This week, The Telegraph claimed that Stonewall, the UK’s leading LGBT+ organisation, had “split” after “being accused of promoting a ‘trans agenda’ at the expense of gay and lesbian rights.” Stonewall CEO Paul Twocock quickly clarified that the “alarmist” claim was false, but before long, Twitter was awash with reports of the newly-formed, trans-exclusionary group, which calls itself the LGB Alliance.
More information soon trickled out: the group joined Twitter last month, and plans to launch formally in January 2020. Its official mission is to “assert the rights of lesbians, bisexuals and gay men to define themselves as same-sex attracted,” but scratch beneath the surface and you’ll find dog-whistle transphobia, as well as a wider, more insidious narrative about division amongst the LGBT+ community.
In a quote issued to The Telegraph, Gay Liberation Front co-founder Bev Jackson spoke of her frustration that Stonewall has “chosen to prioritise trans people.”
Incidentally, Stonewall is named in tribute to a series of 1969 riots led largely by trans and gender non-conforming people, whose collective anger galvanised an international LGBT+ rights movement. Without the foundational work of trans activists, the rights afforded to LGBT+ people in many Western countries today – marriage equality, hate crime protections and same-sex adoption amongst them – wouldn’t be possible.
But facts like these have been forgotten as time has passed.
Trans and gender non-conforming people – particularly if they’re also people of colour, disabled or working-class are more likely to experience poverty or attempt suicide than their cisgender allies. In this context, it’s not hard to see why Stonewall – literally named in their honour – would vocally support them.
What should of course be screamingly obvious is that trans rights don’t come at the expense of lesbian, gay and bisexual rights, yet a small faction of self-described “gender critical” feminists have furiously campaigned to halt any progress of trans rights – hurling online abuse at the community in the process.
Earlier this year, the NSPCC ceased working with Munroe Bergdorf after being pressured by a “transphobic lobby.” Just months prior, a transphobic smear campaign was launched to block trans youth charity Mermaids from receiving a £500,000 grant. Letters accused the organisation of bullying doctors and promoting falsehoods, but a thorough inquiry revealed the complaints were completely baseless. The grant was awarded, despite controversy.
The LGB Alliance cloaks similar transphobia in different language. Take a scroll through the Twitter pages of any of those campaigning to diminish trans rights and you’ll see recurring arguments: that a so-called “trans lobby” is aiming to convert trans youth; that “same-sex attracted” people are suffering because of trans people; that gender is a fixed binary which “follows on” from biological sex.
None of this is true. The rise in young trans people is simply a byproduct of a rise in trans visibility, but research shows that trans youth experiences aren’t exactly positive: they’re blocked from accessing vital medication and disproportionately bullied.
Media transphobia exacerbates these issues. Publications too often back sensationalist implications that kids are being plucked from their beds and wheeled into mythical “sex change operations”, but NHS guidelines block trans youth under the age of 18 from surgery – even then, it comes with extensive regulation.
The idea that gender is a fixed binary requires a queer theory degree to unpick at length. The theory rests on gender essentialism: the belief that your (binary) biological sex determines your (binary) gender identity.
But biological sex isn’t binary. Scientists have long argued against this myth by highlighting biology’s enormous diversity, but this myth is still pervasive. Crucially, it disproportionately hurts intersex people – an umbrella term for people who don’t fit the neat biological terms “male” and “female” – who are still forced into non-consensual, “corrective” surgeries at a young age, despite the practice being described by the UN as “torture”.
Media transphobia relies overwhelmingly on these myths, which are often parroted by the same LGB people actively fighting – through this so-called alliance – to strip trans people of the few rights they’ve been granted so far.
So, yes, there is division within the LGBT+ community – but it’s not driven by logic, it’s driven by hatred.
The LGB Alliance will continue to peddle its thinly-veiled transphobia, but the overwhelming solidarity on social media should hopefully send a message of reassurance to trans communities: that despite this small but vocal minority, most LGB people will continue to fight for your rights in the same way you’ve always fought for ours.
Jake Hall is a freelance journalist.