Sonia Sodha and the Labour Women’s Declaration

Keir Starmer is clear on trans rights. He says, “Trans women are women”. Sonia Sodha is an anti-trans campaigner, who seeks to foment fear about trans people, particularly trans women, and trans rights. So, what did she say in the Guardian this time?

Sodha’s aim is to paint trans exclusion as sweet reason. She starts with scaremongering: anti-trans campaigners felt unsafe, she says, and had to hire security. Then she introduces a hate group: The Labour Women’s Declaration.

They are a hate group because they campaign against trans rights and spread fear and misinformation about trans people. Sodha repeats that misinformation here.

Sodha claims their “belief” is unobjectionable, even rational: that “biological sex cannot be replaced with self-declared gender identity”. Nobody wants biological sex to be replaced. Most women have XX chromosomes and female reproductive systems. We only want people to recognise that trans people exist: that a tiny vulnerable minority, who do not have female reproductive systems, believe we are women or desire to express ourselves as women. We are women: that is the clear definition of the word.

We are happier, and enabled to contribute to society, if we can be accepted and treated as women. The Equality Act recognises this and allows us to use women’s services unless there are exceptional circumstances. We are allowed in from the moment we decide we will transition, if we present in our true sex.

Sodha claims the LWD position is “essentially where current law stands”. This is false, taken with her statement that women have the right to “single-sex” spaces, which she interprets as excluding all trans women. She wants trans women consigned to “gender neutral services” which often do not exist. Why should I use a toilet designed for disabled people?

Sodha demands total exclusion of trans women from women’s services, and for us to be placed in gender-neutral services we do not want. She calls this extreme position, contrary to the Equality Act, a “dignified and respectful compromise”. She cares nothing for the dignity of trans people.

Sodha implies that schools tell children they are trans, when the desire to transition comes from the child. Children have to show incredible strength of character, and usually have loving supportive parents, before they can transition, leave alone receive medical treatment. Of children discharged from the Gender Identity Development Service in 2019/20, around 250 of them had been referred to an endocrinologist for puberty blockers, perhaps half that were approved for cross-sex hormones. That’s out of eleven million children in Britain. Yet she claims this medical treatment is a threat to children, and implies that far more get it than actually do. Trans people who received this treatment as children report they live happier, healthier lives.

Sodha lists the ways people associated with the LWD have been treated by the Labour Party. She says Keir Starmer has had meetings with them, but not done what they demanded. She does not say why, she just says he has “failed to address” LWD concerns. The Labour Party refused the LWD a conference stall. In candidate selection, people have been asked to justify their views. A councillor has been disciplined for abstaining on a motion. A woman I admire has had her membership application rejected. Sodha says Unions also object to LWD associates.

The Labour Party is a democratic, decentralised party. This indicates that Party members at all levels object to the LWD and their views. The party is governed by rules: this shows that people disciplined by the party have broken those rules. Sodha has not investigated, or given the party members who made those decisions a chance to respond, she has just asserted that all levels of the Labour party and Union movement from the leader down have mistreated people associated with LWD. Then she says the SNP support increasing trans rights. Does she deny Nicola Sturgeon is a feminist? Does she accept that the SNP is a worthwhile party for feminists to join? More than half the SNP’s MSPs, and more than a third of its MPs, are women. Would they get behind a policy which hurts women’s rights in any way? Some of them oppose SNP policy, but they are a tiny minority.

Sodha says this means “gender critical women” are “not welcome” in the Labour party. That’s ridiculous. Nobody accepts the whole platform of a party. We support it because we prefer it to the alternatives. “Gender-critical” people are welcome to their beliefs, but are not permitted to take action against the party, or unlawfully harass or discriminate against trans people.

The Guardian should publish a correction to the misinformation Sodha shares.

Suella Braverman

Suella Braverman should not be attorney general. Her speech to the Policy Exchange, where she spoke about anti-trans discrimination, demonstrates that.

The attorney general is the chief legal adviser to the government, advising on questions of international law, human rights, and devolution. The government has great power to amend the law, with a working majority of 71. The Attorney General should say what the law is, not what the government would like it to be: if they do not like it, they can change it.

