Statement in support of Rosie Duffield MP

#WeStandWithRosieDuffield

It should not take courage to speak about women – our sex and our bodies – nor to insist on our right to organise as women and defend our legal protections.

Yet this is 2020. And this is the Labour Party.

But, at last, we can celebrate the bravery of Rosie Duffield, the first Labour Party MP at Westminster to challenge the erasure of the female sex in public life – the cost of adhering to “gender identity” – and her commitment to speaking on behalf of all women, in and beyond the labour movement.

“I feel like I’m being shut up”, Rosie told The Times, after months of public hounding, “and it was really horrible. It does feel like Gilead, where women aren’t allowed to ask questions or proffer alternative ideas. The shutting down of ideas is particularly dystopian.”

Thousands of Labour women feel the same.

We know what it is like to face expulsion from our party – or even to be refused entry – despite a lifetime fighting for the marginal and oppressed. We know the relentless bullying, the demands that we be sacked on spurious charges, and the campaigns to destroy our reputations, businesses and friendships. We know how it feels to constantly be targeted by vitriolic abuse and threats of violence and rape. We know that sex matters because, as Rosie says, this harassment “strikes at the heart of who you are as a woman, and because it’s base, pure misogyny.”

We know, too, that misogynistic attacks are all the more traumatic for countless women, like Rosie, who have experienced domestic or sexual abuse.

Yet where is the compassion now from her fellow MPs, who praised Rosie when she spoke in the Commons about her harrowing history of abuse and urged them to support the protection and welfare of victims and survivors? Where are these MPs when sadistic men compare her with Mussolini and fantasise about seeing her strung upside down from a lamppost?

This is not about denying trans people human rights. We stand with Rosie in saying that “everyone has the right to express themselves and be whatever and whoever they need to be.” We strongly support medical and social services that will enable trans people to fully participate in society and enjoy the human rights we all share.

But we are concerned to protect women’s rights, fought for by the women who built the Labour Party. We hold sex equality legislation as one of the great achievements of our party and we were proud to campaign for our 2019 Manifesto, committed to ensuring that “the single-sex-based exemptions contained in the Equality Act 2010 are understood and fully enforced in service provision.”

Yet there are Labour members, including some shadow ministers, who continue to equivocate over support for these exemptions. Like numerous women, we fear losing our hard – won rights and protections. “From a woman’s point of view”, as Rosie puts it, “what we are really terrified of is the erasure of women’s safe spaces. We seem to have galloped to the point where women’s spaces are being taken away and that’s deeply terrifying.”

Our rights, within our own party, to organise and speak – as and for our sex – have already been taken away, with barely any discussion. There could be “No debate” we were told, when we asked for a conversation on how we can move forward by reconciling sex-based rights with those of gender identity. Our attempts to open dialogue were met by accusations of bigotry and calls for our expulsion.

“More light, less heat” is all Keir Starmer will say, whenever the issue is raised. But we have seen no effort to turn on the light or to open space for respectful discussion. The Leadership, it seems, wants to avoid getting entangled in a “culture war” over sex and gender. But this is a culture war we cannot duck.

“There is an argument”, warns Rosie, “that the Tories are making it look as though they’re more tolerant than the Labour Party”, and on the current impasse over sex and gender, we fear she is right: “I think if we can’t discuss it then we’re in danger of that happening.” We believe the Labour Party will doom itself to losing the confidence of voters,  if it casts aside the rights and needs of women in favour of an unworkable model of “self-declaration”.

This should concern us all, women and men. It is time for everyone to take responsibility for grappling with this urgent matter. This means listening and thinking, not mantras and invective. It means compassion, reflection, and honesty.

It should not take courage to speak up for women.

But with courage comes strength and freedom. It is liberating and exhilarating to speak your truth. Feminism owes its existence to those who dared to speak their mind and challenge orthodoxy, while also listening, arguing, and even changing their mind. So too does socialism.

