POLITICS
05/03/2018 20:07 GMT | Updated 06/03/2018 13:07 GMT

‘Self-Defining’ Trans Women To Be Allowed On Labour’s All-Women Parliamentary Shortlists

Historic NEC statement follows consultation and legal threats

Fox Fisher
Sophie Cook and Jeremy Corbyn

“Self-defining” trans women are to be given full rights by Labour, including guaranteed access to the party’s all-women shortlists for Parliamentary selections, HuffPost UK can reveal. 

In an historic move, the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) is set to approve a statement that would allow people to self-identify without the need for medical or other certification that they have changed their gender.

The formal recognition of full transgender rights is expected to be approved by the NEC’s Equalities Committee at its meeting on Tuesday and will be endorsed by the full NEC later this month.

The move, which follows months of bitter controversy, will disappoint those feminists who profoundly disagree with the concept of self-identification.

Supporters of the policy are keen to move the debate on after the “distraction” of a recent row over Shadow Equalities Minister Dawn Butler appointing trans activist Munroe Bergdorf to an LGBT panel.

Jeff Spicer via Getty Images
Munroe Bergdorf, Labour's new LGBT adviser

Bergdorf has apologised for claiming that all white people are racist, although members of the NEC Equalities Committee may raise her more recent remark that the Suffragettes were “white supremacists”.

But those backing trans rights in the party believe that Bergdorf’s remarks are “not relevant” to the much bigger move towards equality.

As well as being fully guaranteed the right to take part in women-only shortlists for Westminster, the party’s formal decision will confirm that trans women can take part in the Jo Cox Women In Leadership programme.

In its first public policy statement on the issue, the party wants to get ‘ahead’ of the current law in a bid to enshrine new rights to combat discrimination.

The statement, a copy of which has been obtained by HuffPost, recognises that the topic is “emotive”, but makes clear that self-identification will be the official policy and warns that abuse of trans members “will not be tolerated”.

HuffPost UK
Labour's NEC Equalities Committee paper

“In line with the Party’s policy on the Gender Recognition Act, All Women Shortlists and women’s reserved places are open to self-defining women,” it states.

“We recognise that there is a diversity of views on what is a very complex and emotive issue, but discussions should never take the form of abuse and intimidation.

“Any instances of discrimination must be taken extremely seriously, investigated and acted upon. Transphobia and the abuse of members based on their Trans identity will not be tolerated in the Labour Party.”

A previous move to get a statement agreed by the NEC was postponed in January amid fears of legal challenge, as well as the need to properly consult as many different groups in the party as possible.

Equalities Committee chair Keith Birch completed the consultation last month and the party is now confident its policy represents the vast majority of the views of its “key stakeholders”.

The party will also commit to reforming the Equality Act 2010 to ensure it “protects trans people by changing the protected characteristic of ‘gender assignment’ to ‘gender identity’.” 

Some feminists say that raises the prospect of trans women being granted a legal right to access to women-only spaces such as domestic violence refuges, toilets, changing rooms and other areas.

The 2010 Act protects trans people from discrimination but it does allow service providers - including hospitals and prisons - to refuse a trans person access to single-sex services if that is seen as detrimental to others.

The law includes an exemption when excluding trans people from a service - such as counselling services for female victims of sexual assault - is a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim” 

Labour has for some time operated an informal policy of allowing transgender people to appear on women-only shortlists for Parliamentary seats but the policy has never been formally recognised.

A paper titled ‘Trans Inclusion In The Labour Party’ states that “trans women do not need a Gender Recognition Certificate to participate in an All Woman Shortlist”.

“Following consultation with key stakeholders about the wording of this policy it is recommended that the NEC AGREE this statement which will form the basis for the Party’s agreed position and will be communicated to members and CLPs.”

The Government announced last summer that it would publish a consultation on reforming the 2004 Gender Recognition Act to improve the recognition process and reduce the stigma faced by the trans community.

Heather Peto
Heather Peto, who is on Labour's all-women shortlist for Rushcliffe.

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.

The legislation appears to have been delayed but Labour is determined to keep the pressure up and plans its own new law if the Tories fail to act.

But 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”.

The Female Eunuch author Germaine Greer has 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”.

PA Wire/PA Images
Jeremy Corbyn and Andrew Marr

Jeremy Corbyn told the Andrew Marr Show in January he wanted to listen to activists like Bellos but said that trans people needed better rights.

“These people have been through a big decision a big process a big trauma, let’s look at the human beings in front of us.

“My mind is that I look at the person in front of me. I see that that’s their identification that should be respected.”

But others have claimed that allowing trans women onto all-women shortlists is a well-intentioned mistake. 

A crowdfunded group of Labour activists, titled ‘Keep All-Women Shortlists Female’, has been threatening legal action.

“Self-identification does not define men as women, in law or in fact. Labour conference has neither agreed nor even debated self-id or rule changes to the Labour party’s AWS selection process,” the group states.

Kevin Winter via Getty Images
Actor Daniela Vega at the Oscars.

The news follows the 2018 Oscars making history on Sunday, when Daniela Vega became the first trans presenter at the Academy Awards ceremony.

Vega, who presented the best original song award, saw her own movie ‘A Fantastic Woman’ win the prestigious Oscar for Best Foreign Film.

Sophie Cook, a trans woman (pictured with Corbyn above), stood for Labour in Worthing and Shoreham in the 2017 general election.

A transgender woman was in January selected on an all-woman shortlist to be the Labour candidate in Rushcliffe in Nottinghamshire.

Dr Heather Peto, the national trans officer for LGBT Labour, fought the 2017 election as candidate in Rutland and Melton.

When asked about the ‘Keep All-Women Shortlists Female’ group, Peto told the Nottingham Post: “I think it’s a fight that we had to have, and I want to be the person to have the fight. I’ve got thick skin, and I’d rather it was me that gets that criticism rather than someone else.”

Jack Taylor via Getty Images
Jeremy Corbyn and Dawn Butler

Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary Dawn Butler, who will be advised by Bergdorf, recently told The House magazine: “I just don’t think people really need to make a big fuss about it.

“I mean if one of my team members came into the office and decided that James wanted to be called Jane and was now a woman I would not say ‘prove it, what do you mean?’ I would just accept where he is and his journey or where she is and her journey and that she is being her true authentic self.”

Here is the full NEC statement that is set to be approved by the party:

Labour has a proud record of championing the fight for LGBT equality. The Labour Party recognises the vital importance of self-definition for the Trans community.

On the fight for Trans equality Labour has committed to reforming the Gender Recognition Act and the Equality Act 2010 to ensure they protect Trans people by changing the protected characteristic of ‘gender reassignment’ to ‘gender identity’ and remove other outdated language such as ‘transsexual’.

The Labour Party continues to have an inclusive definition of women. In line with the Party’s policy on the Gender Recognition Act, All Women Shortlists and women’s reserved places are open to self-defining women.

We recognise that there is a diversity of views on what is a very complex and emotive issue, but discussions should never take the form of abuse and intimidation.

Any instances of discrimination must be taken extremely seriously, investigated and acted upon. Transphobia and the abuse of members based on their Trans identity will not be tolerated in the Labour Party.