Even under the Conservatives, previous AGs have usually had far more experience than Braverman. She was called to the Bar in 2005, and elected to Parliament in 2015. From 2010 she was on the Attorney General’s C panel of counsel, the entry level, undertaking basic government cases. Her predecessor Geoffrey Cox was called to the Bar in 1982, appointed QC in 2003, and elected to parliament in 2005. Dominic Grieve practised as a barrister for seventeen years before becoming an MP. Jeremy Wright only practised for nine years before being elected to Parliament, and made the appalling decision to prosecute anti-deportation protesters under terrorism legislation. The Court of Appeal said there was no case to answer.

Policy Exchange is a “highly opaque” think tank which refuses to reveal the identities of its donors. It recommended legislation to prevent their victims from suing the armed forces, and to establish schools funded by government but “free” of some regulation and inspection. In her speech on 10 August, Braverman spoke against Equality legislation, and said that legislation for trans rights should be interpreted in such a way as to make it easy to exclude trans people.

Braverman congratulated Policy Exchange on its arguments for reducing judicial power, and thereby correction of any acts of government against the law or human rights. She says there are trade-offs in allocating rights, which is true.

She asks, “Do our feelings about who we are, change the rights to which we are entitled?” Clearly. A right to marry a woman is no use to a gay man. His right to private life, and so to equal marriage, depends upon his feelings of attraction. My feeling that I am trans is remarkably consistent, despite my attempts to overcome it, including aversion therapy. She means, it’s only a feeling, so unimportant. Against feelings, she balances “the facts of biology”- as if my lack of a uterus is important at all, except if I were trying to bear a child.

But feelings are at the heart of being human. My feelings make me me. She wants to impose some other understanding, which she might call objective reality, to subjugate my feelings, and perhaps her own too- but Reality includes trans people’s feelings. She is the reality denier.

If feelings did not matter, the objection to trans women in women’s spaces would not matter. Braverman privileges the feelings of prejudiced people over the feelings of trans people.

Then she says something truly damaging. She says businesses are going beyond their legal obligations, misinterpreting the law. It is clear she means including trans women in women’s spaces when they do not need to: later she makes this explicit.

She gives a definite, but misleading, interpretation of the Equality Act as it relates to trans women in women’s spaces. She claims trans women, being “biological males”, can be excluded from any women’s space which would be entitled to exclude men. She says this applies even if we have a GRC, though s9 of the Gender Recognition Act provides that my “sex” is female. She says the permission to exclude trans people from women’s services is in fact permission to exclude trans men.

This is completely wrong. It is contrary to the EHRC’s code of practice, and all previous understandings of the legislation. Robin Moira White, barrister and expert on trans law, commented she would have a lot of work if businesses interpreted the law the Braverman way.

Braverman is also wrong on trans schoolchildren.

Does it matter that Braverman is wrong? It matters if businesses or their public-facing workers believe her, or if cis women anti-trans campaigners take this as a licence to complain about trans women in women’s services. A tiny proportion of these matters reaches the courts.

It means that ordinary trans women may face abuse, confrontation and exclusion going about our daily lives. I hope businesses will be aware of a better interpretation of the law, but I am more and more concerned that I may have to endure confrontation, and even threaten legal action.

Breaking the rules in the art gallery

Thirty pieces of silver, by Cornelia Parker, is utterly beautiful. I sit on a stool, contemplating it. The wires glitter in the bright light. Some of them are taut, some are loose, where one of the pieces of flattened silver sits on another. Because the wires are so long, when they sway like a pendulum they swing very slowly. They move, gently, in the air currents generated by people walking by. I looked at the narrow passages between them, and thought, how lovely it would be to walk through.

I was almost ready to do this when the Tate worker came in.
-You know, I really want to walk through it.
-Yes, he said. That’s almost like a corridor.
-I can’t do it with you there, I said. You couldn’t go round the corner so I could?

I looked round, and he was, indeed, moving into the next room so he could not see me. In a state of total relaxation I sidled through the beautiful thing, taking care not to touch the wires. Unfortunately, right at the far end a flattened fork got caught in my skirt, and pulled it up. A woman plucked it free.

