The Tories’ recent attacks on trans rights are a return to form for the ‘Nasty Party’. Their proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act, which were limited but would have made it easier for trans people to legally change their gender, have been scrapped – and there’s more to come.
The Times reported on leaked Tory plans to criminalise doctors who treat trans children, and to enforce a US-style ‘bathroom bill’ requiring people to use male or female toilets and changing rooms based on their assigned sex at birth. This would be a huge step back for trans rights, and would put trans people in immediate danger.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Boris Johnson and the Tories want to attack women and LGBTQ+ people. Johnson has a record spanning decades of vile misogynistic and queerphobic remarks. As for the Tories, they’re rotten to the core: the homophobic party of Section 28, which banned schools from talking about LGBTQ+ people. In 2013 the majority of their MPs voted against equal marriage. This is ‘business as usual’!
The rhetoric around the GRA and around trans people in general is increasingly reminiscent of the language that was once commonly used about gay people; the idea that we are a danger to children, or are predators, or want to ‘convert’ children to being trans. J.K. Rowling has spread these claims, and argued that treating trans children is akin to ‘conversion therapy’ for gay people but her arguments are untrue. Trans children are not rushed into receiving hormone therapies or puberty blockers, far from it – the NHS has huge waiting lists for children or adults wishing to receive support with their gender identity.
There is an issue to do with conversion therapy, but it is not the one to which Rowling refers. Until recently, Dr Kenneth Zucker was a doctor within Ontario’s public health system, despite criticism of his therapeutic interventions on trans children, which have been widely described as conversion therapy. This included instructing parents to take a trans girl’s dolls away, stop her from playing with girls and punish her for drawing pictures of girls. Zucker has been described as ‘very litigious’, which is a useful way to silence his opposition and limit what can be said here. Despite the controversy around his therapies, he remains active in the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, he regularly speaks at important events and he continues to edit the journal Archives of Sexual Behaviour. Those who are truly concerned about how children are treated should look at the reality for trans children, waiting lists, gatekeeping doctors, potential lack of facilities in school, and of course seeing adults attack their right to exist when they turn on the news.
The Tories and their transphobic allies claim that trans people, particularly trans women, are a threat to women’s safety. Not only is there no evidence for this claim, it is a distraction from the real threat to women’s safety – austerity. A decade of drastic cuts and vicious austerity measures has seen women’s services cut to the bone, with funding for refuges for victims of domestic violence reduced by £8 million. According to Women’s Aid, as a result of these cuts ‘domestic abuse services have been lurching from funding crisis to funding crisis, with many refuges closing, changing hands, reducing refuge spaces or … the level of support they can provide’.
Trans people didn’t cut women’s services: the Tories did! Those who blame trans people for services being stretched are using the same tactics as are used by racist groups and Tory politicians: don’t blame the rich, don’t blame the bosses, don’t blame the Tories – blame immigrants, blame BAME people, blame trans people. Rather than attacking trans people for wanting to use services for their true gender rather than their assigned sex, those in the labour movement who are genuinely concerned about women’s lives should turn their fire on the Tory government, and the Labour councils who have implemented their austerity measures.
The now-scrapped GRA reforms were a potential step forward, but they did not go far enough. Gender self-identification should be available to all, the legal ‘gatekeeping’ of trans people’s gender identities must end! Legal recognition of gender should not require any medical transition.
Support for trans people, including but not limited to hormone replacement therapy (HRT), surgery, counselling, vocal therapies and hair removal should be available for free on the NHS, without the lengthy delays people currently face when seeking to access support. The trade union movement must link with the movement demanding trans rights and mobilise for protests across the country, organising in workplaces and the community to demand improved facilities and services for all, including LGBTQ+ services and women’s services. The demonstrations across the UK have shown that people can be mobilised in defence of trans people.
We need to build a movement for trans liberation around the world – that means fighting for the end of homophobic, oppressive capitalism and for a socialist world.