Jess Phillips

Is Jess Phillips a transphobe? If you think “With us or against us” there is some evidence that she is, but she really isn’t. First, this tweet about the WPUK demands: I find these demands completely reasonable. I know that we can have a solution & reasonable adjustment and a rhetoric that gives progress to trans people & protects women only spaces.

Ms Phillips was responding to the 2017 demands (see link) which were transphobic but not as bad as later ones. The worst is “the principle of women only spaces to be upheld and where necessary extended”. They mean women’s spaces excluding trans women, which is allowed by the Equality Act where proportionate and reasonable. Ms Phillips is clearly not supporting trans women’s position unequivocally; but the transphobes at the time were circumspect as the hate campaign was in an early stage.

Someone wanting to build bridges might tweet that. In turn, I want someone like Ms Phillips listening to women who might otherwise retreat to impregnable hate. Speakers at WPUK events are incorrigible. Some attendees are not. If they felt listened to, they might accept trans women.

Reading further shows where she is coming from, “trying to converse rather than having a spat”. It’s Mandela talking to de Klerk, I say- trans women are in the right- but I would still talk. On that thread she says she ran specialist women’s services including trans people.

Elsewhere she does not commit to a side, but says there needs to be discussion and that needs to be conducted in a way that is considered and civil. The public conversation has been the exact opposite.

If anyone is tempted to endorse WPUK, I want them to feel listened to. There is no risk to cis women from trans rights, but they need to feel listened to before they will be convinced. When so many are in the trenches I want someone seeking peace.

Ms Phillips tweeted, I literally sat for weeks on committee listening to trans people, with specialist trans advisors, I proposed the law change, sponsored the bills. I am trying to listen to all reasonable concerns, the lack of good faith in debate is damaging.

I look further. Jess Phillips was on the Women and Equalities Committee when it reported on trans rights, recommending far more far reaching reform than the government would consider. For example, now women’s services can exclude trans women in some circumstances, and the report recommended that right be withdrawn.

Jess Phillips’ actions are on the side of trans women. Her words could be assessed, and found wanting: I think there is a reasonable way through this that protects the role of all-women shortlists and ensures trans women are included. It seems the debate around the issue has gone increasingly feral when actually there is reasonableness on all sides.

There is no “reasonableness” among people who want to exclude all trans women; but Ms Phillips wants to ensure trans women are included. That is enough for me. Look at her deeds, not just her words.

I could forgive her almost anything for this, which moved me to tears: Last week I met a man who had been convicted of a public order offence after he came to my office and tried to kick the door in while he shouted that I was a fascist… We sat down and talked together, we chatted about Brexit together, laughed together and reminisced about the streets we both grew up on. The politics of hope is harder to spread than the politics of hate.

Sometimes you know who someone is from a throwaway comment. Francesca O’Brien, shockingly still a Tory parliamentary candidate, said benefit claimants should be “put down”. I need know nothing more. Possibly Jess Phillips took dialogue too far when she proposed it with WPUK, but her instinct to hear all sides is right, usually.

Someone dislikes her for claiming she told Diane Abbot to “fxxk off”. That’s on Wikipedia. It was in the papers at the time. She apologised.

I will look at her behaviour in the round, not judge her on one thing she once said. Rows can be magnified by press attention. It’s just drama.

5 January 2020: people are pushing her to clarify her position. Consider this twitter thread: there are trans people and allies asking if they should worry about Jess becoming leader, and terfs calling her a “traitor to her sex” for supporting trans people. It is horrible. There are a huge number of people getting angry and self-righteous, and in the middle Ms Phillips tweets, “Have tried to include as many as poss, sorry I get millions of messages every day hard to see even a fraction. I was one of the MPs who wrote the report on improving trans rights.”

I will not demand a politician utter the words “trans women are women”, particularly not in this febrile atmosphere. Here she said we need to be confident to speak for what we believe in, never being neutral on the hardest questions. Trans rights should not be an exception, but what really matters is getting a Labour government. People are frightened of the Tories, talking of emigrating, and I will stand with them.

So this is what I ask of Jess Phillips. Say that men will not pretend to be trans in order to attack women: it’s too easy for them without dressing up. And trans women are not dangerous as a class: excluding trans women as a whole will do cis women no good. Refute the fearmongering claims. This is what politicians should say about trans.

20 January 2020: I am rather sad Jess Phillips has left the leadership contest, having been unable to gain sufficient Union support. I liked what she said on this Mumsnet thread. “I do believe transwomen are women.” She says the anger of the argument is bad for progressives, and safety for women’s spaces can be discussed. The trans women in her women’s shelter did not pose a risk. No trans woman wants women to shut up about reproductive health. They should not be turned away.

3 August 2020: Jess Phillips is wrong about Rosie Duffield, but it is of a piece with her desire to promote dialogue.

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