Then I saw the guard again. He is an artist: he makes sound sculptures. He also does painting. He makes constructions of plywood and other materials, with a speaker inside, and plays electronic music he composes through them. I told him I write poetry. He said literature is an art form anyone can practise: you need no materials beyond memory.

I asked him if he would photograph me dancing through it again. He took my phone. I spent a moment readying myself.

I am centred and collected.

I am just about to move through the sculpture

when he says no, he can’t let me do it. Oi!

Or perhaps, as I am a story-teller, I chatted to the guard for a bit, but got a friend to take the pictures and embellished my desire to walk through into a story of how I actually had. I would hate to get that lovely man into trouble.

Also yesterday, I met a woman who asked me a few questions. I decided to answer rather than deflect. She then told me, in a tone of voice she would use as if it were obvious, as if she expected me to agree, that women do not like men in women’s toilets. She does not like male cleaners in women’s toilets. It’s the cleaning companies trying to reduce costs. She told me about JK Rowling at great length. Women must not be erased. I thought her spectacularly rude, but also impervious to any argument, so I simply let her monologue until we had got where we were going.

ego hurts

The tribunal action of Allison Bailey is an insane act of hatred and vandalism. She is a lesbian who wants to tell the world that trans people and transition are a danger to women, especially lesbians, and children. This is false. So she raised and spent half a million pounds in order to win £22,000 from her barristers’ chambers, but failed to get an award against Stonewall, the main lesbian-run charity for lesbian rights. The Guardian reports this as a win for freedom of thought and expression.

Bailey will have succeeded in disincentivising companies from using Stonewall’s services, and so has achieved a great blow against lesbian rights- whether she wanted to or not, whether she realises it or not.

I might have blogged about the case, but the Employment Tribunal judgment is 117 pages long. It may yet reach the Employment Appeal Tribunal. David Mackereth, is a physician who wanted to enforce his right to refer to trans women as men, because he is a Christian, and thereby discommode his employers who thought the trans women involved would hate and fear them even more if he did. His case in the EAT produced a judgment of 61 pages. I could plough through it telling his story- I think him a cowardly fool, devoid of Christian love and a silly poor Christian in other ways. I would mock him, share my blog on trans facebook groups, and get perhaps a hundred views.

Instead I considered giving up reading the news. Anywhere I might read that Liz Truss will be a continuing disaster for the British people, let alone anywhere I might read she is the Thatcherite saviour the country needs, is likely to have articles saying Trans is Bad.

I see Bailey looking triumphant cuddling JK Rowling in the Guardian, and feel misery, rage, terror. Then I go to the pharmacy expecting to have to argue and cajole, and come back next week, or at least wait for ages, and have an efficient service getting my prescription instantly. My tiny world is quite bearable. A charming salesman aged about twenty called, and persuaded me to take four successive meal kit boxes, of three meals for two each. I have cooked two, and heated up the unused half the following day. So I have unwrapped tiny packages of tarragon or coriander leaves, chopped them up, and delighted in the aroma flooding my kitchen. After four boxes the price will go up ÂŁ10 a week, and I may stop then, or not.

The delivery man had a good delivery. The person was in, answered the door before he got to it because I had seen his van outside, and let him take a photo of the box in the open doorway so he could prove to his employers it was delivered. He gave me a namaste gesture, perhaps in relief.

I want to read of the Bailey judgment and not be paralysed by fear. The true self, the inner light, cannot be hurt. The fear feels paralysing, but does not particularly relate to my life. I can go out tomorrow, perhaps to the organ concert in St Mary’s, and escape my intellectualising for a moment into pure delight in beauty.

I wonder if the fear’s intensity is from the ego, which imagines that transition might in some way let me fit in to British society and is angry and resentful when it does not. The ego asks “What will people think?” The soul replies, “Let them think what they like”.

I want to live from the light, and escape the ego. Its fears do not relate to the real world, just to my sense of entitlement, of my illusions of what ought to be or what I need, rather than what is and what I really need. The Light can be aware of the ego, raging and crying in its despair, without sharing such feelings. What is, now?

The governance of Britain will be even worse under Truss than Johnson, the war in Ukraine may yet lead to a nuclear exchange, fuel and food costs spiral, and there is unlimited funding for the promotion of hate and fear against trans people. However, I hear that accepting the things one cannot change is a good idea, and even that the inner light can grant serenity!

