England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

Tory onslaught on trans rights ramps up: So where now?

Photo: Paul McGowan

Originally published 19 January 2023

The Tory onslaught on trans rights has entered a new phase. For the first time since Scottish devolution in 1998, Westminster has stepped in to block a decision of the Scottish Parliament – to reform the Gender Recognition Act. The reform, which was designed to make it easier for trans people to get a Gender Recognition Certificate, by streamlining the process for applications and lowering the minimum age from 18 to 16 was met with a concerted campaign of disinformation, from the government to the right-wing press.

This is a blow to some of the most oppressed and victimised sections of society. 25% of trans people have experienced homelessness in their lives and 41% have experienced a hate crime in the last 12 months. The Tories’ decision to block GRA reforms has been done precisely to embolden anti- trans discrimination and violence and shore up their reactionary base.

A campaign of scare stories about “men in women’s bathrooms”, and a “threat to women and children” has been peddled, mirrored by the Tory Scottish Secretary of State Alister Jack, who claimed this would have an “adverse effect on Great Britain-wide equalities legislation. Sunak spoke of the reform posing a threat to “women and children’s safety”, contradicting the reality of the consequences similar reforms have had in both Ireland and Argentina.

Where has this come from?

Since the latest Tory leadership election, where all candidates competed to see who could ‘out-transphobe’ one another, trans people have become a key target in Tories’ reactionary social offensive. This represents a change from the approach of previous Tory leaders such as Theresa May, who unconvincingly posed as supporters of gender self-ID as recently as 2018.

Transphobia and its siblings homophobia, sexism and racism have always been at the core of the DNA of the Tory party and of the capitalist system which they defend. It has to be remembered that this is the party of Section 28, the homophobic clause inserted by Thatcher which effectively criminalised the acknowledgement of LGBTQ+ relationships in schools.

These go hand in hand with a ramping up of English nationalism. The Tories vehemently oppose Scottish independence, which would be a further blow to whatever is left of British capitalism’s prestige. They have been steadfast in their refusal to grant Scottish people the democratic right to hold a second referendum.

Contrary to how they might present it, the Tories have not fought this “culture war” from a position of strength. Britain’s economy is in the doldrums. The Tories are endlessly divided and rejected by the majority of ordinary people, caught in a whirlwind of crisis in both Scotland and Northern Ireland. As a result, they have felt the need to play to their own small but vocal reactionary base. This approach has also been reflected in “Equalities” Minister Kemi Badenoch’s defense of trans conversion therapy, and Suella Braverman’s infamous ‘Rwanda plan’.

The “culture wars” are also part of a wider global trend, of an international pushback waged against a global feminist and anti-racist wave which has swept the world in the last decade – from the recent pushback of the establishment against the MeToo movement, to the meteoric and dangerous rise of reactionary ‘alpha influencers’ like Andrew Tate. With the system’s gender roles under question by growing numbers of women, non-binary people and youth, the system feels a need to uphold gender oppression as a key pillar of a capitalist system in global crisis.

But the Tories are also under increasing threat from the rising tide of a strike wave still gathering momentum, which is also threatened by anti- democratic attacks in an attempt to limit the right to strike. Hundreds of thousands of workers are set to take part in the day of coordinated strike action on 1 February. This drew together rail, education, civil service and many other workers who gave a huge show of organised strength. It was absolutely no coincidence that the blocking of the GRA reform in Scotland took place just weeks before this date.

What sort of strategy is needed?

This goes to the heart of what sort of strategy will be needed to fight the overruling. Keir Starmer has made it abundantly clear that he is no ‘ally’ in the fight for trans liberation. While Labour MSPs in the Scottish Parliament did overwhelmingly vote in favour of the reform, Starmer immediately distanced himself from the reform, peddling right-wing talking points and denying the right of 16 year olds to find life-saving treatment or even self identify.

Nicola Sturgeon as SNP leader meanwhile has challenged the ruling, correctly describing the Tory manoeuvre as undemocratic. However, the approach of the SNP has been limited to challenging the Tories through legal avenues. This will hand the final decision to the UK Supreme Court – a body stuffed with reactionary judges wedded to the capitalist establishment will likely reject any challenge mounted by the SNP, as they did in the case of the blockage of the second independence attempt in December.

We should be clear that the GRA reforms could not even have been put on the table without a huge mood for change from below, driven by trans people at Pride protests, campaigns and amongst friends, family and co- workers. This bold rejection of transphobia has led to a huge shift in attitudes amongst working-class and young people, many of whom reject the Tories’ agenda.

That sentiment now needs to be turned into action. The key to pushing back the Tories’ attacks instead lies in bold struggle, protests, occupations and strikes. Mass demonstrations and student walkouts will need to be organised across every town and city in the UK as a whole, tapping into the huge groundswell of anger in the schools, colleges, universities and in society. We cannot expect the SNP to lead anything close to the struggle that is necessary. It therefore falls to the working class movement to take a lead and build a mass struggle. This should tap into the unprecedented power and ability of the workers’ strikes to disrupt ‘business as usual’, appealing to organised workers to join the movement in solidarity with trans and gender- non conforming people.

The scaling up of coordination in the ongoing strike wave on 1 February shows what is possible. Following this day of action, emergency meetings should be called to democratically discuss the way forward to push the Tories back and drive them and their reactionary laws out of office. Students and workers of all backgrounds could draw up a common set of demands to put forward in the event of further strike action, including immediate reform to the GRA for self-ID, as well as wiping out transphobic abuse and attitudes in society, in the state and in education. Our movement must defend the right of the Scottish people to self-determination, while making a bold call on the Scottish government to disobey Westminster.

These demands should be taken up immediately in the trade unions themselves on 1 February and beyond. Union branches should pass motions committing to demands around the immediate reversal of the undemocratic blocking and to affirm workers’ solidarity with the trans struggle.

Unions currently leading disputes should also put forward demands which would serve the interests trans workers and youth, along with those of the workers’ movement. This would include clear calls to end the Tory war on the NHS and to set up publicly-funded free access to gender-affirming healthcare, as well as mass council house building to provide LGBTQ+ youth with the freedom to escape abusive family situations.

If the Tories go unchallenged, they will use this manoeuvre as a basis on which they can take the next step to drive down workers’ rights – already refelected in the Minimum Service Bill which they are currently attempting to ram through parliament at breakneck speed.

Wage war on their system!

Socialists have always pointed out the deep link that exists between the exploitation of working class people under capitalism and the various forms of sexual and gender oppression which the system breeds. As socialists like Friedrich Engels pointed out, class society is bound up with enforcement of ‘traditional’ gender roles, forced expectations around the nuclear family, and the resulting demonisation of all those who do not neatly ‘fit in’ to the system’s expectations. So it’s no surprise that the Tories are digging out this from their arsenal at a time where their ability to rule is at risk.

Socialist Alternative calls for the Tories’ right-wing culture war to be turned into a war waged by LGBTQ+ people as part of a multiracial, multi-gender working class movement. This means rejecting and uprooting the capitalist system which breeds oppressive gender roles, and replacing it with a socialist future to guarantee respect, equality and freedom for all. Join us in that struggle!


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