Lloyd Russell Moyle, the Labour Party, and trans rights

“Labour must stand with trans people against a new section 28,” wrote Lloyd Russell-Moyle in Tribune. It’s a good article.

Recently, of course, we saw people like JK Rowling using her own sexual assault as justification for discriminating against a group of people who were not responsible for it. Trans people are no more likely to be rapists; in fact, they are more likely to be victims of sexual assault themselves. That’s why, despite JK Rowling’s hate towards them, hundreds of trans people wrote to complain to The Sun when it trivialised her domestic abuse on a recent front page… Those who try to weaponise women’s rights as a tool to push transphobia are hurting women and trans people, and we should not be quiet in calling it out.

JK Rowling’s hate is well documented. Her ex-husband’s violence does not excuse it and is entirely irrelevant to innocent trans people. However Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, told Russell-Moyle, a shadow junior minister for the Environment, to apologise. When I searched for him, Google was quoting wikipedia as saying he is a “politician and men’s rights activist”, though the lie had been deleted from Wikipedia when I went there. He is a politician who has a reasonable view on trans rights.

However Russell-Moyle apologised on twitter.

I want to apologies unreservedly about the comments in the article that I wrote last week in Tribune regarding Trans rights in which I mention J.K. Rowling. J.K. Rowling’s first disclosures of domestic abuse and sexual assault in her recent article on Trans issues were heartfelt and must have been hard to say. Whilst I may disagree with some of her analysis on trans rights, it was wrong of me to suggest that she used her own dreadful experience in anything other than good faith. I have asked Tribune to remove the line in question.

The paragraph is still there. Tribune explain, “It is against Tribune’s editorial policy to amend the contents of articles after publication in the fashion requested,” but they publish the apology.

As Moyle says,

While it is sickening to see trans people being caught up in a lazy attempt by the government to gain headlines, we must also know that their existence was threatened day in and day out even before this latest fiasco. Socialists must not only defend their rights, we must stand with them against exploitation, intimidation and mistreatment by the state.

On Monday morning, Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, was interviewed on The Today Programme (from 2:10:04 on the recording). He said “The PM is good on promising and bad on delivery”- mentioning the broken promise to build affordable housing- but the interviewer wanted to ask about his sacking Rebecca Long-Bailey, former shadow Secretary for Education, and Lloyd Russell-Moyle.

On Rebecca LongBailey, he said he will “take the action that is necessary on antisemitism… we can move forward with a clearer view of what needs to be done to rid the Labour Party of any sense of antisemitism”. Good. I have followed the equivocation, a little, what Amnesty International said, what Maxine Peake said, what Long-Bailey actually tweeted, and equivocation just perpetuates the smell of antisemitism.

JK Rowling was clearly in bad faith. To describe her experiences of partner violence would have been brave and valuable in the struggle for women’s rights. To describe them and then go on to express vile prejudice against trans people is using them in propaganda and demeans her. However as the interviewer Nick Robinson pointed out, she is a life long Labour supporter, and as we know very rich with a huge platform.

What did Starmer say? He said social media is never the best guide to public opinion.

[Moyle] was wrong to say that and he has apologised for it and I have accepted that apology… that was my judgment call and I’ll be judged if you lead a political party you have to take responsibility for the decisions you make.

The interviewer framed the question in exactly the most damaging way, saying “the conflict between two sets of rights trans rights and women’s rights to safe space How do you as Labour leader choose which side you come down on?” He gabbled in the way people do in these interviews, never pausing for fear of interrupting, producing a stentorian monotone.

I think that’s the wrong question, and that’s the problem: people are saying which side are you on this. I think the trans community deserve more protection than they’ve got. I don’t think the legislation goes far enough. That then takes us into difficult questions. Let’s take those difficult questions in a mature calm way without taking sides. Treating this as a political football which is what’s happened over the recent months is completely the wrong way forward. There’s a better way, and that is to reflect, and to do it in a mature, I would hope cross party basis, because the entrenchment is no way- that doesn’t protect the trans community, it doesn’t protect some women who are completely concerned about safe spaces. Let’s have the conversation.

I am convinced there is a way forward here if everybody is prepared to stop chucking bricks at each other, have a mature conversation, not treat it as a political football, and I think the sooner we get to that the better.

Well. He often says “trans rights are human rights”- trans people are human, I hope no-one would disagree. It could be completely neutral, even anti-trans: transphobes claim to support trans rights when seeking trans exclusion. “I don’t think the legislation goes far enough” to support our rights. He isn’t taking sides, he says. I trust he is a progressive. Here he was neutral, and with the storm of Government transphobia that is hard for me to hear; but his words before have been supportive.

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On Good Morning Britain, the same day, Keir Starmer got friendly questions about the PM and the polls, and transphobic questions about trans rights. Piers Morgan ranted:

There is a creeping sense that the transgender lobby is being so aggressive that it’s actually beginning to damage women’s rights? … I mean can somebody who is born with a male biological body simply say I am now identifying as a woman and be afforded full respect do you think that’s right… and have all the rights a woman should have?… JK Rowling is trying to defend women’s rights, she’s not transphobic, from anything I’ve read, she says she supports transgender people, she supports their rights to fairness and equality… is it right that people born in male biological bodies should be able to compete in sports against people born to female biological bodies given that there is in almost every case a massive physical advantage…

Susanna Reid backed Morgan up.

