The Labour Party & Membership Data

Dear people whose job it is to collect & analyse personal data from the membership of the Labour Party,

Labour Women’s Declaration hopes you followed the court hearing on 9 March – Fair Play for Women versus Office for National Statistics – challenging the ONS guidance on how to fill in the sex question in the 2021 Census.  A full judicial review was due to take place this Thursday, 18 March, so that the case could be heard as a matter of priority before census day, but the judge made an interim order instructing the ONS to immediately remove the incorrect guidance on the sex question, saying he was satisfied the campaign group Fair Play for Women was “more likely than not to succeed” on its case regarding the legal definition of “sex”.

Today we can confirm that Fair Play for Women have indeed succeeded and that the ONS has conceded that the proper meaning of sex in the census means sex as recognised by law. The High Court has now ordered  that “What is your sex?” means sex “as recorded on a birth certificate or Gender Recognition Certificate”. The substantive hearing listed for 18 March is vacated and ONS will pay costs of both sides. This is a victory for the women’s movement, and all the women and organisations that got behind the Sex in the Census campaign to ensure women’s sex-based rights are upheld through accurate data collection, including Labour Women’s Declaration.

We were watching to see if there would be any reaction to all this from the Labour Party, since many of us have complained after discovering what you had done with our online membership details. The outcome in the census case demonstrates that collecting clear data on sex and gender identity should be the gold standard, as it gives organisations accurate information about respondents that is important to policy development.

Until a few days ago, members’ online membership cards used the phrase ‘gender identity’ which has now been altered again to ‘gender’. Many women members have been angry about this and have contacted us to say they have complained but received no response. We also note that this issue is being discussed in public forums such as MumsNet and Twitter. We question the right of the party to retrospectively change data given by members without any consultation or permission. 

Membership Details 05.03.2021
Membership Details 10.03.2021
Membership Details 10.03.2021

We would argue that unless a specific question on sex is asked, it is not possible to  know how many women members we have. This is also important in that by the provisions in the Equality Act, there is an equality duty which covers the protected characteristics. Sex is one of them, neither gender nor gender identity are such characteristics. It may also be useful to know how many members wish to identify as having a gender identity, but the way this form is currently phrased, it doesn’t give us that data either. The merging of sex and gender undermines the ability of our data collection systems to elicit the information we need to pursue the equalities agenda.

Membership Renewal Form
Request for Clarification

One member within our networks began emailing the Labour Party’s Equalities office on precisely this subject on 01.07.2019. Although she did manage to get some response within the thread of emails, her last email has as yet, eighteen months later, still not been answered. Redacted copy of her full correspondence can be found here. We are including the following excerpts because we believe the responses she received fully illustrate the confusion and lack of clarity coming from the Labour Party administrative staff on this very important aspect of data collection. To put it bluntly, no one seems able to explain what exactly is meant by the terms in use and how they are being used, let alone understand the impact on the data.

Taken from her communication with Labour Equalities, are the following excerpts beginning with a response she received 2 months after her original email enquiry.

Received from Labour Party: 02 September 2019 
Subject: RE: Monitoring & Data collection on Gender & Sex

Dear xxxxxxx

Thank you for your email dated 1 July and apologies for the delay in getting back to you.

I asked my colleague >>>>>> to provide the best response to the questions you raised in your email. Her response is below:

The “Gender” questions you refer to clearly refer to gender and gender identity so the Party continues to log data on gender/sex. Since around 2006 we have logged data on our membership systems for male, female and other (as well as unknown which is usually used where we have no data as an individual has not completed that part of the application form). All data previously captured has been retained and all new data is still inputted using those categories. During the Democracy LGBT activists said they did not want LGBT data captured on our systems.

I hope this answers your questions.

If you have any more questions further to this email, >>>>>> (CC) will respond when she returns from annual leave.

Best wishes

Head of Equalities, Stakeholders and Community Engagement

The Labour Party

Southside, 105 Victoria Street

London SW1E 6QT

Response to Labour Party: 09 September 2019 
Subject: RE: Monitoring & Data collection on Gender & Sex

Dear ~~~~~~,

Thank you for your reply.

The answers to some of my questions have become conflated, and some of my questions have been missed altogether.

So can I, perhaps, refer you back to my originating email to ****** of 1 July 2019? Could you please have a look at the preamble to my questions to better understand the context for them?

In the interests of clarity, and to avoid any possibility of misunderstanding or misrepresenting the Labour Party’s position on these important issues for women, I have attempted to translate your paragraph of answers into specifics under the six questions in my original email (in bold).

I have also attached a copy of the Gender question to which this Correspondence refers.

