Labour Women Speak #2

Labour Women Speak is a series of articles giving Labour women members and supporters the opportunity to share their views on why they speak up about sex and gender issues.

Delyth Rennie is a former social worker and children’s guardian. Delyth is a member of the Labour Party. Here she describes how and why she felt compelled to speak up about sex and gender.

I’m an unashamedly Second Wave feminist, whilst acknowledging there were/are undoubtedly a lot of issues to address within that feminism.

I worked in social care for 30 years; 23 of those years as a qualified social worker including 10 years as a children’s guardian. I now work in hospitality. Whilst working as a social worker/guardian, I had NO IDEA about gender ideology or the attack on women’s rights.

On leaving social work, I joined Twitter, but wasn’t particularly active. Anyway, I had a question about female specific mountain bikes. Somehow I responded to a cycling journalist and as a result a female American mountain biker replied to me. She said female specific bikes were ‘horseshit’ and I’d retorted that what was horseshit was not being able to get a bike to fit (I’m a small WOMAN!). There was some to-ing and fro-ing and she offered advice about bikes. On reflection, I perhaps should have questioned more robustly her antipathy to FEMALE specific bikes, but the notion of bikes to fit ‘people’ rather than ‘pinking and shrinking’ seemed to make some sense. (Still no good for me at 5′ 0″ tall. I had to get a woman specific bike!)

Consequently, I followed her on Twitter and liked her sweary tweets, BUT then! She tweeted something like “Rachel you’re a woman and these bastards can f*ck off”. Attached was picture of Rachel McKinnon (who I understand has since changed name). I wondered what on earth was going on. Having hitherto been oblivious, it’s fair to say the penny didn’t just drop – a ton of loose change banged me on the head repeatedly! DUH! My awakening was the realisation that a man could identify as a woman and apparently participate in women’s sport. British cycling seemed just fine with this!!! (McKinnon is Canadian, but has participated in Masters cycling events in the UK).

Although I really didn’t know much about the debate, I quickly learnt if you question gender ideology, if you think there is ANY discussion to be had, you’re called bigot, fascist, racist!!? (I was upset when first added to ‘Nazis on Twitter’ lists, but soon got over it when I saw the illustrious company I was in). It didn’t matter that you were a left wing feminist – to some you were the definition of a ‘transphobic bigot’.

I’d naively thought gender ID was about respecting pronouns really (and like so many women, wanted to be ‘nice’ and ‘kind’). As I engaged with it more, I realised it required total and utter capitulation; that the mantra ‘transwomen are women’ was meant literally, hence a penis on a transwoman is considered a biologically female penis. And lesbians who wouldn’t have sex with a biological male who identifies as trans are therefore ‘transphobic’. The homophobia (or rather lesbophobia) as well as the misogyny at the heart of gender ideology truly dawned on me.

The journey continued and I had my ’15 minutes of fame’ when I asked Alice Roberts (TV presenter and Professor) a question on Twitter (the Humanist Society, of which she is president had ignored my letter). She responded and it went crazy!

Imagine my astonishment when I felt compelled to reply to a professor for public engagement in science: “Goodness. Each person can write their own biology? Post modern biology. Wow. Sex – female, large gametes; male – small gametes.”

My ‘pinned tweet’ is part of that discussion. I think my frustration and disbelief at the lack of scientific rigour on display became even more evident as Professor Roberts starting invoking ‘compassion’, imploring feminists not to be ‘mean’. It reads: “Mean & nasty is prioritising gender identity over my sex-based protections which are disappearing. Mean is transactivists calling us ‘terfs’ [and] Nazis. Wishing us dead in ‘grease fires’ or ‘throat punched’. Biology is not bigotry. It’s not difficult.”

Oh – and she blocked me and a lot of others who took part in the conversation. (At no point was I, or anyone else I noticed participating, rude or abusive). The age of disenlightenment indeed. (This exchange can be found on twitter via my pinned tweet should you wish to look).

