Keir Starmer defends view that 16 is too young to change gender, says ‘sex-based rights matter’

Keir Starmer, with his head in his hands, staring off while a trans flag waves in the distance.

Keir Starmer has doubled down on his belief that 16 years old is too young to legally change gender while also stressing the importance of “sex-based rights”.

The leader of the Labour Party first made the claim on the BBC’s flagship politics show Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, saying he had “concerns” over gender law reforms in Scotland.

Scotland’s recently-passed Gender Recognition Reform bill will make it easier for trans people to gain legal recognition of their identified gender. It includes reducing the minimum age for receiving a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) from 18 to 16.

Starmer told Kuenssberg on Sunday (15 January) that he doesn’t think 16 and 17-year-olds should be allowed to legally change their gender – and he refused to say whether or not he supported the Tory government’s threats to block Scotland’s democratically-passed bill.

During Call Keir on Monday, his weekly phone-in show on LBC radio, a trans woman named Amber challenged Starmer over his views on gender law reform, pointing out that 16-year-olds can get married in Scotland.

Starmer said that he wanted to avoid a “toxic debate”, but told Amber he approaches the subject of trans rights on the basis of “biology”.

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“I approach it on the basis that, for 99.9 per cent of women, it is all about biology,” he said. “Sex-based rights matter, and we must preserve all those wins that we’ve had for women over many years – including safe spaces for women.

“But I accept, and readily accept, that there are a small number of people who do not identify with the gender into which they were born and they are often among the most abused in our society, and they should be respected, and there should be a process – as there is under the law – for them to be recognised in the gender they identify with.”

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He added: “I’m afraid I do think 16 is too young. People will just have different views on this, but I think 16 is too young for that process. I would go for 18, the age of adulthood in most cases.”

Keir Starmer shares similar ‘concerns’ with prime minister Rishi Sunak

Similar “concerns” were expressed by prime minister Rishi Sunak, who said the government would look at the “ramifications for the 2010 Equality Act and other UK-wide legislation”.

Reports that the UK government could block the Scotland’s gender reform bill were initially published by The Sunday Times on 7 January.

Keir Starmer, wearing a dark red tie, speaks in front of a group of people.
Keir Starmer’s comments on the GRA reform have caused backlash from trans activists. (Getty)

When asked by presenter Nick Ferrari whether he would support the blocking of the bill, Keir Starmer replied: “I will wait and see what they do and the reasons they’re doing it.”

Starmer has routinely promised to “modernise the Gender Recognition Act,” including during an October address at the 2022 PinkNews Awards.

But after expressing his opposition to several of Scotland’s planned amendments, activists have become unsure as to what these modernisations would actually look like.

A spokesperson for Labour told PinkNews: “Labour will consider how to modernise the Gender Recognition Act 2004 so it provides dignity and decency for trans people, while upholding the Equality Act and the single-sex exemptions it contains

“One example is the provision of spousal consent which is undignified, outdated and needs to change.”

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Scepticism from trans Labour voters after leader’s comments

Trans man and former Labour member Arthur Webber said he wasn’t sure if he could “stomach” voting for the party in the future after Starmer’s comments.

“Sorry to all the Labour MPs I’ve befriended over the years, you’ve finally lost my vote,” he wrote in a 16 January tweet.

Several other trans Labour supporters agreed with Webber’s decision, saying that their association with the party is on shaky ground.

“Honestly yeah,” one user wrote. “Even justifying to myself that its tactical voting, I don’t think I can bring myself to vote for them this time.”

Another wrote: “I’m in full agreement with you… It’s not without merit either! His U-turn on the very same rights he commented on last year is abhorrent.”

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