Cabinet minister Liz Truss backs Mumsnet in transgender row as users call for ‘new Section 28’

Cabinet minister Liz Truss has sent a tweet defiantly backing parenting forum Mumsnet – as the platform faces accusations of stoking transphobic hate speech overs its users calls for a ‘new Section 28’.

The UK-based internet forum has come under criticism over the past few months after a surge in anti-transgender rhetoric, led primarily by anti-trans feminist activists who appear to be using the platform to organise campaigns against transgender rights.

A whistleblower last week alleged that Mumsnet staff had failed to act against users stirring hate and openly calling for a new ‘Section 28’ targeting transgender people. Users of the forum had also promoted conspiracy theories blaming a mass shooting on transgender people, and likened transgender rights groups to paedophile networks.

Mumsnet boss Justine Roberts defended the platform from accusations of transphobia, branding critics the “thought-police” and insisting that the site was “prepared to take any potential advertising hit” rather than clamp down on the campaigners.

However, Roberts has earned Cabinet-level support, as Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss tweeted her support of the site despite the backlash.

Sharing a Spectator article about the transgender row, Truss wrote: “I enjoy a heated debate with [Roberts] on childcare and I hail her for her approach to free speech. #openminded #freemums”

The optics of a Tory minister speaking out to defend anti-LGBT hate speech did not go down well on social media, where Truss was roundly criticised for the comments.

Other Twitter users alleged that transgender people who attempt to debate trans issues on Mumsnet often get banned, despite the calls for ‘open minded free speech’.

Truss has previously been a supporter of rights for same-sex couples, voting in favour of equal marriage.

Britain’s Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss (NIKLAS HALLE’N/AFP/Getty Images)

But aside from Prime Minister Theresa May, few members of the Cabinet have publicly backed reforms on transgender rights.

Last year, May promised reforms to the Gender Recognition Act to better accommodate transgender people, sparking a wave of resistance.

The PM told the PinkNews Awards: “We’ve set out plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act, streamlining and demedicalising the process for changing gender, because being trans is not an illness and it shouldn’t be treated as such.”

However, a planned consultation on the issue has now been delayed for nearly six months, amid a wave of opposition in the media and in Parliament.

Theresa May at the PinkNews Awards (Chris Jepson)

The government recently insisted it would push ahead with a consultation, with junior Home Office minister Victoria Atkins saying: “We will be publishing the consultation on reforming the Gender Recognition Act 2004 in due course, which will then run for at least 12 weeks. We are currently considering the content of the consultation.

“We have been using the time since announcing the consultation in July 2017, to engage with a wide range of people and organisations, including transgender, LGBT, women’s rights and faith groups.

“This stakeholder engagement prior to the consultation has been very valuable. The government recognises that there are a wide range of views on how we might reform the Act. We will continue to engage with stakeholders before, during, and after the consultation.”

“We have also have been analysing the responses from trans people who responded to our recent National LGBT survey, and shared their experiences of applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate under the Gender Recognition Act. We will publish the results of this survey shortly

“We are currently working across Whitehall to ensure we fully understand what impact there could be from any reform to the Gender Recognition Act, and will continue to do so after the consultation.”

Mumsnet Co Founder Justine Roberts (Dan Kitwood/Getty)

Former Mumsnet staffer Emma Healey spoke out last week about the comments posted about trans people on the forums.

Healey alleged: “Labelling what goes on on MN as ‘discussion completely misrepresents what [is happening]. Whilst, yes, I wouldn’t argue that there isn’t some civil discussion, the vast majority descends into scaremongering and hate speech.

“Whilst I was at MN [Mumsnet] (Sept 17-Mar 18), there was really no attempt to keep this discussion civil or polite. Misgendering and deadnaming were completely tolerated, and the internal moderation policy would change pretty much every day.

“There were many staff members, me included, who raised concerns about what was being said on site – but it was never taken on board. Any criticism has been dismissed as a smear attempt by ‘trans activists’ rather than actually thinking about what was being said.”

Of users, she wrote: “Rather than using the phrase trans women, users would say ‘trans identified men’ or TIM constantly.

“There were threads comparing allowing children to identify as anything other than what they were assigned at birth [to] child abuse and describing being trans as contagious.

“A personal favourite was when a user argued that we needed a new section 28 so ‘vulnerable children’ weren’t educated about trans issues – but yeah it’s all just civil discussion.”

However, the whistleblower’s actions backfired – as some of the screenshots she posted to Twitter are alleged to have included the IP addresses of users, which is usually private information only visible to Mumsnet staff.

A spokesperson for Mumsnet told the Guardian that it had reported itself to the Information Commissioner’s Office over the breach.