I am now extremely concerned about the implications for ‘gender non-conforming’ and other vulnerable children. The sexism and homophobia inherent in the ‘transing’ of children is horrifying and I remain bewildered that so many grown-ups in the room cheer this on, complicit in the most extreme form of conversion therapy. It is also concerning that those directly involved in child safeguarding (especially social work and teaching) either remain silent for fear of losing their jobs/being disciplined/branded as transphobic, or are actually actively involved in promoting this reactionary ideology.

 

 

 

Labour Women Speak

When J K Rowling published her very clear, respectful and reasonable views on why she speaks up about sex and gender, we were more than happy to stand in solidarity with her. We also knew she wasn’t the only one who wanted to express their legitimately held views on such issues, in a rational and balanced way.

Labour Women Speak is a series of articles giving Labour women members, and supporters, the opportunity to air their views.

Kay Green is a writer and publisher and a Labour Party activist. Here she explains how seeing people being bullied led to her speaking up about sex and gender issues.

Why did I speak up? I didn’t mean to. I was a constituency officer in my local Labour Party, (Vice Chair (membership)). I thought the bit of the job description that involved ‘looking after the membership’ included dealing with bullying and abuse. Round my way, what I saw along those lines was mostly male LGBT Labour people, being appallingly abusive to, and attempting to silence/remove, autistic people, female abuse survivors and lesbians who disagreed with organisations such as Stonewall’s line on sex self-ID. Said line appears to have been informed by ‘queer theory’ which translated ‘acceptance without exception’ into a strategy that led organisations founded to support gay and lesbian people into activism that appears designed to cancel, deny and revile gay and lesbian cultures and services.

For many reasons, being a woman, and being an ally to autistic, gay and lesbian people leads me to support the retention of sex-based rights and services. I do think it’s difficult to do that and to do what is necessary to support trans people and I think we need a proper, national conversation about how we do it. Approaching the debate with those views apparently made me a ‘terf’, a ‘bigot’ and a ‘Nazi’.

I gradually worked out that the enemy is ‘gender’. To me, ‘sex’ is a biological description of our physical being, and ‘gender’ is the concept by which you can predict – or worse, dictate – what males and females respectively will do, think, say or wear on the basis of their sex. I started working on a better understanding of how different people are seeing the words ‘sex’ and ‘gender’, and how those repressive, dictatorial expectations get into our heads, so that we could have that conversation more efficiently.

In dealing with that, I found myself an active member of the Women’s Liberation Movement, learned a lot about feminism, and drew the conclusion that a clear, confident, gender critical women’s liberation movement was something that I, the Labour Party, and in fact the country as a whole was sorely in need of.

For some years, the battle raged on, provoked and embittered by a continuing (often apparently vexatious) confusion over the meanings of words, and the repeated labelling of gender critical women’s groups as ‘anti-trans’. It’s been exhausting. I’m eternally grateful to JK Rowling for bringing a spotlight onto the difficulties, and also to those who are now at last beginning to articulate the importance of all of us finding out how to support those a trans friend of mine calls ‘gender refugees’.

Ironically, the need to come together to talk about sex-based rights, has led to many women learning to work with those who are not their natural political allies (ie, your sex does not dictate which party, or which wing of your party, you support but your female body has the same needs as your political opponent). When this war is over, I hope we can carry that learning into other areas of politics.

All wars generate crowds of traumatised refugees. Those generated by the bitter war over sex and gender include autistic people who can’t cope with prescribed ‘gender roles’, abuse survivors who depend on single-sex services, lesbians and trans people who’ve been forced into the open in trying to challenge Stonewall et al, and all those who have just watched the whole battle in terrified silence.

Please let’s keep the conversation going, and keep speaking up until everyone is properly regarded.

Lesbian Visibility Week – Part 2

The lesbian battle against s. 28

For Lesbian Visibility Week here’s the second of our articles in which supporters of the Labour Women’s Declaration share their personal experiences of being a lesbian on the Left.