“Courage calls to courage”, proclaimed the women suffragists: “Dare to be free.”

Join us. Join Rosie Duffield. Speak up.

The Labour Women’s Declaration Working Group

Read and sign the Labour Women’s Declaration here.

 

 

 

 

 

Our letters to Keir Starmer

Back in April we wrote to new Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer to raise the issue of women’s sex-based rights and offer him a briefing on the subject. To date, we’ve received no response. This is our follow up letter – sent to him by email on 9th June. (As you can see it’s a briefing in itself!).

Dear Keir,

Women’s Sex-Based Rights

We write on behalf of our 300 founders and 4,447 signatories to our Declaration. (We also invite you to read some of the 452 comments made by signatories to the Declaration which will give you a flavour of the strength of feeling amongst members and supporters on this subject.) We are all Labour supporters, most of us are Party members, many are elected officers, councillors and three are elected MSPs. Several are active members of your own CLP. Our concern is the Party’s approach to ‘gender identity’ and women’s sex-based rights. We wish to raise a number of issues with you to which we request and expect a response.

No response to our offer of a briefing

We wrote to you on 23rd April and invited you to meet us online, along with MSP Johann Lamont, to which we have not received a response other than an automated email stating: “If you are emailing me in my role as Leader of the Opposition, your message has been successfully received and we will do our very best to respond.”

The content of our previous message is appended to this letter.

Without a proper briefing of the Party Leadership about our concerns, we fear that the Party stands very little chance of moving forward on this issue. It will continue to make unnecessary mistakes such as refusing membership to leading feminist campaigners like Karen Ingala Smith, whose ‘Counting Dead Women’ list is read out each year in Parliament by Jess Phillips MP. Karen’s party membership was rejected on the grounds of “hostility to gender identity,” despite the fact that gender identity cannot be defined, and has no basis in law.

We are very disappointed not to have received a reply, particularly given the claim that:

“Labour is the party of equality, committed to achieving a world free from all forms of bigotry and discrimination… Whether campaigning on the streets or passing legislation in government, Labour is the only party to consistently stand with women… Labour will put women at the heart of our government and programme.”

We have consequently decided to make this follow up message an ‘Open Letter’.

We hope of course that David Evans, the new General Secretary of the Party, will take note of what we have to say about the Labour Party Rule Book. And that Marsha de Cordova, Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, will work to apply Party policy in relation to women’s sex-based rights.

Although the Labour Party Manifesto 2019 stated a commitment to “ensure that the single-sex-based exemptions contained in the Equality Act 2010 are understood and fully enforced in service provision”, it remains virtually impossible to discuss that commitment to women within the Party. Those of us who attempt to do so are routinely abused, smeared and silenced. The demands of various groups of transactivists for expulsion of members who support the manifesto commitment were supported by most of the candidates for leadership and deputy leadership (including Angela Rayner). We noted that you and Richard Burgon signed the marginally less incendiary trans pledge. However, the fact that you have neither signed our Declaration, which is entirely in line with the 2019 manifesto (and adheres to the Labour Party Rule Book and Codes of Conduct), nor given our many supporters the benefit of a reply to any of our emails and approaches, is very concerning.

Challenges to the pervasive “policy capture”

Policy capture is widespread in public and private bodies across the UK and extends into the Government Equality Office (GEO) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which means that guidance regarding protected characteristics and reference to the single sex exemptions in Equality Act 2010 is often inaccurate.

This paper (The 2010 Equality Act Is Being Undermined by Official Guidance) by Ann Sinnott, Director of Authentic Equity Alliance clearly sets out the conflict between official guidance and women’s sex based rights:

“One of the most contentious social conflicts today is that between women’s rights campaigners – who protest that women-only spaces, in both public and private organisations, are being eroded to the detriment of women and girls – and transgender rights campaigners, who dismiss such claims as bigoted nonsense and assert that transwomen are women and entitled to access women-only spaces. Scarcely a day goes by without media coverage of this issue and a ferocious war rages on social media.”