  1. What is meant here by ‘Gender’? Specifically, does it mean ‘Gender Identity’?

You reply that you understand gender to mean ‘gender and gender identity’. You then say that ‘the party continues to log data on gender/sex.’ You therefore imply that if somebody of the male sex self-identifies as a woman and ticks that box, that for statistical purposes, the Labour Party will count their sex as female.

2. If it does mean Gender Identity, why doesn’t it say so? Clear definitions are important, especially when we know that in some situations ‘Gender’ is used as a synonym for Sex.

You do not seem to have explained why it says Gender rather than Gender Identity. In many situations Gender is used as a synonym for Sex so this is, at best, misleading.

3. Previously, the Labour Party asked its members whether they were male or female. Is this new Gender question an additional question, or a replacement for the one aimed at determining sex?

You are saying that this is a replacement question for the one that was previously, and clearly, aimed at determining sex.

4. If members have previously declared their sex, has that data been retained?

You have confirmed that the previous data with regard to the sex of members has been retained.

5. If members select just one of the boxes, in three out of the five possibilities to tick, there is no way of knowing whether individuals are female or male. Could you explain how that relates to identifying possible discrimination against or disadvantage to women on the basis on Sex, which like Race and Disability, is a protected characteristic in the 2010 Equality Act?

You have agreed that you have no way of knowing whether individuals are female or male, since a member can complete this form on the basis of either Gender (in the old-fashioned sense as a synonym for sex) or Gender Identity, self-selected. My question pointed to the fact that three boxes, Trans, Non-binary, Other, could be filled in by both sexes. Your answer indicates that in fact the other two boxes, Man and Woman, could also be filled in by either sex. You have not answered my question about the relationship between this data gathering and the identification of discrimination on the basis of sex as per the 2010 Equality Act. However, the implication is that this data could no longer be applied to those purposes.

  1. Has the Labour Party stopped collecting data on Sex?

The Labour Party has stopped collecting data on sex, and has replaced that with data about Gender Identity.

Finally, I was interested to hear that LGBT activists do not want their data captured on Labour Party systems. In that context, why would the membership form ask for Gender details that include Trans and Non-Binary?

I would be grateful if you could confirm that my summary of your reply is as you intended. Or perhaps you could provide some further clarification?

I look forward to hearing from you or >>>>>> at your convenience.

With best regards,

xxxxxx

………………………………..……………………………………………………..

Replace Gender with Sex

We know that many women have complained about the way that a gender identity has been allocated to them by whoever is administering data collection in the Labour Party, and we find it insulting that there has been a complete lack of engagement with these members to correct the errors and issues that have been clearly pointed out. That the word ‘identity’ has been deleted from the online membership card within days of the ONS judgement is remarkable, given the lack of response to women members.  Does it really take expensive court cases for the concerns of our members to be taken seriously? Messing about with membership details and using the language used to erase sex as a category should not be being undertaken lightly and without consultation. A full understanding is needed of the consequences  of such meddling for data collection, security and the impact on our equalities duties and work.

Since the last email from this member in September 2019, the Labour Party Manifesto pledged to deepen the understanding of and enforce the provisions of the Equality Act 2010, but we can see no evidence that this is being done, rather, the reverse.

Labour Manifesto 2019

We draw your attention to the following extract from the Welsh Government’s commitment to data collection in it’s recent Manifesto.

“Welsh Labour will ensure that data collection by Welsh Government and other public bodies use the characteristics protected under the Equality Act 2010: sex, race, age, disability, marriage and civil partnership, religion or belief, sexual orientation, pregnancy or maternity, and gender reassignment. This will ensure that it is possible to measure how successful Welsh Government is in supporting public bodies to meet their duty to ensure equality of outcomes for all.”

We would also like to address the issue of the collection of data from other protected groups. We understand that the policy not to collect data on the basis of sexuality was made after consultation with only one group – LGBTQI+ Labour who cited security concerns. This approach was questioned by many lesbians and gay men at the time, as many organisations have collected such information over many years without any issues. As a result, LGBTQI+ Labour remain the only group available to be consulted around LGBT+ issues and the information and data from our members is missing. This group is an affiliated lobby group, not a members’ group and cannot be said to speak for lesbian and gay members nor to be allowed to replace direct communication with our members. Lesbian and gay members are also protected under the Equality Act, as are those who are ‘gender reassigned’. If the party is to exercise its duties and aspirations in regard to equality it is vital that the appropriate data is collected and that members are directly consulted.

We hope, therefore, that you will consider all the points we have raised and ensure the development of comprehensive data collection which does not omit groups who experience very real and specific discrimination. A policy is urgently needed which is based on the well-defined, legally-established characteristics in the 2010 Equality Act, which will update the Party’s systems and governance in the light of that Act and that would also be consonant with the aspirations and principles which we believe lie at the heart of Labour Party.

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.