Labour U-Turns On Trans Self Declaration Pledge

Labour MP for Oxford East, Anneliese Dodds, provoked backlash from both sides of the “Trans Debate” as Labour U-Turns on Self Declaration for trans people.

Published Monday July 24th, Dodds’ article hits with the headline “Labour will lead on reform of transgender rights – and we won’t take lectures from the divisive Tories”

Anneliese Dodds' headline in the Guardian

What does the piece say?

Heavily critical of the Tories trans related policies, the Labour MP for Oxford East opened her piece with “A mix of culture wars and trans debate”. Not the economy. Not the NHS. Not any of Rishi Sunak’s five increasingly dubious pledges. No, according to the Conservative party deputy chairman, Lee Anderson, the Tory election campaign should be built around demonizing vulnerable LGBT+ people.” Dodds claims that she believes Anderson is only paying attention to the “Trans Debate” in order to “stoke division”.

Dodds states that the use of a marginalized group as a distraction tactic from the screw-ups of a political party in government is irresponsible. “Responsible politicians would understand that this isn’t a debate to exploit, it’s people’s lives. Who they are and who, all too frequently, they suffer violence for being. Responsible politicians would put that well beyond electoral opportunism. But this is a different and desperate Tory party.” and she’s not wrong.

As I mentioned in my piece about the criticism of Sunak, Braverman and Badenoch by Caroline Nokes, the Conservatives approval rating is tanking through the floor, with Reform UK (formerly the Brexit Party) comparatively surging in the polls from the Tory heartland so far this year. For reference, they haven’t had as much support since the beginning of 2020.

Graph of popular support percentage

The Shadow Women & Equalities Secretary then moved on to the successes of previous Labour Party equality policy, including the passing of the Equality Act 2010, and doesn’t hesitate to get a dig in against the SNP for their attempts at GRA reform last year. “Last year, the Scottish National party’s cavalier approach to reforming gender recognition laws seemed to be more about picking a fight with Westminster than bringing about meaningful change. The safeguards that were proposed to protect women and girls from predators who might abuse the system were simply not up to scratch. As a result, the Scottish government is still picking up the pieces, with trans rights no further forward.”

While she’s correct that Trans Rights in Scotland are no further forward, she failed to mention why that’s the case and how the Conservative government had a petulant panic and triggered a Section 35 order of the Scotland Act in order to veto the change. Nor does she mention their justifications for doing so, which ‌left a sour taste in many of our mouths.

The MP for Oxford East goes on to acknowledge the difficulty in obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) for many transgender people, and how humiliating and bureaucratic the process is. 

As it currently stands‌, in order to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate, one must have been living in the societal role of their gender identity for at least 2 years, have 2 doctors letters to back up their diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria, and reams of medical evidence of their transition including very personal and ordinarily confidential medical information.

All of this information goes before a faceless, unseen panel that never meets the transgender person in question. The panel then decides if a trans person can get their GRC without having even met the Trans person in question.

Under Labour, Dodds claims we’ll see them “… modernise, simplify and reform the gender recognition law to a new process. We will remove invasive bureaucracy and simplify the process.” Though any explanation of how they’ll achieve this is scant‌.

“A diagnosis provided by one doctor, with a registrar instead of a panel, should be enough.” is the closest we get to any sort of strategic plan laid out here. Which, to me at least, isn’t good enough. The process of cutting out bureaucracy is actually a very difficult one, that involves‌ a lot more of said bureaucracy.

Criticism and another dig at Lee follows on from this immediately, as the MP writes, “We take no lectures from him, or any Conservatives. Certainly not when rape charges and prosecutions are so appallingly low and the gender pay gap is widening.” – though what either of these things have to do with GRA Reform, I’ve yet to actually understand.

Dodds also said “We need to recognise that sex and gender are different – as the Equality Act does. We will make sure that nothing in our modernised gender recognition process would override the single-sex exemptions in the Equality Act. Put simply, this means that there will always be places where it is reasonable for biological women only to have access. Labour will defend those spaces, providing legal clarity for the providers of single-sex services.” While this paragraph ‌is merely accurate according to legislation, it provoked some rather interesting backlash. Though, I’ve yet to determine how much of that is due to their utter lack of planning.

Anneliese herself finished the piece in question with the following: “These policies will not please everyone. They will be attacked from all sides, in good faith and bad. But responsible politics is not about doing what is easy, it’s about doing what is right. And about refusing to descend into the gutter where the Conservatives wish to take us. Everyone deserves to be accepted, without exception and treated with respect and dignity in society.” Which also caused some backlash that I’m going to get into further below.

The Backlash

Transgender people and GCs reacted negatively to the announcement, which didn’t surprise me one jot. Nor did it surprise Dodds, based on the closing paragraph and the MP’s own words. From transgender people to GCs, to people who don’t actually care, providing the cost-of-living crisis gets sorted out. There was uproar across social media and no winning for Labour with this one.

