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LWD response to Sir Keir Starmer’s reply to constituents about sex and gender

Keir’s office has been sending out a template reply to constituents who have written to him about sex and gender. For a copy of Keir’s letter see below this post. We have replied as LWD in a private letter to Keir. But we’re happy to share here the main messages in that letter:

Our message to Keir

Sex and gender questions are, unfortunately, still tripping up Labour politicians. There are remaining inaccuracies in current Labour ‘lines’ which we believe result from the chilling effect on gender critical voices in recent years. Consequently many in the party, including politicians, remain behind the curve on some of the key emerging issues.

There has been some welcome movement, for example towards clarity that sex and gender are different, and implicit acknowledgement of the need to negotiate competing “rights” and tensions between the GRA and EA2010, but the party will not reach truly robust policy positions until more voices get seats at the policy development table.

We are the only organisation advocating for the many thousands of Labour voters and members, including politicians, who believe that action must be taken to protect sex-based rights. Without our input to counterbalance that of the controversial lobby group Stonewall, the party cannot develop policy that takes into account that there are differing views of substance.

We welcome some real movement in your letter away from the party’s previous positions that ‘transwomen are women’, and away from support for Self-ID. We feel that, since we met in July,  you have taken the time to consider our arguments, for which we thank you.

In particular we welcome elements of your letter, for example the clarity of the term “biological women”. However, we need to point out the following inaccuracies which merit further urgent attention. The headings quote from your letter to constituents:

1          “Labour supports modernisation of the Gender Recognition Act and the protection of the Equality Act, including its provision for single-sex spaces

We look forward to discussing ideas for what ‘modernise’ should involve in forthcoming meetings and via our submissions to the National Policy Forum. We recommend the establishment by the party of an expert panel to develop policy on this whole area of sex and gender, across all areas including health, education, women and equalities, justice, prisons etc, as well as impartially examining the evidence for what “modernising the GRA” should entail, and the evidence of the need for a “conversion practices” ban.

In the meantime, we urgently ask you and Labour colleagues to note that EA2010 provides for single-sex exceptions, not “safe spaces” nor “single-sex spaces”. The term “spaces” implies that this provision is only needed in extreme circumstances, for example in prisons or refuges. But the exceptions allow all women the dignity and privacy of single-sex provision in our daily lives, and are an important underpinning for discrimination legislation.

2          “Obtaining a GRC is a very arduous process”
We believe that the current process, especially after recent government reforms removing the barrier of cost and moving the application process online, is neither lengthy nor humiliating.

The safeguarding measures still present in the GRC application process, such as requiring a medical diagnosis and a panel decision (which does not require the presence of the applicant) provide a necessary safety net to ensure the legal declaration of changing gender takes into account the seriousness of the step and privileges afforded to the applicant.

Do listen to this podcast conversation between Karon Monaghan KC and Ken Macdonald KC which clearly explains why the abandonment of basic GRC processes ie “Self ID”, is unsafe for women, and why the UK government had to use Section 35 of the Scotland Act to block the GRR Bill. They make it very clear how removal of the necessary safeguarding measures is not a proportionate means to simplify the GRA process.

3          A GRC requires “the consent of their husband or wife to change gender”

This is not correct. And due to this common misapprehension, shadow front bench colleagues as well as you are indicating that Labour intends to remove the spousal consent clause. This would neither be wise nor fair to women and would be challengeable in law. We have prepared this one page briefing on the need for the spousal consent clause, which we hope you will share with colleagues.

4          “We can only find solutions to these issues by bringing people together, not pitting them against each other”

Scottish Labour’s whip in support of the Self-ID/GRR Bill was very damaging. Now that the GRR fiasco has contributed to the downfall of Nicola Sturgeon, we believe there’s a new opportunity for a reset, and a proper consideration of the impact of the Bill and Lady Haldane’s judgement on women’s sex-based rights. There are now so many anomalies and contested areas of law that it will take more than guidelines to resolve. It is not fair that front-line workers in so many settings are asked to make decisions on applying the exceptions, in such an uncertain and chilling environment.

