Labour members ‘punished’ over transgender Facebook debate by Lucy Bannerman 24.10.18

The original article is here.

Labour supporters have criticised a “sinister” decision to freeze them out of a Facebook group for sharing an article by the former head of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.

Rebecca Lush was among the women who tried to share the article by Trevor Phillips on The Labour Party Forum, an unofficial account with almost 40,000 followers.

In the article for The Times, Mr Phillips, a long-time Labour member, urged ministers not to give in to “trans zealots” over proposals to allow people to self-declare their legal gender.

Within 25 minutes of making the post, Ms Lush was told that she would be muted by administrators for sharing the allegedly “transphobic and offensive” material. She and other members are blocked from joining any discussion of the subject until tomorrow.

On its home page, the forum claims to be “an open, democratic, independent, unofficial forum for Labour Party supporters to discuss issues and policies,” where “debate is welcome” and “participation is encouraged, as is an open mind”.

Bay Whitaker, the group moderator, was accused of doing the opposite, when Ms Lush was reprimanded for trying to discuss the points raised by Mr Phillips. Ms Whitaker posted: “Moderator here. This article seems quite transphobic and offensive. I am going to leave it up because we have been asked by some trans members to NOT always just delete transphobic material because everyone is still learning about this. However I am muting [another Labour member] and Rebecca Lush for sharing this material on here.”

Ms Lush, 46, found the response “astonishing, sinister and deeply worrying”. She said: “[I] thought it was important for Labour members to see this important article and discuss it, but no discussion is allowed. They’ve silenced me and others by muting me so I cannot comment, defend myself or argue the case. These authoritarian tendencies should concern us all. As a democratic socialist I do not want to see behaviour like this in the Labour Party.”

When another female member tried to share the article, the group moderator muted her and asked her “not to share that kind of stuff in the future”.

The member, who declined to be named for fear of harassment, criticised the hypocrisy of the administrators. The woman, a party member for 30 years, said: “The policy has never been debated amongst members, and Labour politicians are colluding with intimidation and silencing. Many women I know are leaving and have left (the party) over this issue.

“I was silenced for sharing an article explaining that the rights and protections of marginalised groups that were fought for for half a century would be destroyed if the push for self ID was successful. I had been perfectly polite and respectful, simply presenting the article for discussion, as I believe the points are valid and important. The silencing of anyone questioning these proposed reforms is not democratic.”

Mr Phillips, chairman of the commission from 2006 until 2012, declined to comment and Ms Whitaker could not be reached.

However, another moderator, Michael Wilkinson, said: “It is up to the individual moderator to decide what they deem is purposely inflammatory or unproductive. We have allowed the article on the forum as far as I’m aware. As for reinstating people, there have certainly been times where it’s been appropriate to allow people back.”

A Labour spokesman said: “This is not an official Labour Party Facebook group.”