In the past few weeks I have been called trash, disgusting, despicable, f**ing scum, compared to a Nazi, a white supremacist, and a supporter of apartheid South Africa. I have had the insults ‘TERF’ (trans exclusionary radical feminist), transphobe and bigot aimed at me too many times to count.
I am one of the women Labour Party members who recently put my name to a crowdfunder to raise money for a legal examination of whether Labour is abiding by the Equality Act 2010. Currently the Gender Recognition Act states that a transgender person wishing to legally change their sex must meet certain criteria - to ‘live as’ the opposite sex for two years and a have a doctor’s diagnosis of gender dysphoria. Once they’ve been through this process they are given a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC), can change their birth certificate to say female instead of male, and access sex-segregated spaces currently reserved for women such as female dorms in backpacker hostels, hospital wards, women’s prisons or domestic violence shelters (basically spaces where women are likely to be vulnerable or in a state of undress).
Although the Equality Act does allow providers of women-only spaces and services to disqualify transwomen (even with a GRC) in certain circumstances (such as where privacy or the likelihood of distress are important considerations) these exemptions are underused and poorly understood. The Equality Act also is clear that only those who are legally female may stand on all-women shortlists. However we believe Labour have overridden the Act and are allowing those who are legally male to stand on all-women shortlists and as women’s officers, although there has never been any policy discussion or debates about this in the party’s usual democratic way.
Trans rights activists have been lobbying hard for changes to the Gender Recognition Act so that those who wish to change from male to female can simply ‘self-identify’ as women, with all the currently required checks and processes removed. Any man could simply sign a form and become, legally, a woman.
Every single person outside politics I have spoken to about this can see quite clearly and quickly why many women may not want to be naked around naked, male-bodied strangers - in spaces such as communal showers in swimming pools or prisons, for instance. But that is already happening with the current checks in place, and could stand to increase significantly with the introduction of transgender self-identification.
One in five women have been sexually abused as children. The same number have experienced sexual assault or attempted sexual assault as adults (compared with one in 25 men). In the UK, male sex offenders outnumber women sex offenders by 50 to one. That’s why women have rightly learned to be careful around men - not because all men are a threat but because they represent a vastly higher threat than people of their own sex.
There are no officially collected statistics on the crime patterns and rates for transwomen. Some studies suggest that for sex offences it is equally as high as males, reports in reputable news outlets in the past couple of years show sex offence convictions are at least 10-20 times the rate that of biological women.
Prison Officers Association reps have voiced concerns about the potential for abuse, and as the British Association of Gender Identity Specialists puts it, it would be “rather naïve” to suggest that male prisoners wouldn’t pretend to be transgender in order to access women prisons.
These kinds of dignity and safety issues are just one aspect of the proposed law changes. I put my name to the crowdfunder in part simply as a matter of principle. The Gender Recognition Act hasn’t been changed, and the Labour Party should be abiding by current law.
But what’s happened to me, and every other woman I know in the Labour Party who has publicly stated they want to examine the impacts of these proposed changes, is an onslaught of abuse of the type I mention above. My name has been put on a ‘hit-list’ and an active campaign launched by a number of Labour members to have us expelled for ‘transphobia’. Two women on the list have been suspended from Labour, one for saying ‘women don’t have dicks’. So far nobody in a senior position within the party has spoken up for the many, many women (and good numbers of men) who have serious concerns about these issues.
Meanwhile women have had their employers contacted by anonymous activists accusing them of transphobia for simply questioning the trans rights agenda - every single meeting that women have tried to organise to discuss the issues has been targeted by activists attempting to shut it down.
Labour’s current position on trans self-identification is a huge mistake. I have had so many messages from women in the Labour Party saying thank you for speaking out on this, that it is important to them but they feel too intimidated to voice their thoughts about it. But I shouldn’t be being congratulated for being ‘brave’ for calling for evidence-based policy making where those who are affected are allowed a voice in the process.
It shouldn’t be ‘brave’ to say that women who are vulnerable or in a state of undress should not be forced to share private spaces with male-bodied people, nor to question whether those same people are women simply because they say they are.
There are realistic solutions which could ensure safety and dignity for both women and transwomen, such as the provision of third transgender/gender neutral spaces - we need to be able to discuss these. It’s not radical feminism to say this, it’s a matter of safety, fairness and common sense. Everyone outside politics I’ve spoken to about it agrees this needs some proper thinking through. The 6% of women voters who say they may switch their voting intention away from Labour seem to agree too.
Pilgrim Tucker is a community organiser and campaigner