Who’s Removing Whose Rights Anyway?

My god, what a shitshow.

As we all know, yesterday Labour released their new manifesto, in which they made the following pledge:


Twitter erupted, I may or may not have done a backflip, lots of people were rightly more sceptical, and then there was a great deal of anger and name-calling from those who – given how polarised this whole thing now is – we may as well just call ‘the other side.’

Since then, a great deal of smoke and obfuscation has been cast over the pledge. Firstly by Ellie Mae O’Hagan – whose loyalties in this battle are well known (oh hai Owen) – and then subsequently by Dawn Butler, who at this point I think we may as well just regard as a fully paid-up TRA.

Ellie 1

There is a lot to say about this. The first is that both the statement Ellie tweeted, and Dawn’s statement, would seem to directly contradict the pledge made in yesterday’s manifesto, and notably – how odd! – they use exactly the same language to do so. The key phrase here of course is ‘no spaces will be permitted to discriminate against trans people.’

labour press team

If we were being generous, we might read this as in line with the manifesto, and as a claim that ‘no spaces will be permitted to unlawfully discriminate against trans people.’ And we might read it that way because the facts of the matter are that the Equality Act gives services for female people the right to lawfully restrict the provision of those services on the basis of sex. The relevant section of the Act reads as follows:

equality act section

However, I think we all know that that is not what either the unsourced statement Ellie tweeted, or Dawn Butler intended to convey. What they intended to convey was that the pledge in the manifesto which expressed commitment to the exemptions in the EA2010 was actually not the party’s official policy, and this obfuscation has been amplified by the fact that Butler’s tweet was then retweeted by the Labour Press Team.

So this is now an utter mess. And I think we all have a right to be wondering what the hell is going on. As I tweeted earlier, from my perspective – and based on conversations with people who were involved in getting the pledge into the manifesto – what is going on is the surfacing of a fundamental split inside the party, which mirrors the basic division over the debate. That is, I believe that those who were instrumental in getting the pledge put into the manifesto did so with genuine intent, and that the TRA-faction lost the debate on this point at the ‘Clause V’ meeting when the manifesto was formulated (see here for info on Clause V). However, it is evident that not everyone in the party is on board with the results of that process, and have, effectively, decided to start legislating Labour party policy from the frontbench, in direct contravention of the party’s own internal democratic procedures. (Julie Bindel quotes several Labour Party insiders on this here). Given the utter contempt for due democratic process we have witnessed from TRAs and their allies over the years, I have to say I find this behaviour not even remotely surprising.

None of this tells us anything about how this will play out. I will say that I don’t think it’s the result of the Labour Party pulling some kind of deliberate bait and switch or making pronouncements to mollify us which they never intended to honour. Rather, as I said, I think it evidences the genuine divisions inside the party, and how completely impossible it is to get people dosed up to their eyeballs on the Kool-Aid to abide by any social or democratic conventions which don’t serve their ends. This may well not reassure anyone, and I think we are all wise to be sceptical here, especially given the contempt with which we have been treated by all major political parties on this question. Given what is happening now, people are right to question if the pledge made in the manifesto would have force were Labour to win the election, and to judge where to place their vote as their both their conscience and intuition dictates. They are also right to worry about how this would interact with the ongoing commitment to reforming the GRA. Even if the pledge in the manifesto stands, there would need to be a great deal of concerted work to ensure that the exemptions could be practicably enforced given how thoroughly Stonewall et al. have muddied the water by running all round the country disseminating legal bullshit.

overton window


That all said, even with my most pessimistic hat on, I do think yesterday’s announcement is significant. Firstly because I think a Labour Party that is openly split on the issue is still a massive improvement on a Labour Party that is unthinkingly reciting TRA-dogma and straightforwardly colluding with the silencing of women’s legitimate concerns. This may not help us all make a decision with respect to this benighted election. But with respect to the long slow grind of this conflict, it is a move in the right direction. For those of us born and bred on the left, who have been putting sweat and soul into making the case for why the trans rights movement is neither progressive, nor good for women, it’s important that the debate is now squarely, and openly, situated inside the Labour Party. We’ve spent the last several years being called Nazis and fascists and segregationist bigots, enduring endless lectures from blue-haired anime avatars about how our position could only indicate a fundamental conservatism. That story no longer stands up. The left is divided on this question. Just as we have always maintained.

The second thing is even more significant. All that the Labour Party did yesterday was reaffirm its commitment to upholding our existing rights as given in law. And the consequence of a political party affirming its commitment to our existing rights in law is an enormous amount of screaming, obfuscation and witch-burning bullshit. What this demonstrates decisively – what this clearly unconceals – is that the objectives of the present form of the trans rights movement is the removal of our existing legal rights. We already knew this of course. We have long known that representatives of the trans rights movement made explicit recommendations to the government that the single-sex exemptions be removed from the Equality Act. And yet, up till now, they have managed to successful frame the debate in terms of a bunch of nasty evil witches who are intent on refusing trans people basic rights they are entitled to, or further, who are trying to remove rights they already possess. This is what’s going on when Dawn-Legislating-From-The-Front-Bench-Butler decides to effectively claim that single-sex services are ‘illegal’ when they are no. such. thing. This then allows the creation of the impression that we are denying trans people their lawful right to unilaterally access female-only spaces, whereas what is actually happening is that the trans rights movement is trying to deny that we have a lawful right to those spaces ‘proportionate to a legitimate aim.’ What the furore over Labour’s commitment to the existing provisions in the EA2010 reveals then is that the direction of power and coercion in this situation is running precisely opposite to the story told by the trans rights movement – a story which has been so central to their efforts to caricature, demonise and silence us. It is not us who are trying to remove rights from trans people. Rather, it is the trans rights movement who is trying to remove rights from us.


Hopefully then this clusterfuck may at least put to bed the claim that there is no rights conflict here, and that we are lying meanie harpies when we say that there is. Were there no conflict, then a political party simply affirming its commitment to our existing rights couldn’t possibly lead to the kind of wailing and denunciation we saw yesterday. As we have seen all too clearly around the defamation and harassment of groups like Woman’s Place – or the fact that students at Reading thought it necessary to protest (peacefully this time) the meeting we had on Wednesday night – ‘trans rights’ is now effectively synonymous with being against women’s sex-based rights (oh yes, that evil terven dog-whistling ‘code’ we use to denote our existing legal rights), and conversely, asserting that women have existing rights in law is effectively synonymous with being ‘anti-trans’ or ‘transphobic.’ Which is more or less to say that the trans rights movement is committed to the proposition that the Equality Act itself is transphobic. Given the opprobrium and intimidation heaped upon us for allegedly being ‘against’ trans rights (no matter how often we reaffirm that trans people should be recognised and fully protected by the law), you’d think that the trans rights movement was morally beholden to the idea that trying to remove a marginalised group’s existing rights is a very bad thing. But they’re not. They’re entirely dedicated to the project of undermining our given rights every which way they can. And the time has come for them to at least be fucking honest about it. Then maybe we could all get onto the business of trying to sort out this complete and utter shitshow fair and square.

Saturday morning ETA:



  1. “And the time has come for them to at least be fucking honest about it. Then maybe we could all get onto the business of trying to sort out this complete and utter shitshow fair and square.”

    Well, yes, which is exactly what they’re afraid of, as far as I can see. If it’s going to be all fair and such, where do they get the power to force everyone to accept their articles of faith?

  2. I constantly find it so difficult to understand how the political parties, at the time of a General Election, are so desperately trying to buy the votes of a handful, a tiny handful (male) of the electorate when at least half of the voting population are women.

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