Keir Starmer defends trans rights but says he ‘respects’ JK Rowling’s position

Side by side images of Labour Party leader Keir Starmer and Harry Potter author JK Rowling

Keir Starmer has given a passionate speech defending the rights of trans people – who he said face “abuse” in the UK – but at the same time said “respects” JK Rowling’s anti-trans position.

The Labour Party leader gave his views on respecting the lives of trans people during an appearance on Chopper’s Politics, The Telegraph’s weekly politics podcast presented by Christopher Hope. 

Starmer was asked the tired question about how he would “define a woman” after he stated it’s “not right” to say “only women have a cervix” in 2021. The political leader said the discussion on trans rights in the UK is “always a sensitive issue” and that there’s been “abuse” thrown towards people who are part of the community. 

“Let me start by saying the blindingly obvious for 99.9 something per cent of women, it’s all biological and it’s very straightforward, and the Labour Party has fought for women’s rights for a very, very long time – for equality of pay, for equality of recognition, etc,” Starmer said on the podcast.

“We will fight for women’s rights going into the future.”

He continued: “So that’s, in a sense, very straightforward. But as you will all know, there is a small number of people who do not identify with the gender that they were born into, and it can be incredibly stressful.

“And there are young people who are going through real anguish actually in relation to this, and I’m not going to join those that just want to add to the abuse of that small ground of people.”

Keir Starmer said he believes the discussion around trans rights in the UK is “much less” about what toilet individuals use than it is about having access to gender-affirming healthcare.

He added people can wait a “very long time” for such treatments or medical advice because the government “haven’t funded the NHS properly”.

“For the vast majority of people, it’s biological – that’s very straightforward – but I’m not going to just dismiss or ignore or pretend that a small group of people who don’t identify with the gender they’re born into don’t exist in some way or disparage them in some way.” 

Starmer said discussions on trans rights have become so “toxic” in the UK there’s an “immediate shut down” the “moment anyone expresses a view or even inquires”.

He believes this is “unhealthy” in politics.

Hope asked the Labour leader if he felt “sorry” for Harry Potter author JK Rowling and her “position” on the lives of trans people. Rowling has been widely criticised for comments she’s made about the trans community.

“I respect her position on this,” Starmer said.

“People do take different positions on this.”

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer speaks to a crowd off camera as he stands in front of a blue background

Keir Starmer says discussions on trans rights have become so “toxic” in the UK that there’s an “immediate shut down” the “moment anyone expresses a view or even inquires”. (Getty)

Starmer explained: “When you say 99.9 per cent of women it’s biological, most people agree with that. We’ve got to fight for women’s rights. 

“Let me say there’s a small group of people who don’t identify with the gender they’re born into and I’m not going to ignore that, most reasonable people say, ‘Actually I can live with that as well’. 

“So I think there’s much more room for agreement than we sometimes think.”

Keir Starmer acknowledged the “problem” with such questions is that they are “usually intended to belittle and divide and to make toxic something” which society “ought to be having a better conversation about”.

JK Rowling’s anti-trans views 

In 2019, JK Rowling voiced her support for a woman who was pursuing legal action to have “gender-critical views” protected under the UK Equalities Act. 

Rowling faced backlash in 2020 after she posted a tweet criticising an op-ed that discussed “people who menstruate”.

She then doubled down on her standpoints in a lengthy essay shared on her website days later.

In it, she claimed she had “deep concerns” about the “effect the trans rights movement” was having on the “education and safeguarding” of children. 

JK Rowling wears a white top and black jacket as she stares at the camera

Harry Potter stars, LGBTQ+ advocates and allies have criticised JK Rowling’s comments about the lives of trans people and trans rights. (Getty)

Stars of the Harry Potter franchise – including Daniel RadcliffeEmma Watson and Eddie Redmayne – have voiced their support for the trans community in the wake of Rowling’s comments. 

In March, Rowling claimed Keir Starmer “misrepresented equalities law” after he said trans women are women. She alleged “innumerable gay people” contacted her to express their views that trans rights are “undermining” women’s rights. 

However, mass amounts of LGBTQ+ people and allies worldwide stressed that they fully support trans rights, causing the hashtag “JK Doesn’t Speak For Me” to trend.