Exclusive: Labour rejects complaints from anti-transgender activists in all-women shortlists row

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

PinkNews has obtained a leaked letter from the Labour Party’s General Secretary, Jennie Formby, which confirms the party supports the right of trans women to run for election via women-only shortlists.

The party is facing threats of a legal challenge from activists seeking to block transgender women from running for Parliament via the all-women shortlists (AWS) mechanism, which has been used since 1997 to boost representation of women in politics.

In recent months the party has repeatedly put off a National Executive Committee vote that would confirm an official stance in support of trans women standing via AWS.

However, PinkNews can reveal that the party’s General Secretary Jennie Formby has already confirmed the party’s position in response to a legal challenge.

In a pre-action protocol letter dated March 29, Formby confirms: “The Party’s position… is that its AWS are open to all women, including Trans women; and that Trans women do not need a GRC [Gender Recognition Certificate] to participate in an AWS.”

Justifying the policy, Formby adds: “The Party has a clear position to support reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 so it is in line with the principles of gender self-declaration.

“In Labour’s 2017 manifesto we also pledged to reform the Equality Act 2010 to ensure that this protects Trans people by changing the protected characteristic of ‘gender assignment’ to ‘gender identity’ and remove other outdated language such as ‘transsexual’.

“The Party has therefore chosen to give effect to these policies by allowing, in particular, the inclusive operation of AWS – so that those shortlists are open to all women – including self-identifying Trans women.

“In adopting this position, the Party is satisfied that it is acting consistently with both the letter and spirit of the relevant legislation – in particular the Equality Act 2010 and the Gender Recognition Act 2004.”

Formby continues: “We make the overarching point that whilst the Equality Act 2010 recognises a number of different protected characteristics (including sex and gender reassignment), we hope that your clients will appreciate that reliance on any particular protected characteristic for the purposes of excluding those with a different protected characteristic does not sit well with the values of inclusiveness, respect and equality which we as Party strive to reflect.

“Nor, in our View, is it supported by the relevant legislation.”

The letter goes on to challenge suggestions that the party’s position is in violation of the Equality Act.

In a clear rebuke to anti-transgender campaigners, Formby also calls out “abuse” on the issue.

She adds: “We do not accept that those who seek to oppose this policy can be said to be seeking to enforce the Equalities Act 2010.

“Further, whilst we encourage and promote healthy and respectful debate within the Party, we do not and cannot sanction any form of abuse or prejudice – whether for or against the Party’s policies.

“We accordingly do not accept that acting in such a way as to protect and promote the Party’s policies in the face of opposition amounts to victimisation. Nor indeed is action taken to enforce respectful conduct on either side of the debate.”

A Labour Party spokesperson told PinkNews: “All women shortlists are open to all women, including trans women.”

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn shares a joke with Jennie Formby (LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty)

There are currently zero openly transgender MPs, though a number ran for election in 2015 and 2017.

At least one transgender Parliamentary candidate, Dr Heather Peto, was selected via an AWS.

A source told PinkNews that the group of campaigners behind the legal action are “despondent” following the party’s response, and that it partly motivated an alleged ‘mass resignation’ from the party last month.

Anti-trans group Mayday4Women claimed that 300 women had quit the Labour Party over the issue, though it was not able to substantiate the claim.

“Sex is not a self-defined characteristic and it is disingenuous for Labour to pretend that it is,” the group wrote.

“We are rarely listened to, as this very real issue shows. It is for that reason that we – alongside 300 other women – are resigning from the Labour party today.”

A Labour source said the actual number of resignations was “nowhere near” the 300 the activists claimed, adding that they amount to a tiny fraction of the party’s 500,000 members.

A spokesperson for Labour said previously: “All women shortlists are and always have been open to all women, which of course includes trans women. The Labour Party recognises the vital importance of self-definition for the trans community. The Labour Party continues to have an inclusive definition of women.”