RLB does not actually write the words over which she was sacked but she retweets an interview, but LRM had actually written the article in which he criticised a woman for talking about a sexual assault that she had experienced.

Keir Starmer did not state a personal view. He said Moyle was right to apologise.

Well what I’ve said in this because it is a sensitive issue, trans rights are human rights, the legislation we’ve got doesn’t go far enough and we all have a cross party consensus about it to look at it and see whether it can be developed. But what concerns me here is that this whole issue has become a political football. There must be a space for a mature discussion about how we improve the rights of the trans community, obviously preserve safe spaces. I’m very conscious of the experience of women that have gone through sexual assault, sexual violence, I worked on it very hard as DPP with women’s groups, I do absolutely understand that, but there is two sides here. Let’s stop the political football and have a mature debate about how we improve-

I think we need to respect the right to self-identify, but we need to look at the framework that goes around that. That’s where the legislation needs to take place. That’s where the broad discussion needs to take place. I really don’t want to get drawn in to doing the opposite of what I’m suggesting here which is treating it as a political football. It’s complicated, it’s sensitive. I don’t think that hurling things at each other is the way forward…

I think we can go forward on this if we have a sensible debate about it without just drawing hard lines in the sand. On both sides we need mature reflection on it. We need absolutely- There was a cross-party consensus about this on the discussion that needed to take place and that’s fallen away and that’s a great shame. I actually think these are practical issues there are good questions, let’s reflect on them and find a consensus on the way forward because just chucking mud at one another is not going to help.

Starmer played a straight bat on this. ITV’s article under the video quoted at length stuff they had got they found interesting, but on trans they only quoted “[Moyle] was right to swiftly apologise and he did.” However he said some reassuring things for trans people. “The legislation does not go far enough”. “We need to respect the right to self-identify”. I consider he means there needs to be an advance in trans rights. It might not be as far as we wish. He says we should not draw hard lines. I don’t think a consensus is possible with the hard line anti-trans campaigners, but it might be with some people.

I don’t like the interviewers at all. Anti-trans campaigning was portrayed as reasonable concern, and Morgan played up the alleged threat of male bodies.

Trans and politicians

The Labour Party leadership contest is on. What are the candidates saying about trans people? What would we like them to say?

There is a principled position- trans women are women, trans people know who we are, including trans children. And there is a “principled position”- sex is real, gender is meaningless; there should be no men in women’s spaces; trans women are men; children are under threat from trans ideology. It’s nasty, it’s unrelenting and it is unwilling to compromise.

So what I want is pragmatism. I want politicians to affirm certain clear truths: it is wrong to judge a class of people by one or two individuals. It is a propagandist way of fomenting hate. Even if someone can name a trans rapist and several trans people she dislikes, most trans people are decent folk trying to live ordinary lives. Trans women are mostly harmless, and mockery and hatemongering is wrong. No man will pretend to be trans in order to assault women: rapists don’t need to. Yes “sex is real”, but gender is all-pervasive in the culture and some people deal with gender nonconformity by transitioning. Children below puberty may identify as trans, and allowing them social transition in school improves their mental health. All children should be supported and bullying is unacceptable. Children above puberty are not a threat until proved so, if they are trans they can be accepted in schools in their true gender. Children who feel safe, valued and respected will thrive and seek their own best interests. With an increase in child referrals, child gender clinics need more funding and more training for professionals.

You have a right to free speech, but if you claim the right to insult someone you may suffer consequences. The law, which says trans women can enter women’s space but be excluded if that’s reasonable (a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”) is good enough.

Then we could get over the drama. There is a huge amount of abuse: when Jess Phillips tweeted “I was one of the MPs who wrote the report on improving trans rights” an anti-trans campaigner made an excellent point: “Nothing you do or say will ever be enough”. Exactly. He meant for the “Trans Rights Activists” who s/he thinks make unreasonable demands, but the transphobe who tweeted that she is a “traitor to her sex” won’t be satisfied by anything less than total ideological purity either. And some oaf tweeted “Can’t wait for you to lose embarrassingly”: twitter is a place for hatred and spite where opposing groups meet, and for extremists to encourage each other into even more uncompromising positions.

There will be more direct questions. Keir Starmer said something worthwhile, and a video is circulating: We have instinctively to protect and defend, and we mustn’t make a political football and I’m really worried on this particular issue that a particularly vulnerable group is being used as a political football across the Labour Party and we have to deal with it in a much much better way than that and the Government has effectively now abandoned this and any legislative change I think won’t come under this Government so we’ve got to make the argument on this loud and clear and start with the proposition that this is a group, a small group of people who have been subjected to incredible abuse and discrimination for a very very long time.

Precisely. He did not say what “the argument” was, so he could weasel out of challenges from the transphobes, but it’s pretty clear he is not condemning the small, vulnerable group (us).

And, let them move on! Jess Phillips worked in women’s refuges. Of course she is interested in, say, the Weinstein trial. As the Weinstein trial begins I am reminded of the bravery of those who spoke truth to power– neatly including her slogan for the leadership, Speak Truth. Win Power. Trans women should be too. Violence against women and girls is a women’s issue, so a trans women’s issue, so everyone should be concerned with it.

Lisa Nandy put it well: see her video.

More Simeon Solomon: the androgynous beauty of Bacchus.