The Westminster Hall debate showed the grandstanding of anti-trans campaigners, disseminating hate and lies, and mostly well-intentioned allies speaking up for necessary administrative reform, which the Government will not concede. The debate lasted three hours and 27,000 words. What did they actually say?
There was a small cast of incorrigible haters: Neale Hanvey of the Alba party, who has had continuing problems with antisemitism; Joanna Cherry of the SNP; and Tory women Jackie Doyle-Price, Miriam Cates, and Angela Richardson. Even in Westminster Hall the debate was pungent: Elliot Colburn, who is on the Women and Equalities Committee, introducing it called on MPs to “explore these issues without the need to rip each other’s throats out”.
There was a much longer list speaking out mostly for trans people and GRA reform: from Labour, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Stephen Doughty, Olivia Blake, Angela Eagle, Mary Kelly Foy, Luke Pollard, Kim Johnson, Nadia Whittome and Anneliese Dodds. LibDems: Wera Hobhouse, Layla Moran and Sarah Green. SNP: Mhairi Black, Martin Docherty-Hughes, Kirsty Blackman and Kirsten Oswald. Conservative: Crispin Blunt. Elliot Colburn, Conservative, claimed to be in the middle of the “debate” but was mostly trans friendly- or, perhaps, amongst the vitriol he just seemed that way.
Trying to appear even-handed, some allies, such as Lloyd Russell-Moyle, called for guidance on excluding trans women from women’s spaces. Cherry and Colburn wanted it too. But Anneliese Dodds, answering the debate for Labour, said it already existed in the EHRC code of practice. Doyle-Price said there was a “clash of rights between sex and gender,” and Cherry said this was recently confirmed by the EHRC. But Kim Johnson calls this concerning political interference after meeting with anti-trans groups. She has read Vice.
Of course there were ridiculous lies. Content: transphobia, of course, but also silliness and a complete lack of relation to reality. The Tory minister felt the need to say, “It is important not to minimise the concerns that people have about what has happened in the past, but it is equally right that we make sure that we base our arguments on fact,” because the haters did not.
Disingenuously, the haters protested their support of trans people, usually with a twist of the knife. Cates said “no trans person should face discrimination, and I have nothing but compassion for those who continue to be harassed, abused or stigmatised. Adults should be free to dress and present as they wish, without fear,” as if it was about clothes. Richardson said “I support those adults who wish to undertake gender transition and apply for a gender recognition certificate,” but not any reform to make it easier. Cherry said “I support equal rights for trans people” but not self-ID of “a much wider group than just trans people”. Who on Earth would want to change their gender but trans people? Certainly not “predators”- Layla Moran skewered that myth years ago. Hanvey said “I have been campaigning for LGBT rights all my adult life,” to which the obvious answer is, well, why have you stopped now?
The stupidest and nastiest comment was by Miriam Cates: “vulnerable young people—often girls, often same-sex attracted, often autistic—are being told that the answer to their problems is to change sex.” When children transition, the impulse comes from them.
Jackie Doyle-Price: “it appals most people, that sports governing bodies are turning a blind eye to women’s sport being destroyed by transgender athletes, where there is an innate physiological advantage.” Docherty-Hughes gave the correct position, that the GRA does not affect rights and the Equality Act allows trans exclusion. One trans woman athlete has competed, out of eight Olympics.
Cherry said “LGB Alliance has tried to promote a respectful dialogue”. Yeah, right. Their idea of “respectful dialogue” is to say “Self-ID gives predators the green light.” Hanvey claimed Stonewall is homophobic. Richardson claimed to be feminist: “I will speak up for women and girls”. Kirsten Oswald answered that: She is a feminist, and will always stand up for women, but there is no conflict with trans rights. Engender, a Scots feminist policy organisation, supports reform. She pointed out that predatory men do not need a GRC to attack women.
In answer to the lies and distortions there were clear expressions of reality. Russell-Moyle: “We cannot suddenly take people’s lived lives and their rights away from them.”
Mary Kelly Foy said, “As a socialist, it has always been my goal to represent the underrepresented, to strengthen the rights of minorities, and to make our country as easy to live in for the vulnerable as it is for the privileged.” “Trans people are not a political football; they do not want to be the defining cultural issue of our time, and they are tired of their very right to exist being debated.”
Martin Docherty-Hughes said the greatest threat to our society is not trans men or women but those who see the world as binary and limited: a narrow society in which the lived experience of the elite dominates the diverse and complex lives of the many.
Mhairi Black said “the current process is deeply invasive, traumatising, unnecessary and dehumanising.” Self-ID is the right that all of us have, explicitly in the Equality Act. “Every time someone goes to pee, they are self-identifying which toilet facility best suits their needs”. She feels threatened by males “defending women’s rights”. She said MPs have allowed disinformation, confusion, transphobia, ignorance, radicalisation, and so are to blame for the rise in hate crime.
Sarah Green: The Government promise to make GRC process “kinder and more straightforward” is an admission it is distressing, humiliating and torturous. The Government is disingenuous.
Cherry used the abuse she has suffered to attack trans people. She was threatened with “corrective rape”. That is disgusting. She is a lesbian, and doughty: threats will strengthen her determination. But allies including Angela Eagle could compare the nasty threats they receive. Mike Freer was called “a misogynistic self-hating gay because I support trans rights”. Docherty-Hughes spoke of the misogyny women MPs, trans allies, face from anti-trans campaigners.
Colburn said that when the petitions committee scheduled the debate, he could see the fear on members’ faces. They knew if they introduced it they would get abuse.
Several MPs said the GRA does not work, eg Colburn, Hobhouse, Kelly Foy. It is bureaucratic and expensive. Blackman said it is intrusive and lacks a right of appeal. Doyle-Price said a GRC was pointless, and should be scrapped.