Let me take you back to 1988, the year Section 28 of the Local Government Act received Royal Assent. Section 28 prohibited Local Authorities and schools from ‘promoting homosexuality’ and also prevented them from funding lesbian and gay initiatives. The Act received a majority vote in Parliament on 24th May. Margaret Thatcher said: “They think they have an inalienable right to be gay.” The day before, four lesbians disrupted the BBC 6 O’ Clock News – shouting “No to Section 28!”. The 9 O’ Clock News then reported the story. (The lesbians spent some time in a police cell before being released.) In February of that year, another group of lesbians got into the House of Lord’s public gallery. Two of them abseiled into the chamber, using a washing line they’d bought in Camden Market. 1988 was also the year children’s book Jenny lives with Eric and Martin became famous as a threat to the State and was banned from schools, along with a book for teenagers called Young, Gay and Proud.

Lesbian protesters at the BBC (Pic credit: BBC)

In 1988 I lived in North West England. I was at Lancaster University and was a member of the Uni Lesbian Club. People often think that a North West lesbian and gay world didn’t exist outside Manchester – but it did. There was strong, working class lesbian life present in many towns beyond Manchester. Sunday night was often disco night, as women travelled to pubs where the landlord had let women take over a function room. The ale flowed, the dancing could be manic, relationships started or ended and there was always some woman crying in the toilets! Many of us were not out – not even to our families. There were few lesbian role models and lesbians with children could lose custody of them as Courts agreed with angry husbands that there was a real danger we could ‘indoctrinate’ these children to a life of homosexuality.

Section 28 was known about in the North West, but I only remember talking about it with Labour Party friends and in the Uni Lesbian Club. Despite the apparent lack of awareness, the notice of a demonstration against Section 28 in Manchester on 20th February was being talked about at the discos. I went on a coach that started in Chorley, went through Preston and picked up in Blackburn. We marched through the centre of Manchester to Albert Square. Tom Robinson sang Glad to be gay and Jimmy Somerville sang There is more to love than boy meets girl. I don’t remember who spoke, or what was said, but my most abiding memory was thousands of lesbians – some holding hands and some kissing. “You can’t put put us back in the box,” I thought. Stonewall was established in 1989 and became the main campaigning organisation for the equality of lesbians, gay men and bisexual people.

Section 28 was repealed in Scotland in 2000 and the rest of the UK in 2003. Lesbians were not put back in the box. We grew to be a significant part of the gay rights community, campaigning and successfully achieving a reduction in the age of consent (2001), adoption rights (2002) and civil partnerships (2004). Many of us would have said we had a place at what would later become the ‘LGBT’ table and the advances made were won by all of us working together. Section 28 was repealed because it was obviously discriminatory but also it was senseless trying to pretend we, lesbians and gay men, did not exist.

Was the campaign to repeal Section 28 the same as today’s transgender campaign for sex-self identification? I would say the campaign I was involved in during 1988, and the subsequent years, was about the collective desire for equality, the rights of millions of people to be accepted as they were: same sex attracted. The transgender campaign for self-ID is not about accepting who someone is, but is based on a belief that by simple declaration you can change your biology and become a something different: the opposite sex. This then gives a man the right to call himself a woman, to take the space of a woman, to take prizes and awards meant for women and to speak for women – all examples of male dominance that feminists have been campaigning against for centuries. Lesbians are campaigning with others to stop the loss of sex-based rights, services and spaces – and we are also fighting for ourselves and our rights to love our same sex: women. This women’s rights campaign seems to me to have more in common with the fight against section 28 than the campaign for self-ID does.

