By Danni Crowter and Alexa Bihari
The Tories’ ‘culture war’ against transgender people is ramping up, assisted by the misnamed Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
Kemi Badenoch, the Minister for Women and Equalities, wrote to the EHRC to ask for their view on changing the definition of “sex” in the Equality Act to refer to biological sex. This means that, even for the minority of trans people who have a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC), their assigned gender at birth will determine whether they can use a particular service.
The impact of this decision will be devastating for trans people, and the EHRC makes no attempt to hide this shameful reality. After stating that this change would clarify the law, they give a series of examples of areas in which they claim this would be a positive change. These examples consistently involve the exclusion of trans people from spaces such as women’s book clubs and single-sex hospital wards.
Anti-trans attacks will not protect women
In reality, trans people have been accessing “single-sex” spaces for decades without issues. A transgender woman placed on a male hospital ward is clearly being placed in a dangerous position. The EHRC’s decision to attack the small number of women who happen to be trans will do nothing to protect women from violent men, and will place trans women in danger.
Kemi Badenoch and other Tories couch their blatant hatred for trans people and their ‘culture war’ tactics in rhetoric about protecting women. It is a shame Badenoch’s supposed solidarity doesn’t extend to workers in her offices, as her department recently boasted that it could fire employees in under 10 minutes.
In reality, the Tories don’t care about women’s rights and women’s safety. Cuts to funding for domestic violence services have led to six month waiting lists in Scotland, and rape prosecutions fell to record lows in 2019 and a further record low in 2020. A report in December 2022 accused police of “victim blaming” in their investigations of reported rapes. The recent Casey Review into the Metropolitan Police described them as “institutionally misogynistic”.
Hate crimes have increased
There has been a huge increase in recorded hate crimes committed against trans people. In Scotland, there was a 68% increase from 2020/21 to 21/22, while in England and Wales over the same period there was a 56% increase. This culminated in the murder of Brianna Ghey in February.
Because Brianna did not have a GRC, like the vast majority of trans people, her death certificate wrongly recorded her as male. The Tories disgustingly rejected a petition to posthumously grant her a GRC. The planned move to alter the Equality Act will further devalue the meaning of having a GRC.
Starmer mirroring Tories
The Tories’ planned “independent” review of sex education materials in school, their use of Article 35 to block the Gender Recognition Reform (GRR) Bill in Scotland and now their apparent intention to change the meaning of the Equality Act make it clear they are not on the side of trans people. But which side is Keir Starmer on?
Unfortunately, Starmer in particular has made it very clear that he is on the Tories’ side. The Labour Party officially welcomed the review of the Equality Act, and did not oppose the Tories’ blocking of the GRR in Scotland. Starmer has recently said he believed that 16 is too young to change gender.
The latter is not only a betrayal of trans people and trans children, but an attack on the principle of “Gillick competence”, the idea that children under 16 can consent to their own medical treatment if deemed to understand what they are consenting to. This principle was enshrined in law in 1985 and was a significant victory for the feminist movement, as it allowed girls to access contraception without their parents being informed. Starmer’s statement is a threat to this principle. Trans people can’t rely on the Labour Party leadership to protect us from the Tories.
Struggle for health and bodily autonomy
The struggle to beat back this government’s right-wing agenda is one which can unite all of those in struggle. The issues affecting trans health in many cases similarly apply to women’s health more generally.
Many women have gone through the experience of doctors refusing their requests for sterilisation, which represents a clear denial of their bodily autonomy. Trans people, similarly, have to jump through hoops to be able to access Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and other forms of medical transition.
Another side is the massive underfunding of the NHS, which has led to shortages of HRT impacting on women seeking essential medical services. Similarly, the waiting lists for trans people to access medical transition have consistently grown longer, culminating in the scandal of trans men and trans masc people being left with unfinished surgery for years.
In one area the issues facing all women, cis and trans, overlap entirely, the HRT shortage impacts heavily on trans people too. The right to bodily autonomy and the right to live safely should unite all women and gender non-conforming people. As a placard on the GRR protests in Scotland read recently: “Self determination for us all: our laws, our bodies, our lives”.
Workers movement must act
The workers movement now must urgently take up these issues. Socialist Alternative members have recently published a model motion for trade union branches opposing the Tory attacks on trans people, and appealing to the trade union movement for support.
Large turnouts at Trans Pride and other Pride events, and specific protests against the planned changes to the Equality Act, can stop the Tories in their tracks. More and more of us have seen in practice that pinkwashed, corporate ‘Pride’ events, backed by big business, are not the kinds of events we need to win liberation. We need grassroots ‘reclaim Pride’ groups to be formed all across England, Wales, Scotland and elsewhere, not just to bring Pride back to its radical roots, but to clearly organise around the need to fight the Tories right-wing, ‘culture war’ agenda. Full participation by socialists like ourselves, trade unionists and all those wanting to organise to resist oppression will be key. If you agree, join Socialist Alternative!
- Fight the Tories’ planned reforms! Defend and extend the Equality Act, implement the Gender Recognition Act and Gender Recognition Reform Bill, and fight for all legal reforms that improve the lives of trans and gender non-conforming people.
- Healthcare is a right! Fully fund trans healthcare, end NHS waiting lists, fix the HRT shortage and trans masc surgery delays. Defend the right to informed consent, not medical gatekeeping!
- Ban so-called ‘conversion therapy’. We aren’t broken, you can’t ‘fix’ us!
- Pride is a protest! Build a socialist and trade union presence at Trans Pride and other Pride events.
- Build a mass movement against transphobia, LGBTphobia, misogyny, racism and all forms of oppression. For a socialist society where resources and wealth are owned and controlled by working class people for the benefit of ordinary people, not the billionaires!