How should it be reformed?
MPs argued law should remove the need for a diagnosis and medical report. The Women and Equalities Committee agreed, said Colburn. Eagle agreed. Russell-Moyle pointed out it is not a diagnosis in the ICD. Green said the BMA had called for recognition without a diagnosis. The GRA is out of step with the NHS definition which confirms trans is not a mental illness. Docherty-Hughes said pathologizing determines the trans body needs medical and surgical change which is not required. Oswald noted medical reports are expensive.
Colburn would remove the spousal veto, based on the consultation.
Richardson argued the only reform needed was to reduce fees. Russell-Moyle said that was not enough, because of the cost of doctors’ letters. Kelly-Foy called for self-ID.
The government has decided to put the process on line, but as Dodds said has not yet done so. Sarah Green said this is worse, because you need to find a scanner. The minister said the online process was in beta-testing.
Why should the Act be reformed? Moran said because it would respect trans people and acknowledge our lived experience. Now, the process is medicalised and intrusive. Oswald said gender recognition is degrading, intrusive and traumatic. Blackman said a small administrative reform will have a huge impact on trans lives, and spoke of death certificates in the wrong gender. Even without a GRC, though, I doubt that would be on my mind on my deathbed as she said.
And others said the real issue for trans is health care. Pollard said the 5 year 7 month waiting list at the West of England GIC “shames” parliament.
Cherry argued review should be delayed, claiming we needed the Cass review first. Cates agreed. Richardson said the current system has a “balanced” approach. Make transition sufficiently difficult, and trans people might not transition, seems to be her hope.
Nadia Whittome, Angela Eagle and Kirsty Blackman spoke out for nonbinary recognition.
Several MPs spoke on the culture war. Doughty said trans rights are a wedge issue, and newspapers spread ridicule of trans people, as of gay people in the past. Eagle said there were the same tropes as against LGB in the 1980s. Mhairi Black said the moral panic was “a breeding ground of disinformation, radicalisation and the rollback of already established LGBT+ rights.” Pollard said the point of the delay is to weaponise the debate. The consequences- hate crime, assaults, online hate- do not bother the people who have caused it. Kim Johnson said the government “are whipping up a culture war between the safety, security and support of females and that of trans and gender non-conforming people, when one can never really be achieved without the other.” Blackman said that misinformation about the GRA produces hate. The minister’s comment on this was that “we have not always got the tone right”, an understatement.
And some fought back against culture war, Blackman by modelling courteous behaviour. She said, “I am acutely aware of my privilege. I will do my best to amplify the voices and concerns of those I have had the privilege to listen to over the last few years, but that is not a substitute for hearing trans voices directly.” Moran quoted two constituents’ own stories. Dodds said the LGBT action plan has been abandoned, and we need a government that puts compassion at the heart of their response. Luke Pollard, boasting repeatedly, self-consciously, of being called a “massive gay”, spoke of the need to hear more trans people: “we would also have more laughter, more honesty, more love and compassion, and more authenticity from people who are able to be themselves.”
Hater Miriam Cates gave a long and much mocked speech alleging you can’t change sex. She went on about zygotes. Mhairi Black challenged her, what about intersex? Cates said that is different, all cells have the same chromosomes, so Olivia Blake asked, what about chimeras, who have different cells? This can be seen with people with eyes of different colours. Docherty Hughes gave a brilliant answer to Cates: Nature demands inequality, hierarchy, subordination of the inferior. Human history is a series of revolts against this natural order.
There were lies about prisons. Richardson claimed a male prisoner could go to a woman’s prison because they “choose to self-ID as a woman”. Docherty-Hughes refuted that: placement is based on risk assessment, and even those with GRC can be placed in men’s prisons if too dangerous.
It is the job of a QC (in Scotland, an “Advocate”; in England, a “Barrister”) to bend the law to their clients’ purposes. Cherry is right to say the recent decision is on appeal, and therefore the most authoritative case decided. Courts should apply the same statutes equally on both sides of the border. If Cherry is right, the inner house of the Court of Session has misused a section of the Equality Act, whose purpose was to clarify that girls and boys as well as women and men were protected against sex discrimination, to decide that trans women are not women. If their decision is that broad, it should not be binding, as it is far beyond what was necessary to decide the case in front of them, but will cause acute problems in the Sheriff Court. However, on reading the cases, I found Cherry had given a grossly misleading account. If a trans woman says she is a woman, she is telling the truth, says the Court of Session.
How did the Minister reply? Mike Freer has “the LGBT equalities brief” as well as being under secretary of state for exports: two thankless tasks, in a culture-warring, Brexit government. He said there would be little change: the current system, with its outdated requirement of diagnosis, had the proper checks and balances. Removing the word “disorder” from the Act would replace the diagnosis with “gender dysphoria” or some such concept. But he praised Dr Michael Brady, who has advised continuing to require a diagnosis is “unworkable”. Lloyd Russell-Moyle picked him up on this: would it just be a different word, or a different process? Could trans people get a diagnosis from their GP? The minister could not answer, but said he would write and clarify.
However he would consider what information needed to be provided to the GRP. The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 would remove the spousal veto, he understood, though officials would correct him if he was wrong. He would not change the law on access to single sex spaces, which trans people have used for years “without issue”, but welcomed forthcoming additional guidance from the EHRC on excluding us. He said the conversion therapy bill would definitely protect trans people. He wanted waiting lists reduced, but stuck to a specialist GRC rather than local psychiatry model. He was aware of nonbinary people but could not make any commitments.
So, the government will do little, very slowly, and the vitriol against trans people will continue. The whole debate is here.