Following the GRR Bill/Adam Graham conviction, voters across the UK, including journalists, are much more aware of these issues, and will question you and colleagues in depth, including on the doorstep. We speak on behalf of the thousands of Labour activists who want to be able to give decent answers on the doorstep and to win the General Election. Polls, eg BBC and IPSOS show that two thirds of voters, including Labour voters, oppose Self-ID and support the single-sex exceptions. A clear steer from you, now, that “modernise” will not involve Self-ID, will put the party on a secure and stable footing as it enters into the GE campaign.

Robust policies cannot be developed with only one side of the arguments present. We welcomed the party’s listing of our conference fringe meeting last October. It was addressed and attended by many Labour politicians and was a great success. However the refusal of our 2022 conference stand application has not reflected well on the party and has contributed to many party members and staff remaining even further behind the curve in understanding the legal issues. Nancy Kelley, CEO of Stonewall, was invited by David Evans to address all party staff in a zoom only this week, further contributing to misapprehensions which many staff still hold.

We welcome your statement “We can only find solutions to these issues by bringing people together, not pitting them against each other”. We have applied again for a conference stand and fringe meeting in Liverpool and trust that you will stand by your claim that you want to see “all politicians behaving in a sensitive and grownup way about these serious issues”.

Granting us a conference stand will be a key symbolic action to make it clear that the previous abuse and silencing of women at local and national levels in the party is no longer acceptable. It would be an important move towards “bringing people together in adult conversations” about important issues.

We look forward to our follow-up meetings with you and/or your teams to discuss all of the above, in particular in relation to ‘modernising’ the GRA, the forthcoming Conversion Practices Bill, the need for a stable definition of woman in the Equality Act and our suggestion of the establishment of an expert policy panel.

LWD Working Group
March 2023

Copy of template reply sent out to constituents by Sir Keir Starmer’s office, week beginning 20th February 2023.

 

“Dear x

 

Thank you for your recent email. Our office has received a large number of emails on trans rights and legislation in the Scottish Parliament to update their Gender Recognition Act in recent weeks. We know that many constituents have strong feelings about these matters, often due to their personal experiences. Keir believes that we need to work through these issues with respect and sensitivity.

 

To be clear on Keir’s position, we are providing anyone who has written to us on these matters with the same response. Labour is the party of equality. We want trans people to be treated fairly and we also support the protection of certain spaces that are for biological women. That’s why Labour supports modernisation of the Gender Recognition Act and the protection of the Equality Act, including its provision for single-sex spaces.

 

It’s right that we consider how to include trans people fairly in ways that do not disadvantage biological women. Labour believes that the current process to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate is out-of-date. It asks people to go through a very arduous process and obtain the consent of their husband or wife (if they have one) to change gender. All the political parties agreed that the process needed modernising, but the Conservatives dropped their plans, and now seem to be playing political games with it.

 

Meanwhile, trans people still face discrimination and are still faced with the same outdated process. A future Labour government would address this with a better process to support people who identify as a gender that’s different to the one they were born in. We would also uphold the Equality Act that allows for certain spaces for biological women.

 

The vast majority of the time, trans women are rightly treated with respect and compassion as women. However, the law rightly protects some spaces for biological women, and allows for trans women to be excluded from those spaces in specific circumstances. The Equality Act makes provision for this when it is a ‘proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’.

 

Labour is steadfast in our commitment to tackle violence against women and girls and advocate for women’s rights. We created the law that protects single-sex spaces for biological women – and we will always keep those protections. For example, it’s right that women leaving domestic violence are able to seek safety and security in a women-only refuge – and this is recognised in law.

 

Now is a time when we need to see all politicians behaving in a sensitive and grownup way about these serious issues. We can only find solutions to these issues by bringing people together, not pitting them against each other.

 

Thanks again for your message.

 

Best wishes,

 

Office of Rt Hon Keir Starmer MP

Member of Parliament for Holborn & St Pancras

Leader of the Opposition”

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