About the author, Carol Angharad. “I would not change the twists and turns of my life. I’m a proud lesbian and LWD campaigner.” Carol went travelling straight after leaving school and worked in shops and offices upon her return. She got married at 23, then had three lovely children, found feminism, in the shape of Spare Rib and the Women’s Press, and fell in love with a woman. She lost her children in a custody battle (but they chose to live with her as soon as they could). After university, she trained as a child care social worker – a career she followed for more than 20 years. She now lives in Derbyshire with her partner of 30 years and is blessed with grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Lesbian Visibility Week – Part 1

How I joined the Labour Party

For Lesbian Visibility Week here’s the first of two articles in which supporters of the Labour Women’s Declaration share their personal experiences of being a lesbian on the Left.

The last thing on earth I was going to do was become a member of the Labour Party. They weren’t nearly radical enough for me.

I came out as a lesbian in the early 1970s and was part of one of the first Gay Liberation Front groups in the UK, spending exciting evenings thrashing out political theory. It was so new – things we now take for granted were revolutionary and challenging ideas then.

My main focus gradually shifted from GLF to women-only groups. My political roots were absolutely in feminism – what we now have to call second-wave feminism, to distinguish it from the individualistic and apolitical version that passes for 21stcentury feminism. But I voted Labour.

Alice moved to rural northern England in the 80s
I moved to the rural area where I now live in the early 1980s. Many of the women I sang with, discussed life with, put on two political revues with (one about nuclear weapons, one about feminism) were members of Labour. Yet I didn’t join. I still saw it as somewhat behind the curve, not really ‘getting’ feminism, although it understood a lot more than other parties. Not only that, but it supported lesbians and gay men. That was more than important – in Thatcher’s UK, it was crucial. A very good friend of mine, a gay man, died of AIDS early in the spread of that disease, and the Conservative Party’s attitudes were grim. I continued to vote Labour.

Labour’s adoption of all-women shortlists in the 1990s made me feel more warmly towards the Party. I still didn’t join, being more interested in things directly focussed on women, and on lesbians.

The policies of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition were ‘shocking and disturbing’. Pic courtesy Cabinet Office.

And so life went on. What was a lesbian community here dwindled as women moved away, but I was in close touch with lesbian feminists I’d known for decades, as well as locally. Then in 2010, the Conservative Party and Liberal Democrats formed a coalition whose policies became more and more shocking and disturbing. I kept discussing with a long-term Labour friend about whether I should join Labour, but there was so much against it (she agreed). I even joined the Greens – very briefly, because the moment I tried to link up to the lesbian and gay grouping (inevitably “LGBTQI”), and posted something about women (differentiating women from transwomen) on a forum, I was termed a ‘terf’ and informed by the Equality spokesperson that my views were not those of the Greens. It was obvious that the Green Party was not the place for me.

This was in 2015. The Tories gained a majority at the election, but wonder of wonders, it looked seriously possible that a left-wing leader might get voted in for Labour. I joined. To my amazement, I discovered that two other lesbian friends joined at much the same time and for the same reasons – that things were desperate, we needed the Labour Party to get into government and reverse the sheer ghastliness of what was happening to the country.

We thought Labour understood about women’s sex-based rights. It turned out that the Labour Party had forgotten what a woman actually is. All Women Shortlists were explicitly opened to any man who ‘identified as a woman’. I brought a motion to my CLP asking Labour to pause and listen to women’s organisations before confirming this decision. At this point I discovered that most members of my CLP believed that transwomen are women. I was in a Party that thought lesbians should be attracted, not to the same sex (the very definition of ‘lesbian’) but to those of the ‘same gender’.

Naively, when I’d joined, I’d imagined that young people, not least young lesbians, would want to get involved in the dynamic and radical Labour Party I thought I’d glimpsed. It turns out, it’s yet another dangerous place for young lesbians, where they’re expected to believe that a man who claims to be a woman can be a lesbian, someone who they should accept as a prospective sexual partner, being of the same ‘gender’.

