Long Bailey pours petrol on flames of the trans debate James Kirkup 13.02.20

The original article is here

Rebecca Long Bailey, seeking the Labour leadership, has reached for the transgender issue. Via Twitter — the worst possible medium for discussing these questions — she has endorsed the Labour Campaign for Trans Rights manifesto.

The manifesto condemns as a “hate group” Women’s Place UK, a grassroots movement founded by lifelong Labour feminists. It holds public meetings to discuss new laws that could allow any male-born person who felt so inclined to be legally treated as female and thus gain access to the services, spaces and rights that the law at present reserves for women.

To some trans activists, even suggesting that new laws can create tension is transphobic. Since they believe “trans women are women”, admitting them (and, in some cases, their penises) to women’s refuges, changing rooms and prisons is no different to admitting biological women. The manifesto demands that anyone who dissents (perhaps by suggesting that differences in anatomy matter) be expelled from Labour.

Long Bailey may calculate that this plays well with some Labour members, although the thousands of them tweeting #expelme following her move suggests not all are yet signed up to identity politics and witch-hunting.

What will voters make of this? A post mortem of Labour’s election campaign conducted by Lord Ashcroft showed that, by pushing “progressive” issues and suppressing debate about their implications, many Labour supporters felt the party no longer shared their values.

That is not bigotry. The trans issue is not a binary one where the only available positions are uncritical acceptance of activist orthodoxy or hateful transphobia. It is possible to simultaneously want better legal, medical and social support for trans people and also to acknowledge that some policies supposed to deliver those things have implications and costs for others, especially women.

The trans debate doesn’t have to be a skirmish presaging a full-blown culture war. But averting that conflict means turning off Twitter, accepting nuance and building a solid base of evidence before acting. It is little noted but Boris Johnson’s government, sometimes accused of incendiary populism, has actually chosen the sober route on this issue, even as some on the Labour side — and before them, the Lib Dems — try to weaponise it.

There is a serious debate to be had about sex and gender. Leadership on this issue means acknowledging complexity and removing fuel from the fires that engulf it. In pursuit of her party’s leadership, Long Bailey instead chose to pour petrol on the flames.

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