Trans allies found Wes Streeting “disappointing”, but I see where he’s coming from. And, when the authoritarian Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill promises to criminalise protest, David Maclean, “Lord Blencathra”, wasted a self-indulgent hour of debate railing against trans women as a danger to “women”.
The Shadow Health Secretary grew up in the East End of London. His mother’s father was a bank robber. His father, and father’s father, were working class Tories, with strong patriotism and Christian faith he still shares, even though it took years for him to accept his sexuality and reconcile these parts of his identity. Finding he was gay, members of his family would have been surprised, disappointed, and concerned for him. Aged 38, he is grateful to the pioneers of the Lesbian and Gay Rights movement, whose abuse he recounts- outed by The Sun, a brick through the window…
So there was prejudice which was frank hatred, and there was prejudice seeing itself as Christian principle, and on equal marriage he respects the Christian prejudice. That required listening, discussion, empathy and respect. Hearts and minds were changed, and now there are Methodist gay church weddings. He hopes for the same on trans rights.
In his BBC interview, now available as a fifty minute podcast or a two minute video, but initially a 23 minute broadcast, the interviewer took a strong anti-trans line. Women are women, who fought for their right to safe spaces, [meaning No Transwomen!] which should not be overturned. All of this is rubbish. Trans women have a legal right to enter women’s services, and are no threat.
The video Jolyon Maugham found “disappointing” omits that question, and starts with Streeting’s soft-sounding but pro-trans response. He says women’s rights should be respected, LGBT people should listen, you don’t win the argument by shutting down JK Rowling. He wants to win the argument, and hear anti-trans campaigners’ distress as a way to win them over. I am not sure that will work, but am glad someone is trying. He objects to “feminists” using dehumanising language about trans people. It is gratuitously obnoxious.
I had thought the podcast would give the whole interview, but the next bit from the video is edited out. Streeting talks of anti-trans hate crime and trans mental ill health, which he wants to address. So most listeners will not hear about the hate crime. This is a distortion.
Tory peer David Maclean, “Lord Blencathra”, avoided Capital Gains Tax on a £750,000 house by claiming it was his main residence, and got £20,000 parliamentary “expenses” by claiming it was his second home. Rather than addressing the anti-freedom aspects of the Police etc Bill he stuck in an anti-trans amendment and insisted on debating it on the floor. There were many moments my contempt for him bubbled over, but the main one was when he withdrew his amendment because it had no chance of success. He wasted an hour and 23 minutes of Parliamentary time on his pointless hategasm.
His amendment to this oppressive Bill would have required that trans people are ordinarily imprisoned according to their sex registered at birth, and if in exceptional circumstances they were not they should be held in accommodation specifically for trans people with no access to “prisoners of the opposite sex”.
He has had a great many letters, he says, and from the love-bombing of anti-trans campaigners he falsely deduces that his amendment has support. Tory Patrick “Baron” Cormack was also love-bombed, and quoted the words: it is so easy to “stand up for womanhood and motherhood” as a Tory, if all you have to do is express hatred for trans people.
Maclean says that “gender reassignment protection [should not be] a separate protected characteristic in the Equality Act 2010”. As it currently is, he wants to change the Equality Act to withdraw protection for trans people.
He kept his foul amendment despite the teach-in organised by the Ministry of Justice. The Tory minister, David Wolfson QC, knew he would not persuade the haters, but tried in the teach-in, and tried again in the debate. He said you could find heat but no light on Twitter. He said all the trans women in women’s prisons have gone through a rigorous risk assessment, and our safety matters too. It is a balance of risks to cis women and trans women. 90% of trans women prisoners are in men’s prisons. If there was one trans women’s unit, it would be too far for most friends and families to visit. It would be “cruel”. The minister is “alive to the risk of suicide”. Before 2019 there were some sexual assaults by trans women on cis women, but “We learned the lessons of that and since 2019 there have been no such assaults”.
Former Reform MEP Claire Fox continued the hate, despite having attended the teach-in. Ignoring the facts, she demands “single-sex spaces” excluding trans women. She quoted hate from Twitter, even the suggestion, which she had just heard refuted, that “anyone who claims to feel like a woman” might be imprisoned with cis women. Fox: “I say hear, hear to that.” She ignores any threat to trans women. Instead she claims “biological reality” vindicates her, as if the fact of trans people’s existence for millennia around the world did not matter at all. She called the amendment practical, pragmatic and humane, as if our safety did not matter.
David Pannick said putting a trans woman with a GRC who had lived as a woman for twenty years (that’s me, my twenty year anniversary is in April) who has had GRS in men’s prison would be a “disaster”. I agree. I find it terrifying. If I chained myself up like a Suffragette, this bill would render me liable to a ten year prison sentence, if they could get a jury to convict. So I suppose I might be safe enough demonstrating for XR, but maybe not if I demonstrated for trans rights.
David Hope, former Scottish supreme court judge, spoke out against the “cruelty” of the amendment. “It is not a choice. They are driven.” It needs to be said, because Maclean, Fox and the rest ignore it: “The [trans] offender requires as much consideration on the grounds of safety and emotional distress as the people around them in the prison in which they are placed.”
Michael Cashman said the amendment perpetuates the stereotype of trans women as sexual predators. Edward Faulks, who had been April Ashley’s barrister, said how April Ashley had been put in a men’s prison.
Hater Michael Farmer, former treasurer of the Tory party, called for women’s rights “based on sex not gender”. That is, to him the most important thing in women’s rights is excluding trans women. With this language they can expatiate on women’s rights, as if trans women did not matter at all. By contrast Michael Berkeley, composer and broadcaster, said “effeminate” people would be “targeted” in a male prison.
Former Tory MP Nick Herbert put it bluntly: “if people’s fears are provoked and if media campaigns suggest that women cannot be safe, there will be such fervent outrage, but that is not a reason for us to depart from the facts.” That’s the answer to Wes Streeting. He can listen all he likes, and just hear the wilful distortions of the transphobes. As they rant on, they just get more self-righteous.
Jennifer Jones, a Green party member, flouted her party’s policy to play the “I’m a woman” card, objecting to men speaking against the amendment. Well, I am a woman too, and I care about women’s safety- but I care about all women’s safety. She claimed there was “sexual predation” in women’s prisons, despite the changes in 2019.
Elizabeth Barker, LibDem, spoke “as a woman who cares deeply about the physical safety of women”. She objected to media suggestions that trans allies did not care. She pointed out the factual errors in the haters’ speeches, and the polls with leading questions designed to elicit anti-trans opinions. As she said, the amendment was not based on evidence, so should be rejected.
Brian Paddick, LibDem and former police officer, quoted some of the abuse he receives as a trans ally: “You nasty little misogynist… MRA bigot”. He affected not to know that means “Men’s rights activist”, putting the hater in their place.
Frederick Ponsonby, hereditary Labour peer and fourth baron, had actually spoken to governors of women’s prisons, who assured him they could handle any problems from trans women prisoners.
The haters in the House of Lords, and their adoring admirers such as the one who sent hate to Brian Paddick, show the chances of Wes Streeting’s approach are slim. They are utterly self-righteous, and they use the language of women’s rights as if trans women did not matter. They call us men, as if trans as a phenomenon was a worthless delusion. But they have a long way to go before our protections in the Equality Act are chipped away, even with this Tory government. My right to protest is not nearly so safe.