Much of the criticism comes from the change of policy. As recently as 2020, the Labour Party actually claimed to be for self identification. This U-Turn appears to be being seen as ‌an attempt to fence sit, or an attempt to cater to the vote of a group of people who don’t want transgender people to exist. That’s not 100% accurate, and I’ll break down why a bit later on.

Kemi Badenoch kicked the political football that is trans people back at the Labour party again with a totally very clever deflection that involved pointing to the Conservative Party policy 3 years ago, that wasn’t actually anything like what Dodds has suggested and I’m definitely not being sarcastic about it totally being actually a very clever retort. She seems to forget that while May was in the Premiership, both Labour and the Conservatives claimed to be pro-self ID and Tories walked it back under Liz Truss.

Badenoch tries to deflect again

She also seems to have forgotten that at the end of last week Home Secretary Suella Braverman, recommended the work of Helen Joyce to MPs for their “summer reading”. This was a move heavily condemned by many, including Labour MP Kate Osborne who told Pink News, “Helen Joyce accuses parents who support their kids through transition of irrevocably harming their children and has called for a reduction in people who transition because ‘they’re a problem in a sane world’”.

Badenoch’s criticism appears to boil down to, “You took too long to change your policy despite the level of pressure the Conservative Party and anti-trans lobbying groups put you under”. Make of that particular heap of bile what you will.

Outside of the political sphere, there were more questions and anger expressed by the trans people I saw talking about this, than there was any sort of support or acceptance.

Abigail Thorn's tweet linking Dodds' article. Plus the beginning of her explanations.

Abigail Thorn, actress and creator of Philosophy Tube, tweeted a response. Abigail proceeded to break down very simply and clearly, just how outdated and humiliating the diagnostic process for Gender Dysphoria is in this country, and how awkward and inappropriate many of the questions are for no legitimate reason. Her explanations, as always are well worth the read or listen.

There were the usual accusations of the bullying of Rosie Duffield, and the ignoring of women’s rights in favor of trans ones and the stealing of Tory policy. A few people clearly didn’t even read ‌the article, they saw the headline and appear to have immediately begun frothing at the mouth about Labour trying to appeal to whichever voting demographic any particular person was a part of, just because of the recognition of trans peoples existence and the discrimination we face. But I’m going to save our mental health and IQ points, and not post those particular screenshots in this piece. No one needs a migraine today. They’re easy enough to find though, should you wish to.

Twitter being itself, as per.

The Twitter algorithm did what it does best and #LabourLosingWomen was trending for a hot second. In surprise also, to fucking nobody.

The Breakdown

The Labour Party position leaves a lot to be desired, I won’t lie to you, but there appears to be a huge ream of people who are forgetting something very important right now. As things stand, under the Tories, our protections have gone backwards over the last 5 years.

Labour U-turning on self ID is a gut punch that we neither needed nor wanted, and I am bloody furious that they have, but unfortunately this is how politics works.

As I mentioned in the previous section, Dodds herself stated that she knew there would be an enormous amount of backlash on both sides, and there is. I’ve seen some suggesting that it’s just the beginning of a “slippery slope” of Labour eventually introducing Self ID. Others have claimed that this is Labour’s way of showing they don’t actually give a shit about transgender people at all.

I don’t think either of these stances are correct. I think the Labour Party are noticing how much the Tories are losing popular support and just as importantly at where they’re losing support. I mentioned Reform UK earlier, for example. Reform UK’s trans policy is worse than that of Labour, by a long chalk. The only mention they even have of trans people in their manifesto is: “We must keep divisive woke ideologies such as Critical Race Theory (CRT) and gender ideology out of the classroom. Sex education should also always be age-appropriate”. They are catering to the far-right anti-migrant, GC, anti-Net Zero, and fiscally conservative voters.

The Labour Party are also aware that most people don’t care enough about trans issues to support legislation that, in the current cultural climate‌, would be seen as so radical. I would adore for self declaration to pass the moment Labour got into power, but that’s just not practical with how our political and parliamentary systems work.

In order to pass legislation in this country, the party in government needs to collect something called “political capital”. It’s a metaphorical type of currency used within politics to mobilize voters, that’s made up of “the accumulation of resources and power built through relationships, trust, goodwill, and influence between politicians or parties and other stakeholders”, according to the Wiki.

Those in power also need something usually referred to as “political will”, which is defined as “the extent of committed support among key decision makers for a particular policy solution to a particular problem”

Unfortunately, in British politics, parliamentary procedure and tactics often lead to a need to compromise in order to actually achieve progression. The Labour Party are doing the very thing many were criticising them for not doing under Corbyn. They’re playing politics.

Is it the best solution? Absolutely not! Is it one I agree with? Also no. However, what it is, is practical. If Labour cater to the more moderate semi-GC vote, that’s made up of those who don’t actually know any better but have been carried on a whirlwind of fear-mongering, they’re more likely to pull that vote away from the Tories and prevent the further radicalisation of that demographic by Reform UK.