But I’m in the Party now, so I’m staying unless I’m expelled. I’ve met many other women (especially in the Labour Women’s Declaration working group, where lesbians are well-supported) as committed to women’s rights as I am, as keen as I am to see a government which can reverse the punishments inflicted on so many by this Tory government. My place is with them, as a woman, as a lesbian, working in the hope of establishing a Labour government with effective policies – and a renewed understanding of women’s sex-based rights. To be visible as a lesbian needs more than a day or a week of ‘visibility’. It needs a government and society-wide understanding of the reality of discrimination against women, and women’s material disadvantages – and a wish to change that for all women.

About the author: Alice Bondi has worked as a temp typist, teacher, shepherd, footpath officer and (finally) a psychotherapist. Now retired, she remains very busy with everything from vegetable gardening and local organisations, to the LGB Alliance and – of course – the Labour Women’s Declaration group.

Karen Ingala Smith rejected by Labour Party

In support of Karen Ingala Smith

Karen Ingala Smith (pictured left) is the CEO of nia, a London-based domestic and sexual violence charity working to end violence against women and girls. She also founded and carries out the Counting Dead Women project – which records all the women in the UK killed through men’s violence.     From this came The Femicide Census, which is now established as a leading articulation of men’s fatal violence against women in the UK.

Karen has recently been refused membership of the Labour Party and told she is not wanted within its ranks. Below is our statement in support of and in  solidarity with her.

“We wish to express our outrage that Karen Ingala Smith has been barred from membership of the Labour Party. Karen is a long-standing and well-respected campaigner for abused and vulnerable women as CEO of the charity Nia. Her Counting Dead Women project is a unique, moving and sadly all too necessary exercise in the highlighting of male violence against women, reminding us all that women who die at the hands of men are not just statistics, but individuals in their own right; irreplaceable daughters, sisters, aunties, mothers, grandmothers, cousins, nieces, friends, colleagues and loved ones. So well thought-of is the project by Labour MP Jess Phillips that each year she uses Karen’s tireless research to read out the names of these victims of male violence in the Commons. Thus they are recorded in Hansard and not forgotten, while Karen (and others like her) campaign to end the male violence that makes it necessary to undertake such a grim roll call.

While Jess Phillips may value Karen’s contribution and her legacy (as do many female survivors of male violence) it raises serious questions of the Labour Party that her application for membership has been declined. The reason given? Because Karen has apparently ‘engaged in conduct online that may reasonably be seen to demonstrate hostility based on gender identity.’

We call on the Labour Party to provide evidence of this supposed hostility, what gender identity is and how apparent hostility towards it is a factor in determining membership of the Labour Party. Gender identity is a concept which has not been defined and has no basis in UK Law. How can it be used to justify exclusion?

We agree with Karen; the Equality Act 2010 and the Labour Party 2019 Manifesto that women have the right to access properly-resourced single-sex spaces and services which meet their needs. (Karen’s evidence at the Commons Equality Committee on the need for single sex exemptions, and all her speeches at Woman’s Place UK meeting are available online).

The Labour Party needs to reconsider this rash decision. If Karen is barred from membership, then the Party also needs to bar all 4,500 signatories of our Declaration, including scores of Labour councillors, CLP Chairs, Women’s Officers and three MSPs.

We are members of the Labour Party. We stand in solidarity with Karen. Sex matters. Defend us or expel us.”

#ExpelMe Rally – speeches

Defend me or expel me rally

The #ExpelMe rally (on Mon 9th March 2020) was organised by London supporters of the Labour Women’s Declaration (LWD) and held in support of Woman’s Place UK (WPUK) and the LGB Alliance.

The sold-out rally was attended by around 300 people and was a response to some of the Labour leadership and deputy leadership contenders signing the Labour Campaign for Trans Rights’ pledge. One of the twelve points of this pledge labelled WPUK and the LGB Alliance ‘hate groups’; another called on the Labour Party to expel anyone who supports women’s sex-based rights.

Below are links to PDFs of some of the speeches given at the event.

 

Bev Jackson speech 9 Mar 20            Kiri Tunks speech 9 Mar 20

Lachlan Stuart speech 9 Mar 20      Lucy Masoud 9 Mar 20