India Willoughby: Britain’s rampant transphobia has me worried for my life

We’re heading for a modern day Stonewall riot – unless the government and media clamp down on what has become rampant transphobia.

Transgender people are being bullied and hounded like never before – and we need to be very careful about where all this unfettered hate dressed up as “free speech” is going.

The Sunday Times, Daily Mail and – wait for it – Mumsnet – are hounding trans women in the same way Hitler went about stigmatising Jewish people.

Seriously. That’s no exaggeration.

The tabloids are no surprise, but Mumsnet?

Yeah, what is supposed to be a family-friendly parenting site has it’s claws out for the trans community.

And it all feels very orchestrated.

Every Sunday, regular as clockwork, I wake up to tabloid tales warning that society as we know it will end if trans women are further accommodated into normal society. Deviant, dirty sex monsters. Mentally-ill, deluded and dangerous. A cult leading youngsters astray. It’s like being back in the 1970s with the News of the World.

Even trans kids are seen as fair game. Radio hosts warning of assaults and unwanted pregnancies because trans girls have been allowed into the Girl Guides.

What’s the problem? Girls have been in the Scouts since 1991 and the world is still spinning.

India Willoughby (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

(Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty)


And now we have groups of hardliners who will never accept trans women on any level, travelling the country, fanning the flames of hate.

Last year, I attended an event with lots of other LGBT people at Downing Street, where Theresa May promised to make the lives of trans people safer and easier, with the implementation of a new Gender Recognition Act. A key point of which will be allowing trans people to legally self-identify as a man or woman, without jumping through numerous bureaucratic hoops.

I totally get why many women might have concerns about this, given there have been so many ridiculous over-the-top debates where the scenario of sex-offender in a dress is trotted out.

It just doesn’t bear up to scrutiny though. Honestly. Self-identification in no way incentivises someone to commit a sex offence. It doesn’t make it easier or more likely.

Waving a piece of paper or shouting “I’m a woman” is not going to buy any leniency from the police or courts.

India Willoughby (Photo: Channel 5)

I admit – I wasn’t convinced about self ID myself to begin with, but the evidence from around the world is irrefutable. I was categorically wrong, and fell for the hysteria.

Portugal, Ireland, Norway, Columbia, Malta, Belgium, Denmark and Argentina have or are adopting the same legislation – and there have been no spikes is assaults.

Women’s areas will not become dangerous places when the Gender Recognition Act is passed.

At our garden party, Mrs May admitted her party’s reputation on LGBT matters was poor, but promised that was going to change.

We all clinked glasses, ate cucumber sandwiches and had our photo taken with the PM.

Nothing has happened.

The act has stalled through pressure from hardline feminist groups, who see all trans women as potential rapists in dresses.

Cabinet minister Lis Truss has now tweeted her support for Mumsnet, despite the site hosting rampant transphobia. She needs hauling in to the PM’s office – and Theresa May needs to keep her promise about protecting trans people.

And where’s Amber Rudd, the government’s Women’s and Equalities Minister, in this? What has she got to say about about this persecution of a tiny group of women? The silence is deafening.

I defy anyone to visit Mumsnet right now, look up transgender, and tell me that the vicious and mocking threads about trans people would be allowed about any other demographic. It’s the stuff of pitchforks and lanterns. The same rhetoric about race, religion on sexuality would lead to prosecutions and official condemnation.

Mumsnet CEO Justine Roberts squeals that trans people highlighting the content – including threads which out trans people – to some of the site’s main advertisers is out of order. She describes it as an attack on free speech. This might be a shock to Justine, but trans people have free speech, too.

Pakistani transgenders carry placards as they rally to mark World Aids Day in Karachi on November 30, 2013. (ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty)

There’s even a debate about introducing a new trans Section 28, clamping down on educating the public about what transgender is.

Justine is adamant there’s nothing transphobic on Mumsnet. Only reasoned debate. She wants transgender visitors to Mumsnet to be “happy and supported.” It feels reminiscent of when Cruella de Vil opens a home for stray dogs in 101 Dalmatians.

As I say, take a look for yourself. Trans groups are more than happy to debate any subject Justine or her murky corner of the web wants – but the material on the site isn’t a discussion. It’s vicious, nasty persecution

Mumsnet’s reputation for transphobia is fully deserved. Hardliners openly strategise ways to make life tougher for trans people: Passengers warned not to travel on sleeper trains because they might end up in the same sleeping berth as a woman who’s trans. Support gathered to stop trans women being allowed on Labour’s all-women shortlists. National meeting organised where they can clap and cheer their hatred.

It’s all very similar to the way the National Front used to operate.

I’m sure most people who use the site are decent folk. They want nothing to do with the rabid mouth-frothing going on by so-called “feminists.”

And I say so-called “feminists” quite deliberately. It’s the point which is paralysing anyone doing anything about the situation. Because these radical groups are hiding under the “feminist” banner, Government and other institutions are reluctant to question them. They don’t want to be perceived as attacking “women’s rights.”

(Mark Makela/Getty)

But this isn’t a them-and-us argument which pitches trans women against other women. We are women who make up a tiny one percent of the population. The chances are you don’t even know any of us.

All we want to do is use the appropriate bathroom or changing area, and get on with our lives.

Which is where I would ask all women who think of themselves as feminists, or equal rights supporters, to stand alongside trans women at the moment.

There are grandmothers, mothers, sisters and aunts out there who know the truth that their trans relatives are not serial sex offenders, or a threat to society.

They need to speak up among their own friends. Post online. Give a different perspective on trans people.

I would really like some of my women friends in the media to do the same. Whether it’s an article or a broadcast.

A prominent statement of the facts needs to be made, in a cool and rational manner, so someone gets heard. Because frustrations are boiling over. What started as angry words online is now manifesting itself on the street.

Last week, one of these hate groups held an event in Bristol. Trans allies turned out to support the trans community, and there was a confrontation of sorts.

We also have an ongoing court case involving a trans women accused of assaulting someone at a demo. The trans woman claims she was acting in self-defence.

I don’t want to see anyone – from either side of the argument – get hurt. Which is why the government and the likes of The Sunday Times, Daily Mail and Mumsnet need to show some responsibility.

The current attack on trans people is unprecedented. Any show of support would be greatly appreciated.

Last week was my first ever visit to Mumsnet. Honestly, I thought it was going to be lots of stuff about prams, or family-related matters. A sort of online This Morning minus Phil and Holly. The reality is more like a Nuremberg Rally. It’s very scary.

And unless the government sorts out it’s act with the Gender Recognition Act, we may find ourselves with a modern-day version of the Stonewall riots.

India Willoughby is a newsreader, journalist and television personality. Follow India on Twitter: @IndiaWilloughby.