We must not silence debate about transgenderism for fear of offending its activists James Kirkup Telegraph 22.11.18

The original article is here.

Something surprising happened in Parliament this week. MPs debated policy and the law. Dog bites man? But this debate was different because it was about transgender rights and how alterations to the law on changing gender might affect women.

It was called by David TC Davies, a Welsh Conservative who has made unlikely alliance with Left-leaning feminist groups who fear that a system permitting men to “self-identify” as women is open to abuse. In the debate, Victoria Atkins, the impressive Home Office minister navigating this minefield, reported that a Government consultation on reforming gender-change laws has had more than 100,000 responses. This issue matters to a lot of people.

Yet the scale of that interest is poorly reflected in public debate, most of all in politics. Until this week, Parliament has been silent on the issue for fear of offending trans activists who condemn as “transphobic” any scrutiny or analysis of the reforms they advocate.

You may recall the case of Karen White, a transgender rapist assigned to a women’s prison who sexually assaulted several inmates there. In September MPs asked to question ministers about that scandal. Speaker John Bercow – who happens to be the president of a trans-rights campaign group – refused to allow any debate. So the fact that 12 MPs this week met to discuss the issue should be celebrated.

Only Mr Davies expressed any reservations about gender law reform, however. Every other backbench contribution, across the political board sang from the hymnal of trans rights activists: “trans women are women” and anyone who disagrees is a bigot.

Such allegations carry real force, enough to silence even people whose job is to speak up. Mr Davies is unusual in his willingness to debate this issue publicly, but not in his scepticism over gender policy. Many MPs have deep reservations yet dare not say so.

I’ve written maybe two dozen articles about this issue this year, asking questions about gender reform and reporting the deep concerns that many women (and men) have on the subject. I keep a private list of the people who have approached me to share their own concerns and often to explain why they themselves do not speak out.

That list includes: more than a dozen Government ministers (including Cabinet members); several Labour frontbenchers; numerous backbench MPs (the majority female); lots of BBC journalists (some very famous); charity executives; senior business people; teachers, lawyers, doctors and other professionals; and lots of “ordinary” women who just can’t understand why their questions about the potential implications of a change in the law are not being addressed.

I began my career at Westminster in 1994 and I have never witnessed a political failure like this one, though I’m cautiously optimistic that things are improving. This week Channel Four broadcast a thoughtful documentary on transgender children that included footage showing the violent abuse women’s groups face for questioning trans orthodoxy.

The BBC is, belatedly, engaging with this properly too. Woman’s Hour has this week been broadcasting conversations on different aspects of the sex-gender puzzle. Tuesday’s show was supposed to see Helen Lewis, a New Statesman journalist, debate with Bex Stinson of Stonewall, the biggest trans-rights lobbying group. But Stinson refused even to speak directly to Lewis, who has written about the potential conflict of interests between transwoman and those born female.

This was not unusual: women who question transgenderism are routinely designated non-persons who must not speak. No less a figure than Dame Jenni Murray this month pulled out of a debate at Oxford University following student activist protests at her “transphobic” view that men do not become women by putting on make-up and a dress.

Ms Atkins this week told MPs: “We want to talk about this issue in a caring and careful way so society gets to a position in which we are all comfortable with the consequences of the changes to legislation.” She also said that ministers will report on their plans on gender law reform “in the spring”. Perhaps the fear that chills the gender debate will have thawed by then, but don’t bet on it.