Jeremy Corbyn is on a collision course with female activists at Labour Party conference over a decision to make self-identifying trans women eligible for all-women shortlists.
There is a groundswell of anger over the policy switch, Huffpost UK understands, with some members bidding to secure a last-minute motion to add the issue to the official agenda at next month’s Labour conference in Liverpool.
The party confirmed in May that self-identifying trans women would be eligible for all-women shortlists and women’s officer roles without needing to show medical certification proving they have changed gender.
Some members feel that it undermines female representation in the party, and others have deeper concerns about the party’s support for including self-identification in the proposed Gender Recognition Act (GRA), which the Conservative government is currently consulting on, and claim they are being denied a say.
Theresa May appeared to back self-identification when she announced the GRA consultation, saying the government would aim to “de-medicalise the process for changing gender, because being trans is not an illness and shouldn’t be treated as such”.
The counter-argument from Labour is that recognising self-defining women is an important step in upholding trans rights and battling transphobia.
Amy Brookes, a councillor in Rotherham who has put forward a motion at the party’s separate women’s conference, said: “Labour has quietly changed the definition of ‘woman’ without consulting women – the sex that is going to lose out.”
If passed, the motion could be chosen for debate in the main conference, but backers fear the party wants to avoid controversy.
Brooks and others fear that allowing trans women to self-declare gender could see men abuse the rule to gain access to women-only spaces, such as changing rooms, and may distort sex-related data on issues such as pay.
Women’s Place UK, an independent campaign group, has also organised a meeting in Liverpool to coincide with the conference to “give voice to the considerable concern within the Labour movement”.
Rother Valley Constituency Labour Party (CLP), of which Brookes is a member, has penned a motion which states that the separate women’s conference should oppose self-identification and lobby the party to follow suit “because of the implications [self-ID] will have for women in terms of safety, dignity, privacy, participation in public life, and political representation”.
Trans activist Lily Madigan, Rochester and Strood CLP’s women’s officer, hit back at those backing the motion and said opponents to self-ID were “very much on their own” and that Labour had simply formalised its long-standing support for trans women to self-ID.
But Brookes believes self-identification is in conflict with the Equality Act, which aims to protect women from discrimination.
She said: “This (Labour policy change) has happened without consultation or debate. This has happened because Labour, in practice, has started to define ‘women’ by sex and by self-identification, causing a conflict of interest and defying the exemptions under the 2010 Equality Act.
“We call upon the Labour Party to ensure that the Equality Act is upheld so that women’s rights are maintained as they are currently and lawfully exist, and to oppose support for self-id in policy and in law.” She added the GRA consultation should be put on hold and more thoroughly scrutinised.
Judith Green, of Women’s Place UK, said the Labour Party should fully consult its members. She said: “Jeremy Corbyn has been clear that engaging in this discussion is legitimate.
“While some hold the view that there is ‘no debate’ to be had on reform of the Gender Recognition Act, we are seeing more and more in the labour movement support us in our concerns that women’s sex-based rights and protections be upheld.
“The aim of the meeting is to give voice to the considerable concern within the Labour movement and society that women’s sex-based rights and protections are not undermined by any changes to the legal definition of sex.
“We would like to see Labour Party policy reflect these concerns.”
HuffPost UK understands there are no fringe events where trans rights will be specifically discussed during conference, however, campaign group Stonewall UK is holding a fringe meeting which may see the issue raised.
Trans activist Madigan said surveys showed women as a group were comfortable with self-ID reforms. She said: “Party policy is in line with what Labour members think, which is why we overwhelmingly voted to protect transgender people from transphobia at the 2016 conference.
“Labour has used a trans inclusive definition of woman for decades and a small group of bigots won’t make us move backwards on this front.
“Things like the British Social Attitudes Survey make clear people on the whole, and overwhelmingly women are happy for trans women to be in women’s spaces.
“This is a view reflected by the experts working in women only spaces. CLPs have passed numerous motions against transphobia and the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn have condemned it.”