Additionally, they’re more likely to gain the votes, depending on the rest of their policy pack, of parents who mostly just wanna make sure their kids aren’t actually seeing inappropriate things in the classroom, or having to use litter trays. While you and I, dear reader, both know that’s not happening, the lies of the Anti-Trans Activists over the years, have permeated through the Internet to mainstream news, social media and now to on the ground alt-right organising in the UK.

If people don’t know any better, don’t know where to look for the correct information, and spend the amount of time these people spend inundated with anti-trans propaganda and the aforementioned lies, is it any wonder they end up just confused and scared? We’re scared too, but for a different reason. We’re afraid for our lives because all of this will just have the effect of having us targeted even more. Average people who’ve been bought in by bullshit, don’t understand that. It’s like trying to explain to someone who was born blind what the colour red looks like.

The Conclusion

Frankly, it would’ve been better if Labour had taken this proverbial chess-move a few moves ago, and in a different way. MPs are representatives of the people, and while most of the people in this country support trans rights as a concept, and trans people that exist, they also don’t know all the intricacies and details like we do. So, Labour’s bid to do something that covers the desires of the majority, over either of the minorities, is actually just one of responsible and practical politicking.

We need to remember, for the sake of everyone involved in this, that politics is far from straight forward, and takes a lot of hard work, dedication and strategising. Sometimes compromises we don’t like need to be made, and other times we’ll be more likely to make gains. We need to learn about the tactics being used by politicians so that we know exactly why they’re doing the things they are, I think. We need to learn to play the game.

Otherwise, we run the risk of falling foul to the same scare mongering that everyone else does, but from the other side. We can’t play the game unless we know the rules, and if we keep smashing up the board we’re just gonna lose.

Stock image of broken chess board

Trans Peoples’ Next Steps:

  • There’s the necessary prevention of further backsliding under the Tories, due to their ability to pass something called a “statutory instrument”. According to Parliament “Statutory Instruments (SIs) are a form of legislation which allow the provisions of an Act of Parliament to be subsequently brought into force or altered without Parliament having to pass a new Act. They are also referred to as secondary, delegated or subordinate legislation,” which I believe they’re considering regarding the change of definition for the word “sex” in the Equality Act. 
  • There’s active effort on the parts of many organisations and activists in this country, to put pressure on the government and the NHS, to make trans healthcare actually function.
  • And none of that takes into account all of the fights being fought in the court system right now, nor any of the other organising trans people are doing in order to try and actually gain some form of progressive change in this country.

I’ve been asked many times since all of this hit the news, what ‌is it we’re meant to do now? We know what to do, it’s been happening for decades. We keep fighting. Every generation will fight for further LGBTQIA+ liberation, and to maintain the gains we’ve already made up to that point in history. It’s a tale as old as the Civil Right Movement if not older.

We need to take our internal organising off of mainstream social media platforms, for one. Find encrypted messaging services, and similar, to keep our information as close to our chests as possible. Reading books about organizing, like Rules For Radicals by Saul Alinsky, would be a good idea.

To be clear, this is not as some may assume, me recommending we abandon social-media-led organising all together, not in the least. However, we need to fight these battles on two fronts. Both online and with on the ground grassroots organising. The internet is an incredibly useful resource, but if we do our main organising in the open, then our plans are easily shared with those we don’t want to see them. There needs to be an equal focus on both fronts. We can build an online and offline organizing base by gradually directing people from social media to Telegram groups over time, avoiding the risk of information leaks.

If you have the time, focus and spoons I’d also recommend reading about the political tactics of those opposed to us too, for that you’ll want books like The We can create an organizing base by moving people from social media to Telegram groups without risking information leaks. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli, The Art Of War by Sun Tzu, Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky and more. If we read about their tactics we can spot which ones they’re using and perform whichever necessary counter measures are available to us.

A sticker our wonderful photographer Alyx Bedwell found in Brighton during Trans Pride.

Keep an eye out in your area for stickers, flyers or posters pushing alt-right or anti-trans messages. Make sure they get taken down or covered, but be very careful because those who post them up in places have been known to hide sharp implements along the edge of posters and stuff. You’ll notice they tend to target bus stops and shelters, lamp posts near populated pedestrian areas, even dog bins and post boxes. Don’t be afraid to cover their propaganda with your own. It’s quite easy to find websites that offer custom stickers and posters for a reasonable price. 

Networking is key in organising, finding like minded people, who believe the same (or close enough) things, who are on the right side, that’s of the utmost importance. So is screening that network to be sure of no leaks and unforeseen surprises down the road.

There are way more of us than there are of them, by a significant margin. Let’s get smart about this, let’s show them how strong in number and conviction that we are. Don’t be silent, don’t allow us to be swept under the rug. Do more to organise, to be heard, to fight back. We’re not protesting enough, we’re not making a big enough stink for anyone to actually sit up and take notice, and that’s not ok.

Let’s stand up, together, for our rights, our needs, and our safety.