Human Rights Committee facing backlash for promoting ‘gender-critical’ MP Joanna Cherry

Backlash as Joanna Cherry made deputy chair of human rights group

Parliament’s Human Rights Joint Committee is facing heavy criticism for promoting “gender-critical” MP Joanna Cherry to the role of deputy chair.

The Scottish nationalist, who has been an outspoken opponent of transgender rights reforms, was sacked from the SNP’s front bench last week (1 February) in a reshuffle, amid accusations that the SNP has become a “hub of transphobia“.

On 5 February, Harriet Harman, chair of parliament’s Human Rights Joint Committee – a cross-party group made up of 12 members from the House of Commons and House of Lords – announced that Cherry had been promoted to deputy chair.

“Grateful to Joanna Cherry for stepping up as deputy chair; unswerving commitment, Scot perspective & top lawyer!” Harman, the Labour MP for Camberwell and Peckham, wrote on Twitter.

The news was met by a fierce online backlash from trans rights campaigners, LGBT+ advocates and allies, with one cis woman commenting: “An absolute grotesque appointment and the absolute antithesis of someone who supports EQUAL rights.”

Cherry’s promotion “makes me, as a trans woman, exceptionally concerned for my future in the UK”, one woman commented.

“As a trans person I find this truly truly depressing, dehumanising and ostracising,” another added.

Others blasted her appointment as “extraordinarily disappointing” and “disgraceful“.

Cherry is a supporter of the anti-trans pressure group Women’s Human Rights Campaign, which recently urged MPs to repeal the Gender Recognition Act – the 2004 law that adult trans men and women use to gain legal recognition of their gender – and eliminate the “practice of transgenderism”.

Another person said: “Harriet I’m really worried that this appointment is going to further entrench an already horrible political trend towards leveraging transphobia.

“Many people, including many cis women, have been and will be hurt. Its also a wide open door for anti-abortion and anti-LGB agitators.”

Cherry’s sacking from the SNP’s front bench followed a public spat with Out for Indy, the party’s official LGBT+ wing, which began when Cherry accused Twitter of “hateful conduct” for banning family law barrister Sarah Phillimore, who has previously invoked the Holocaust in posts criticising trans rights.

A senior Westminster source told the Guardian that Cherry’s relegation was not a direct result of her stance on trans rights: “She was turning out to be a really disruptive influence on the group and some folk [at the meeting] were visibly upset about her behaviour.”

The source added that, while Cherry was valued as a highly effective Commons performer, she repeatedly clashed with colleagues: “She has a robust personality. Always quick to characterise herself as the victim, the victim of bullying. What she doesn’t see is she’s actually guilty of the same stuff herself.”

Joanna Cherry backed by anti-abortion Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg

On 4 February, Tory MP Jacob-Rees Mogg – a cabinet minister and close ally of Boris Johnson – praised Joanna Cherry for her “courage” after she gave a speech in the House of Commons arguing for the right to “debate” the “ideology that any man can self-identify as a woman”.

Speaking in the Commons on 4 February, Joanna Cherry, who had to contact the police last week after receiving a “vicious threat” from a man in the wake of her sacking, said: “Across our society, and particularly in universities and the third sector, women and some men are losing their jobs, having their positions undermined and their personal safety put in jeopardy simply for questioning the ideology that any man can self-identify as a woman, and for speaking up for women’s sex-based rights under the Equality Act.

“Does the leader of the house agree with me that all democrats should condemn such attacks on free speech, and can we have a debate about free speech and the importance of sex as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act?”

Rees-Mogg commented: “Much though I disagree with [Joanna Cherry] on so many things, may I commend her courage in standing up for freedom of speech and putting forward her views clearly in a difficult and sensitive area, but one where she has a right to be heard.”

Cherry’s speech followed a video that SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon posted to social media in support of transgender people, in which she insisted that “no debate can be a cover for transphobia”.

Increasingly hostile debate about trans rights by politicians from all parties, accompanied by anti-trans commentary in the media, has been matched by a real-life increase in transphobic violence.

A recent report from LGBT+ anti-violence charity Galop found that four in five trans people in the UK were the victim of a hate crime in the last year.

Between 2014-15 and 2019-20, transphobic offences are shown to have quadrupled, representing a 354 per cent increase. More than half of transgender people in the UK now feel less able to go outside and two-thirds say they cannot use public bathrooms as a result of transphobia.

The Human Rights Joint Committee has been contacted for comment.