Lesbian staffer quits Rosie Duffield’s office over the Labour MP’s ‘overtly transphobic’ opinions

Second staffer quits Rosie Duffield's team over MP's 'transphobic' views

A lesbian who was the only LGBT+ person in the office of Rosie Duffield has quit the Labour MP’s team over her opinions on trans people.

Duffield, who was elected Labour’s first-ever Canterbury MP in 2017, was accused of “transphobia” at the beginning of August after wading into a heated online row about who has a cervix.

The 49-year-old insisted it was not transphobic to say that “only women have a cervix” – despite widespread criticism from the LGBT+ community and allies for excluding trans men and some non-binary people – and called the backlash against her a “tedious Communist pile-on”.

She then spent 10 days liking and sharing anti-trans tweets, before finally making an apology in which she said: “I am, and always have been, completely supportive of trans rights. I have spent decades campaigning for equality and supporting LGBT+ rights.”

But PinkNews can reveal that a cis lesbian, who was Rosie Duffield’s only LGBT+ staff member, has resigned over the MP’s continued anti-trans statements – and hit back at Duffield’s claim to be a longtime LGBT+ ally.

Sophie, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, had worked – mostly virtually – in Duffield’s constituency office since the beginning of this year.

She shared her 14 August resignation letter with PinkNews and, almost a month later, she has yet to receive any response from her former boss – although three days after she resigned, Duffield advertised her role on Facebook.

Duffield’s comments about only women having cervixes, Sophie wrote in her resignation letter, were “troubling” and “offensive to the trans community”.

“Furthermore, your lack of retraction of these words indicated that it was indeed your stance, which I believe to be transphobic,” she said. “This put me, an LGBT+ member of your team and someone who has campaigned for LGBT+ rights for most of my life, in a highly compromised position.”

While she had enjoyed working for Duffield and “does not believe her to be a bad person”, Sophie said Duffield’s stance on transgender issues made her position “untenable”.

“I cannot put a price on my self-respect or my commitment to LGBT+ rights,” she wrote. “While I am in this role I am effectively a representative of you, and I cannot go out and bat for you having heard you say the things that you have, so I must resign.”

Sophie told PinkNews that in the weeks after Duffield’s comments, there was a huge influx of “bigotry landing in [our] office” – several hundred more emails each week than usual.

“They were largely in support of her,” Sophie explains. “But most of the ones in support of her were overtly transphobic. Some of them aggressively so. And some of them were also overtly homophobic.”

The physical postbag, when the team went to collect it, was “full of proper old school homophobia, biblical homophobia”.

“The support Rosie got from this, and the bigots emboldened by this, is ongoing,” Sophie says. “It’s flabbergasting that a Labour MP should be OK with that – but she’s done nothing to say that she’s not.”

The exact moment Sophie realised she would have to quit Rosie Duffield’s office.

Sophie told PinkNews that after Rosie Duffield sparked online controversy with her comments about only women having cervixes, the MP went “radio silent” to her staff for the rest of the week.

Duffield had gone quiet before – like in May, when she stepped down from the shadow front bench for breaching lockdown rules – but Sophie said that this time, when Duffield “popped back up on WhatsApp on the Friday, making jokes like it was business as usual”, she “suddenly felt really quite sick”.

Upset, and realising that Duffield thought her staff were OK with the comments she’d made, Sophie requested a meeting with her boss. This took place on Zoom on 10 August, with Sophie’s line manager sitting in and taking notes.

“I was very, very calm,” Sophie says. “I just said, ‘Look, this is how I feel. This is why inclusive language is important. These are my experiences as a gay person of being on the wrong end of exclusionary language, and how that’s made me feel.'”

Sophie says she was “half expecting [Duffield] to go, ‘Oh, God, I got it all wrong, I f**ked up, I made a mistake, I really didn’t mean to do that.'”

She didn’t. And although Sophie didn’t say so at the time, this was the point when she realised she would have to quit.

Rosie Duffield ‘asked me if I knew Sandi Toksvig’.

Rosie Duffield’s first speech as an MP was at Canterbury Pride, in 2017. She has consistently voted for equal rights for LGBT+ people.

Sophie says she believed Duffield to be an LGBT+ ally when she went to work for her. But in light of her statements about trans people, comments that Duffield made previously to Sophie about her sexuality read differently.

“I’m not going to pretend I was offended by these comments, because I wasn’t,” Sophie says now. “But having joined up the dots a little bit, throughout my time with her there were very few conversations I had with her where she didn’t mention my sexuality.”

Clear that this was “never in a hostile way”, Sophie continues: “At one point she even asked me if I knew Sandi Toksvig. And I even joked back, I was like, ‘Not all lesbians know each other!’

“But she just kept doing those kinds of things. It was like what your nan might say, ‘They’re gay, do you know them?’ It was obviously something that’s other to her.”

Rosie Duffield, Sophie says, seems to think that “waving a rainbow flag around” is enough, adding: “I think she needs to be disabused of this notion that she’s an ally, because she’s not.”

Deafening silence from Labour on this: ‘I thought supporting LGBT+ people was intrinsic in Labour values.’

Earlier this year, Labour leader Keir Starmer signed LGBT+ Labour’s list of pledges during his leadership campaign, which included committing to introducing a “fully independent complaints process” for instances of transphobia within the Labour party.

Despite this, the leadership have been silent on Duffield’s comments, while several other Labour MPs have publicly defended her, including Jess Phillips, Wes Streeting and Rachel Reeves. Labour’s shadow minister for women and equalities, Marsha de Cordova, also liked a tweet from the Archbishop of Canterbury backing Rosie Duffield.

Sophie says she used Labour’s internal complaints process to formally complain about Rosie Duffield’s comments on trans issues in the week following her 10 August meeting. Just as she is yet to hear back from her former boss about her resignation, Sophie is yet to hear back from the party about her complaint.

“The fact that Labour leadership has been virtually silent on this issue worries me greatly,” Sophie wrote in her resignation letter. “When an LGBT+ member of staff no longer feels able to work in a Labour office, it should ring an alarm bell.”

While her future job prospects are uncertain, Sophie says she won’t work for Labour again “unless they do something about this”.

Sophie says: “I thought that supporting minority rights, supporting equality, supporting LGBT+ people… I thought they were intrinsic in Labour values.

“It doesn’t make it easy to be a Labour supporter. I think that’s quite damaging when we need to get the Tories out.”

Rosie Duffield told PinkNews she never comments on matters relating to staff members. The Labour Party was also contacted for comment.