Dobbs v Womens Health, and trans

The US Supreme Court ended the constitutional right to an abortion, which was based on the right to privacy. This may affect the right to contraception or to gay marriage, or even gay sex. As Kagan, Breyer and Sotomayor said, “Today, the proclivities [inclinations] of individuals rule. The Court departs from its obligation to faithfully and impartially apply the law. We dissent.” It is a dark day for women’s rights, and so a dark day for human rights.

But that has nothing to do with trans, surely?

The anti-trans campaigners disagree. Libby Purves in The Times said that 19th century prostitutes had “a degree of generally understood protection” because “their physical difference”- the unthinking belief that having a womb made you a woman, having testicles made you a man- had “value and vulnerability”. Prostitutes, protected? She’s delusional.

The protection those women had “has almost vanished now” except in fundamentalist Islam, which veils women but, for Purves, believes “women” have female biology. Words like “menstruators” (including trans men and AFAB nonbinary people) “can erase the idea of womanhood”. Compassion pretended for trans people or for embryos, as if Libby could not distinguish the different groups who feel such compassion, ends women’s rights, she says.

She claims trans activists say there are 130 genders. Well, gender is imprecise, varying and unclassifiable. Facebook had 58 genders but only three pronouns. Women’s Health magazine has sixteen different terms for gender identity: not different named genders, but different ways of conceptualising gender. I don’t agree with all of it, but it’s not bad. Times writers just make stuff up.

Here’s the article. Now, in a desperate search for subscribers, the Times is available for ÂŁ12 for the first year. Rupert knows how little his foul propaganda is worth.

Camilla Long, also in The Times, repeated a lie that is so stale it is a cliché of disinformation- even if you are left-wing, don’t vote for the relatively left-wing party because they’re not for your interests really. If you believe in the right to abortion but also “believe in biological sex”, she said, “there is no one to vote for”. As if the rights of a few trans women should make cis women angry enough not to vote to preserve their right to bodily autonomy. This is a standard vote suppression tactic. I commented. One woman, frothing at the mouth about “autogynephilia” and trans women jerking themselves in loos, said she had only once seen a trans woman in a loo and, beyond being there, she saw her do nothing objectionable. Another said she had never met a single trans woman.

The choice is between giving what Libby Purves calls a tiny minority an even break, and getting bodily autonomy for all fertile women. Long would have people surrender the right to a medical termination in order to spite trans people.

Sonia Sodha in the Guardian also wanted to connect Dobbs v Women’s Health to trans. She wrote the abortion article everyone could- poor people, the victims of violent men, indeed any woman might need an abortion, etc. Then she starts on trans: “women” is an offensive word, she says. This is probably an attack on inclusive language for trans men and nonbinary people, but Sodha is too incoherent for us to be sure.

Women are a sex class she says, who need “sex-based rights” in the words of the headline. It’s an anti-trans dogwhistle. Women need women’s rights, and every good-hearted man should support abortion rights, even if he thinks no woman he knows might ever need one, because it is the decent thing to do. But Sodha brings in sex v gender, creating the division she claims to oppose.

More in Common

“We have more in common than that which divides us,” said Jo Cox MP, and on the sixth anniversary of her murder More in Common, the foundation set up in her name, published their report on trans rights to argue just that. After interviewing 10,300 people, they produced seven “segments” of British society based on their core beliefs on social issues, their values, identity and worldview. They then classified people by these segments to organise further focus groups and surveys on issues including trans rights.

The report explains the segments. Membership does not depend on voting patterns. They are:

Progressive Activists. They are politically engaged, and seek to correct historic marginalisation of groups. They have the lowest authoritarian tendencies of any group, but a significant minority believe the real injustice is the erosion of “sex-based rights”. Only Progressive Activists are embroiled in the social media wars on trans.

Civic Pragmatists’ starting point is kindness and compassion. They are open to compromise and socially liberal. They are turned off by the divisiveness of the elite media debate on trans.

Disengaged Battlers who feel the system is broken and they are barely surviving. They see no point in engaging with the democratic system, but are tolerant and socially liberal.

Established Liberals. Prosperous, cosmopolitan, pro-market and status quo.

