Labour stands back from gender debate The Times 15.06.20

The original article is here.

Labour has sought to avoid being dragged into the debate over trans rights after it emerged that the government is considering scrapping plans to allow people to self-declare their legal gender.

Ministers have drawn up proposals that would kill off plans set out under Theresa May to let transgender people “self-identify” as a different gender without the need for medical oversight.

Measures designed to prevent people with male anatomy using female lavatories and domestic violence refuges have also been included in a package drawn up by Liz Truss, the equalities minister. A ban on gay conversion therapies has been included to head off criticism from equalities campaigners.

It is understood that Boris Johnson has not yet considered the plans in detail, because of the coronavirus crisis.

The Sunday Times reported that a paper is “basically ready” and could be put in front of MPs before the Commons’ summer recess at the end of July.

Any such proposals would cause a headache for Sir Keir Starmer after disputes over the intersection of trans rights with feminism overshadowed the Labour leadership election. Sir Keir was the only candidate not to sign a pledge calling on the party to expel members with “transphobic” views. He instead tried to take the heat out of the issue.

Last week JK Rowling was criticised by the stars of the Harry Potter films after she used her experience of domestic violence to express concerns about female-only spaces and warn against attempts to “erode ‘woman’ as a political and biological class”.

Labour has committed itself to reform of the Gender Recognition Act and David Lammy, the shadow justice secretary, said: “There’s now a change of view that people ought to be able to self-identify and not over-medicalise.” But he declined to go further, telling the BBC: “We would have to look at the legislation when it comes forward in detail.”

Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow home secretary, criticised the government for briefing journalists after the decision had been made behind closed doors, saying that “we need to listen very carefully going forward in what is an extremely sensitive area”.

He told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “I’m not sure the government just scrapping plans and then leaking it out in a newspaper is the way to deal with this, you need a much better way that’s sensitive, that seeks consensus and respects everybody’s rights.”

However, there is anger in the wider Labour Party about the timing of the plans. Ben Bradshaw, a senior backbencher, accused Mr Johnson of trying to “weaponise the transgender issue to pour more fuel on the culture wars fire”, saying he was “despicable” for doing so with far-right violence on the streets.

Those wanting to change gender have to show two doctors’ reports showing they are suffering from gender dysphoria, and that they have lived in their gender for at least two years. Trans campaigners say the process is complex and demeaning and in 2018 the government led a consultation on removing the need for diagnosis.

Chiara Capraro, of Amnesty International, said “a U-turn on this would send a chilling message that the UK is a hostile place for trans people”. Nancy Kelley, chief executive of Stonewall, said: “These reforms would have made many trans people’s lives much easier.”