‘Self-identifying’ trans women are eligible for Labour’s all-women shortlists and other roles, the party’s ruling body has confirmed.
The National Executive Committee (NEC) decided on Tuesday to approve a new statement making explicit that the party would continue to uphold transgender rights in its organisational structures and selections.
The decision, passed without opposition, guarantees trans women equal access to all-women Parliamentary shortlists, women’s officer posts and minimum quotas for women.
Crucially, the policy - a copy of which was passed to HuffPost UK - confirms that the political rights are open to people who were born as men and who now identify as women, without the need for medical certification that they have changed their gender.
The move follows months of controversy and will come as a blow to feminists who profoundly disagree with the concept of self-identification.
In a further sign of its determination to prevent the policy from being abused, Labour moved swiftly on Tuesday night to suspend a male activist who tried to become a women’s officer candidate for his local party.
David Lewis was suspended pending an investigation into his bid to ‘self-identify’ as a woman ‘on Wednesdays’, a source told HuffPost.
In a bid to reassure critics, the NEC stressed that anyone who tried to “breach Labour Party rules and subvert the intention” of its women-only policies “will be dealt with via our established safeguards, selection procedures and disciplinary measures”.
A party source told HuffPost that the statement had been issued” in order to address any confusion or concerns around the policy”.
Amid threats of legal action or mass resignations from some feminist groups, the party has now “verified that it is acting consistently with both the letter and spirit of the relevant legislation, the Equality Act 2010”, the NEC agreed.
The ruling body added: “We recognise that there is a diversity of views on what can be a complex and emotive issue for many members, but discussions within the Labour Party should never take the form of abuse or intimidation of anyone.”
The statement follows consultation within the party on the current rules, which have been in force since 2008 but which have not formally or explicitly been approved by the NEC before.
Several trans candidates have fought Labour seats in the past, including Sophie Cook (pictured above with Jeremy Corbyn), who slashed the Tory majority in East Worthing and Shoreham in last year’s general election.
The NEC also made clear that party policy was still being developed on the wider issue of trans rights in society, on areas of public policy such as gender-specific toilet or changing room usage and access to women-only services or “safe spaces”.
“As a separate policy matter, the Labour Party is committed to reforming the Gender Recognition Act and the Equality Act 2010 to ensure they protect trans people.
“We will formulate more detailed policy to achieve that goal – whilst maintaining important safeguards and protections for all women, including vulnerable women – and we will consult with women’s organisations, LGBT+ groups and other stakeholders during the course of that process.”
HuffPost UK revealed in March that the NEC Equalities Committee had approved the wording of the policy, but the issue was twice delayed amid criticism from some women party members, including close allies of Jeremy Corbyn.
The issue has led to some bitter clashes within the party, with some women opponents furious at being described as “TERFs”, or “trans-exclusionary radical feminists”.
In a stunt aimed at exposing the party’s policy, David Lewis, a male Labour activist, told the Spectator magazine that he plans to stand for the post of women’s officer in his local party in Basingstoke.
Lewis said he identifies as a woman “on Wednesdays, between 6.50am when my alarm goes off and around midnight when I go to bed.”
The move brought sharp criticism from Heather Peto, a trans woman who is standing for the NEC elections this year.
Late on Tuesday, a party source told HuffPost that Lewis had been suspended pending investigation and would therefore not be a candidate for women’s officer in his local party.
A Labour Party spokesperson said: “The Labour Party is committed to upholding the principle of affirmative action for women. Anyone attempting to breach Labour Party rules and subvert the intention of All Women Shortlists, women’s officers or minimum quotas for women will be dealt with via our established safeguards, selection procedures and disciplinary measures.”
Journalist and activist Owen Jones welcomed the suspension.
The Female Eunuch author Germaine Greer has also sparked controversy for claiming that trans women were “not real women”.
Radical feminist and veteran leftwinger Linda Bellos was barred from a Cambridge debate after declaring she wanted to question “the power of those who were previously designated male to tell lesbians, and especially lesbian feminists, what to say and think”.
The Government appear to have delayed plans announced last summer to publish a consultation on reforming the 2004 Gender Recognition Act to improve the recognition process and reduce the stigma faced by the trans community.
The new bill would remove the need for a medical diagnosis of “gender dysphoria” before being able to apply for gender recognition, provide legal recognition of non-binary people (people who do not identify either as a man or a woman) and cut the length and intrusiveness of the gender recognition system.