Keir Starmer urged to explain trans rights stance after worrying Mumsnet interview

A screenshot of Keir Starmer speaking during an interview with Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts

Keir Starmer is facing criticism over a Mumsnet interview in which he discussed trans youth healthcare.

The Labour leader and shadow secretary for education Bridget Phillipson sat down with Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts on Friday (28 October), answering user-submitted questions on topics including the energy crisis and the cost of living.

But it was Starmer’s discussion of trans rights that left many concerned.

A Mumsnet user with “concerns about child safeguarding in the context of gender identity services” asked if Starmer had read the interim report by Dr Hilary Cass on the provision of trans youth healthcare, and how he’d be guided by its recommendations about “child safeguarding”.

Cass’ main recommendation that the NHS expand its provision from a single provider to multiple, regional centres, in part to tackle overlong wait times which pose a risk to patients.

However Starmer focussed on the idea of consent, saying: “Children shouldn’t be making these very important decisions without consent to their parents, I say that as a matter of principle as a parent.

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“We all know what it’s like with teenage children. I feel very strongly about this. This argument [that] children [can] make decisions without the parents is one I just don’t agree with at all.”

Bridget Phillipson and Keir Starmer speaking to Justine Roberts during a Mumsnet interview.
Bridget Phillipson and Keir Starmer speaking to Justine Roberts during the Mumsnet interview. (YouTube/Mumsnet)

This seems to go against the concept of Gillick competence, which dates back to a 1985 legal ruling, and is used to determine whether young people can consent to healthcare such as contraception.

According to the NHS: “Children under the age of 16 can consent to their own treatment if they’re believed to have enough intelligence, competence and understanding to fully appreciate what’s involved in their treatment. This is known as being Gillick competent.”

A user who claimed not to be “anti-trans” asked how Starmer would uphold “sex segregation” while also advocating for a system of gender self-ID under a reformed Gender Recognition Act, as Labour has done previously.

The Equality Act governs single-sex spaces, and protects trans people’s right to access them regardless of whether or not they have been through the gender recognition process – but ‘gender critical’ voices often conflate this access with proposals to demedicalise the GRA.

At the PinkNews Awards 2022, Starmer said he would “uphold the Equality Act” and maintain its “provision for single-sex spaces”, while also vowing to “modernise the Gender Recognition Act”.

Speaking to Mumsnet, Starmer said legislation should be modernised, and that this should be done while “respecting safe spaces” and “championing women’s rights”.

Pressed on the issue, he said that when it comes to trans inclusion in sport, he believes in “integrity and fairness”, that “biological women need to be safeguarded”, and that “balances are going to have to be struck”.

His words were met with confusion and concern online by some who felt he’d used “dog whistles and red flags” that could be used to add “fuel to the flames of anti-trans rhetoric”.

Others weren’t quite ready to disregard Starmer as an LGBTQ+ ally, and merely brushed it off as “waffling about and not taking a stance on things”.

Trans journalist India Willoughby said the comments were “shocking and dreadful”.

“It’s a betrayal of trans kids and reinforces all the suspicion and propaganda spread by the horrendous [gender critical] movement,” she added. “Unbelievable, you’ve sold us for votes.”

Political commentator Owen Jones called Starmer’s interview “beyond aggravating” and called on him to “[do] your homework or say nothing”.

Good Law Project director Jo Maugham noted that Gillick competence would cover “a young woman who wanted to have an abortion her parents opposed” and asked where Starmer stood.

“If you agree that children are not chattels for their parents to command as they please, why should they not be able to make decisions for themselves?”

Starmer has been broadly supportive of trans rights at a time when the government appears hostile to them.

Current prime minister Rishi Sunak has previously said trans women aren’t women, and reportedly plans to remove protections for trans people from the Equality Act.

Former prime minister Boris Johnson increasingly leaned on anti-trans rhetoric while in office, saying that “biological males should[n’t] be competing in female sporting events” and removing trans people from a proposed ban on conversion therapy.

But Starmer’s record isn’t squeaky clean. Notably, he’s faced criticism for failing to tackle anti-trans rhetoric within his own party, with members alleging institutional transphobia runs deep.

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