The paper goes on to describe how this misinformation regarding the Equality Act 2010 came about due to pressure and training from Stonewall: “…for the last six years people have been incorrectly told that transwomen with a Gender Recognition Certificate have an automatic right to enter and use women-only spaces.”

The Government Equality Office recently removed its endorsement from schools guidance produced by EqualiTeach, tweeting on 1st May 2020 “the LGBT guidance for primary schools published by EqualiTeach does not reflect government policy. GEO had no input into the document. The GEO logo has been removed.”

Judicial review claim being prepared against CPS

Lawyers acting in a Pre-Action Protocol Letter for Judicial Review on 3rd April 2020 (to which the CPS responded by withdrawing their LGBT Bullying and Hate crime Guidance for review) said:

“The CPS in discharge of their s149 EA duty should have addressed how the Guidance they have issued would impact children with other protected characteristics. Of obvious and immediate relevance are those children with the protected characteristics of sex (especially girls), sexual orientation and religion and belief…

“It is not clear that the CPS has consulted children and groups with other protected characteristics to see how the Guidance might impact them. The result is a document that advocates for a school environment where gender self-identification is law and trumps all other protected characteristics. This is misleading and unlawful.”

This action challenging the CPS regarding its LGBT Bullying and Hate Crime Guidance is still on going in that the CPS, which has said it will review its guidance, is now being challenged to withdraw as a Stonewall ‘Diversity Champion’.

Toolkits and Guidance for Schools

More and more local authorities are withdrawing the ‘Trans Inclusion Toolkit for Schools 2019’ which is based on legally incorrect advice provided by Mermaids and Stonewall, and does not safeguard children.

Labour Councils in Barnsley and Doncaster, and Conservative led councils in Essex, Kent, Leicestershire, Shropshire, Somerset and Warwickshire, as well as Denbighshire and Oxfordshire (both NOC, Conservative – led) have withdrawn the incorrect guidance.

‘Sex’ Category in the Census

Alice Sullivan, Director of the 1970 British Cohort Study, UCL Professor of Sociology and member of your local CLP, is a leading authority on the need to retain the category of sex in data collection including the Census. She was one of the 72 social scientist signatories of this Letter to the UK Census Authorities and the Scottish Government, which includes the statement: “As experts in social statistics and users of population level data, we call on the UK’s census authorities to retain the integrity of the category of sex, and not to conflate this with gender identity.”

We recommend that you agree to hear what Professor Sullivan has to say, and would be happy to invite her to join us in an online meeting with you.

Persistent inaccuracies in the 2020 Labour Party Rule Book

Shockingly, the Labour Party Rule Book still does not reference the Equality Act 2010, and many of the phrases about countering discrimination incorrectly list the protected categories from the Act; for example ‘sex’, which is a protected characteristic, is referred to only twice whereas ‘gender identity’, which is not a protected characteristic, is referred to many times as if it is an accepted, agreed and definable concept. This is not the case. Furthermore, this issue has never been discussed and agreed at Conference.

These errors were brought to the attention of Jennie Formby by our Working Group in 2018, but no response was received despite several reminders having been sent. It has now been brought to the attention of the Chair of the NEC Equality Sub-Committee, as no correction to these errors and omissions has been made in the 2020 Rule Book. Surely it is reasonable to expect that the Rule Book of Her Majesty’s Opposition Party should correctly reference existing UK law?

We would very much like the opportunity to discuss these important issues with you at the earliest possible opportunity.

Please do contact us to let us know when it will be possible for us to arrange an online meeting along with Johann Lamont.

Yours sincerely

[Names included]

  • You can read our previous letter to Keir in this PDF (which is a duplicate of the appendix we refer to in the letter above): 23 April letter – appendix to 9 June letter to Keir Starmer
  • See our social media channels for calls to action and ideas for how you can support the Labour Women’s Declaration Group in attracting Keir’s attention to the vital issue of women’s sex-based rights.