Everyone needs to be ‘more relaxed’ about transgender people, says Emily Thornberry

Labour’s Emily Thornberry has said it is “desperately sad” that the debate on transgender rights has become aggressive.

The Shadow Foreign Secretary, who is considered a possible frontrunner to succeed Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, weighed in after substantial turmoil within the party on trans issues.

Labour faced a wave of resignations from anti-transgender feminists in May this year, after the party refused to alter its policies for women-only shortlists to exclude transgender women.

Opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn applauds as Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry waves to delegates at Labour conference (Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty)

Speaking to the Times Red Box podcast at Labour Party conference in Liverpool, Thornberry dismissed fears that trans women—who currently hold zero seats in Parliament—would edge out the party’s female MPs and candidates.

She said: “Sometimes, people say, ‘what about all-women shortlists, there’s going to be a whole lot of men turning up in dresses and insisting on [running].’

“Really? Really? Let’s leave it to the good sense of local parties. They will decide who they’re going to have on their shortlist and who they aren’t.

“They will know people who are genuinely struggling with their identity, and people who can contribute to parliament and who would be a good representative of their community.

“I think we really can be a little bit more relaxed about it. I think it’s desperately sad to see the way it’s become so aggressive, and we need to step down a bit.”

The politician added that she found much of the debate “challenging.”

Opposition Labour party shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry addresses delegates at the Labour party conference in Liverpool, on September 25. (Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty) 

She added: “My starting point is that I’m a feminist, and I’m a feminist of a certain age.

“I was involved in the women’s rights movement in the late 70s, early 80s, when we had our discussions as women-only meetings, and we were talking about the importance of us as women, and our own experiences in contrast to men.

“That’s kind of where my background is, and so I found the trans debate quite challenging.”

Thornberry said it was helpful to have conversations with people. “What I have learned from feminism is there are people who are marginalised and people who are treated badly, and the feminist movement is big enough.

“We’re big enough and big-hearted enough, and if someone believes that they were born as a man but they are a woman, we have space,” she said.

The Labour Party has used an all-women shortlists (AWS) mechanism since 1997 to boost representation of women in politics.

The part’s ruling National Executive Committee set out earlier this year that AWS and women’s officer roles within the Labour Party should be open to all women, on a self-identification basis.