Author: Katy Dollar
Labour Campaign for Trans Rights

• See also this on LabourList by Christie Neary

The Labour Campaign for Trans Rights, founded by transgender and non-binary Labour members in order to advance trans liberation through the Labour Party, launched on 11 February with a set of pledges for leadership candidates.

The proposed reforms of the Gender Recognition Act were a step forward against trans oppression, but also began a debate which brought deeply reactionary views into the public discourse, including within the labour movement.

The comrades involved are right that trans liberation should be an aim of the Labour Party and that this will require fighting transphobia in our own ranks. Though I hold great personal sympathy for the aims of the pledges, their content is not the right way to achieve them.

In particular, the pledges call to support the National Executive Committee [NEC] striking down transphobic motions, and the expulsion from the Labour Party of those who express bigoted, transphobic views.

Bigotry and oppression within the Party cannot be eradicated primarily through administrative and disciplinary means. The presence of transphobia, highlighted by the passing of a Women’s Place motion at Hornsey and Wood Green and Tottenham Labour Parties, must be faced with political education and discussion.

The liberation of LGBT people will involve convincing a hell of a lot of people who are currently have either inadequate or downright wrong politics. To persuade people is a far more tough and effective stance than mass expulsions, though it may seem “softer”.

It is unlikely that any of the leadership candidates signed up to the pledge really believe that we should expel everyone who expresses bigoted views. The majority of Labour Party members probably give little thought to trans people (a problem in itself), but were the party machine to expel every member who ever expressed transphobic, racist, homophobic or sexist views, we would be expelling hundreds of thousands of people – a bit much even for the Compliance Unit, even if you assume that the officials there are unerringly enlightened and perfectly skilled at detecting and punishing prejudices.

Of course, that doesn’t mean there are no situations in which it is justifiable to expel transphobes – harassment and abuse, including deliberately misgendering and deadnaming trans activists, are a few possible examples.

Labour disciplinary procedures at present are deficient, helping neither complainants nor those being disciplined. We’ve seen in the high-profile antisemitism scandal that complaints are ignored or disappear, and due process is the exception rather than the norm.

Likewise, motions which fall outside of Labour Party rules can be ruled out of order by CLP Chairs, but what is and isn’t transphobic is contested political ground: those “gender critical feminists” whom I would call transphobes also claim to support trans rights. Encouraging the NEC to rule motions out of order would mean the stifling of debate, the failure to challenge views, and would hand enormous power to the Party leadership.

The launch of the pledges has sparked a backlash ranging from insensitive to horribly offensive. Whilst we may disagree with the wording of the pledges and on the best way to achieve trans liberation, we must stand in solidarity with the trans activists who wrote them against the hostility they face in our movement. This hostility has been picked up by the press, with many papers running stories about women who are “genuinely concerned” or “afraid” about the “loss of women’s spaces”.

I don’t doubt much of the concern and fear is genuine, but fear and bigotry are not mutually exclusive. We must fight against the campaign of miseducation presenting our trans comrades as a threat to cis women or their rights. Socialists reject attempts to divide workers on the grounds of prejudice.

Class is our universalising identity. Our class has the potential to organise a great integrated movement of solidarity with minorities, bringing together the fights for all our liberations.

It will be messy and it will be hard work but, unlike bureaucratic shortcuts, it will work.

The LCTR pledges:

1. Accept the material reality that trans people are oppressed and discriminated against in British society, facing a rising risk of hate crime, and difficulty accessing public services, healthcare, housing and employment.
2. Believe that trans liberation must be an objective of the Labour Party, and that transphobia is antithetical to our collective aims.
3. Commit to respecting trans people as their self-declared gender, and to ensure that the Labour Party is an inclusive environment for trans people.
4. Accept that trans women are women, trans men are men, and non-binary people are non-binary.
5. Accept that there is no material conflict between trans rights and women’s rights, and that all trans women are subject to misogyny and patriarchal oppression.
6. Listen to trans comrades on issues of transphobia and transmisogyny, allowing trans people to lead the way on our own liberation.
7. Support the work of trans members and organisers within the Labour movement, including supporting motions on a local, regional and national level which are presented for the furthering of trans liberation.
8. Oppose transphobic motions which run contrary to our own party equalities policy, and support the NEC striking down such motions on this basis.
9. Organise and fight against transphobic organisations such as Woman’s Place UK, LGB Alliance and other trans-exclusionist hate groups.
10. Support the expulsion from the Labour Party of those who express bigoted, transphobic views.
11. Support reform of the Gender Recognition Act to improve transgender rights, as well as supporting policies which would improve trans people’s access to necessary healthcare, housing, and employment.
12. Organise against and oppose any further transphobic policy from our own party or any other.

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