Loyal Nationals. Belonging to a group, and being British, is important to them. They care about fairness. They feel under threat from outsiders.

Disengaged traditionalists. They are self-reliant, patriotic, tough-minded. They emphasise personal responsibility and explain success in life by individual qualities rather than the System. They take social rules seriously and are judgmental about others’ behaviour. They pay little attention to current debates.

Backbone Conservatives. They are optimistic about Brexit, proud of being British, and engaged with politics. They want clear rules and strong leaders. They are the most likely to think transition is unnatural.

More in Common did a survey and then focus groups. 74% of people said they knew someone who is LGB, and 24% knew someone who is trans. Thinking of social groups where I would say I know people, all of them include another trans person. In the past, in work, I met other trans people. Perhaps I have a lower threshold of what it means to “know” someone. 31% of Millennials (born 1981-96) and 48% of Gen Z (born 1997-2012) know a trans person.

2% of people included “the debate about transgender people” in the top three of sixteen issues facing the country. 64% named Cost of living, 32% the NHS, and 29% the war in Ukraine.

More in Common is keen to point out what people have in common. “There is a strong sense of acceptance and compassion,” they say. Live and let live.

More people agree than disagree that a trans man is a man, and a trans woman is a woman. Only “Disengaged Traditionalists” felt otherwise. So the Times and the Tories have not yet managed to create some great divide over the issue. By contrast, there were sharp divisions between the segments on whether BLM is a good thing. The problem is they think a “trans woman” is someone who has lived in their true gender for a significant period or had genital surgery. But, the Equality Act protects us from the moment we decide to transition, and that is when we most need protecting: we are more nervous, and pass less well.

The report says people don’t want to be condemned for an innocent mistake over pronouns, and some sound wounded. My impression from trans people is that in person we are keener to gently educate than to rebuke. We only object if it is intentional. But twitter is different.

It says people think unisex toilets are a good solution for trans women. That is silly. People are used to single sex toilets, buildings have them, law requires employers to provide them. Most women will rarely or never know that there is a trans woman in the room with them. Why have men in women’s loos, because then the rule would be that trans women could use the same loos as everyone else? It makes no sense. Far better to just let trans women use women’s loos. That’s the problem with asking people who have not really thought about the matter what should be done.

It says most people are not following the debate. They know JK Rowling said something, but are not sure what. But they are clear trans women in women’s sports is unfair, especially elite sport. They say a male puberty gives lifelong advantages. That anti-trans argument has cut through.

It suggests that people are aware of the issues around gender identity, but they do not think of it as a political dispute. Instead, they consider how it affects their day to day lives and think about progress in practical not symbolic ways. They want common-sense, compassionate and fair solutions. They wanted to find some other way a trans athlete could compete.

There are four ways to approach culture war, MIC says:

1. Deciding to make things worse, for political gain.
2. Ignoring and avoiding the issue, leaving it to the polarisers.
3. Making passionate arguments which appeal to activists but turn off the general public.
4. Seeking to engage with the majority of Britons

They say most people want to be compassionate, and seek practical solutions. So, MIC recommends building upon areas of consensus, emphasise the shared starting points, and acknowledge the progress that has been made. They want spaces to have the discussion and provide answers to ordinary people.

They recommend, emphasise the shared starting points people have, and build on areas of consensus. Have a case by case approach, so exclusion in sport is OK, but emphasise the experience of people who have found solutions and acknowledge the progress that has been made. Create spaces for discussion, while stopping bad-faith actors setting the terms of discussion. But, “Listen to those worried about the pace of change”.

Finally, “remember this is about people”. I agree that having my life “being treated as ideological footballs is cruel and unnecessary”. There is a better way, but will The Times and the Tories follow More in Common’s lead?

Parliament debates trans conversion

“Your lives matter, and you should be protected from abuse, coercion and control just as much as the next person.” People comment how tense I am all the time. Reading that, from the Conservative MP Peter Gibson, I felt my tension lift a little. It should not need to be said, but I am glad it is. One trans constituent asked, “surely I deserve to feel safe, have some dignity and live my life in peace without being demonised?” Continue reading

Trans people in hospital wards

As a Tory cabinet minister said, the NHS under the Tories is “wanting and inadequate”. But its rules on admitting trans women to women’s wards is good. Its guidance adopted in 2019 (pdf) says trans people should be accommodated according to how we present. We do not need a GRC or legal name change. If our breasts or genitals appear of the opposite gender, we should be given sufficient privacy with curtains or a single side room.

A trans person who has not had a genital operation should not share open shower facilities. Where the treatment is sex-specific, such as a trans man having a hysterectomy, staff should discuss options with the patient. If a patient is unconscious, staff should draw inferences from mode of dress and only consider genitals if this is specifically necessary for treatment (I am sad that needs to be said). A trans woman without her wig should have extra care to ensure her privacy and dignity. Nonbinary patients should be asked discreetly about their preferences.

A child’s preference should prevail even if the parents disagree and the child is not Gillick competent.

Unfortunately, anti-trans hate campaigner Emma Nicholson has become aware of this guidance, and wasted House of Lords time at 1am on 17 March to amend the Health and Care Bill to exclude all trans women from women’s wards. The usual hate campaigners- Claire Fox, David “Blencathra” Maclean- came out to bore everyone with their usual disinformation. The government whip, JoJo Penn, thanked Emma for “all her work advocating for women’s rights”, and I hope that is just the usual oily courtesy shown by “noble Lords” to each other. She said the NHS is currently reviewing its guidance and seeks “privacy, safety and dignity” for all its patients. Guidance should be based on “evidence, compassion, empathy and respect”, but she could not give a date for the review being published beyond some time this year.

Fox put her extreme case emotively. She spoke of vulnerable cis women patients losing their right to single-sex wards. She said women (anti-trans campaigners) were effectively being told “Don’t you worry your pretty little heads”. The hate campaigners in the House of Lords have been whinging about this extensively, and the Evening Standard reported their words uncritically. Then Fox refers to the newspapers. It is all circular. However she gave the good news that Dr Michael Brady, NHS LGBT adviser, is involved in the review, has consulted Stonewall and Mermaids, and stated there are “no plans to reduce the existing rights of transgender people”.

Nicholson told the story of a trans woman constituent when she was an MP. The woman was a police officer, who after transition was given a lower rank. Nicholson claimed that she helped “persuade the police that [transition] was a fully acceptable thing to have done”. Then she claimed a trans woman on a women’s ward raped another patient a year ago. That is explosive.

Ralph “Baron Lucas” Palmer (Con) claimed “trans women are men” under the Equality Act. Michael Farmer, former treasurer of the Tory Party, recited some legal interpretation from anti-trans campaigners, claiming that excluding trans women from women’s wards would be a “legitimate aim”. Timothy Clement-Jones, LibDem, spoke for the amendment despite his party’s definition of transphobia. As nonbinary people are not explicitly protected under the Act, he wanted them assessed for objective sex.

Terence Etherton, former Master of the Rolls (President of the civil Court of Appeal) explained that putting trans women on men’s wards would be unlawful harassment under the Equality Act, as it would violate our dignity. He said changing your name is changing an “attribute of sex” sufficient to clearly fit the protected characteristic of gender reassignment. “It is not a legitimate aim that some people feel uncomfortable sharing accommodation and facilities with trans people of the opposite birth sex. That would make a nonsense of having the statutory protected characteristic in the first place.”

Sal Brinton, LibDem, said Nicholson’s amendment “seeks to create a false understanding” of the Equality Act.

Michael Cashman talked of evidence: freedom of information requests around the country have shown there is no need to change Annexe B, the part of the policy specifically about trans people. He pointed out how Maclean, as a Home Office minister, had blocked an equal age of consent for gay sex with straight sex. That had to wait for a Labour government, despite a win in the European Court. He drew parallels between the hate against trans women now, and against gay men in the 1990s, and “against minorities across the centuries”. Ruth Hunt said “many lesbians” support trans inclusion. To detoxify the debate, she said, we should stick to the facts. Elizabeth Barker, LibDem, said the amendment was not about single-sex wards at all, but Nicholson’s continuing campaign against trans women, and “we should simply not pay attention”. She says trans women “are women with a different experience”.

Trans women are probably safe from this review. We will continue being treated on the appropriate wards, and given dignity and privacy. And the hate campaign will continue.