Labour shift on trans rights is misguided attempt to win back red wall, says MP: ‘It’s patronising’

Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, pictured speaking at a podium at a Labour event. He is wearing a black suit with a white shirt and red tie and he is gesturing to his left.

With Labour widely predicted to win the next general election, the party is doing everything in its power to appeal to “middle-ground” voters – the ones they lost in the last election. One of the ways they’re doing that is by playing into the culture wars – to the detriment of LGBTQ+ voters.

That has been demonstrated over the past week, beginning on 24 June, when Anneliese Dodds, shadow women and equalities minister, laid out Labour’s new policy position on gender recognition reform in The Guardian. In her article, Dodds spoke about her desire to protect “biological women” from “predators” by ensuring trans women can’t access certain spaces.

It was a notable shift from just a couple of years ago, when Labour was supportive of demedicalising and streamlining the gender recognition process. Labour leader Keir Starmer subsequently confirmed self-ID was off the table, and declared that “a woman is an adult female”.

Annaliese Dodds
Labour no longer supports self-ID for trans people. (Credit: Getty)

A few days later, on 28 June, senior Labour frontbencher Wes Streeting issued an apology to Rosie Duffield, the Labour MP notorious for her gender-critical views. A number of Labour groups have called for leadership to remove the whip from Duffield.

Streeting said he was “really sorry about the way Rosie’s been treated” and that his own views on trans rights had evolved.

For LGBTQ+ Labour members and floating voters, the party’s new position is yet another dig in a string of recent rollbacks seemingly designed to bring Labour closer to the centre – and as far away from the politics of former leader Jeremy Corbyn as it possibly can.

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And for many, it’s raised the question – what would a Labour government actually mean for LGBTQ+ people?

It’s a complicated question, even for Labour members. Some are sticking around in a last-ditch effort to make things better, but their hope is rapidly waning, and they fear the party is lurching past the pint of no return with LGBTQ+ voters.

Even among MPs, there is nothing even resembling consensus on Labour’s LGBTQ+ policies. Some are increasingly frustrated by the party’s sharp swerve into “gender critical” talking points – and crucially, they don’t think it’s going to work as an election strategy.

Labour MP says party doesn’t understand the north

One Labour MP, who wishes to remain anonymous, tells PinkNews that the party’s shift on LGBTQ+ rights is part of an attempt to win back working-class people in red wall constituencies – the kind of voter Labour lost to the Tories in the 2019 election in a landslide loss.

But that approach completely misunderstands the north, the MP argues.

A member of the public makes their way past a vacant pub with several placards and signs campaigning for the Labour Party as voters in the former Red Wall constituency prepare to cast their ballots in a by-election.
A member of the public makes their way past a vacant pub with several placards and signs campaigning for the Labour Party as voters in the former Red Wall constituency prepare to cast their ballots in a by-election. (Daniel Harvey Gonzalez/In Pictures via Getty)

The MP – who represents a red-wall constituency – says they’ve only ever had one person in their constituency raise “gender critical” talking points on the doorsteps – but they have had hundreds of emails and exchanges with those who are worried about the direction of trans rights in the UK.

Many are older people who have trans children or grandchildren who are concerned about how anti-trans talking points could jeopardise their family’s health and happiness.

“People up north just don’t give a s**t about any of this, so when I’m in London and I hear all this stuff about how people up north are so socially conservative and they’re so worried about these things, I’m like: no, they’re really not.

“They’re worried about how they’re going to pay their mortgage this month. They’re worried about air pollution and the climate crisis. They’re worried about animal rights and whether or not they can get a doctor’s appointment.” 

Far from being a working-class issue, the MP suggests that “gender-critical” talking points are primarily coming from middle-class professionals in cities like London, Cambridge and Canterbury. 

“They’re somehow ventriloquising people up north as a sort of a cover – but that’s your views, not ours. It’s patronising.” 

The MP adds: “I think Labour thinks by doing this Julia Hartley-Brewer will leave us alone and stop asking people if women have penises and we can start talking about the NHS instead – but they’re not going to stop asking that.” 

Where does Labour stand on LGBTQ+ rights?

Alexis Chilvers, spokesperson with campaign group Labour for Trans Rights, tells PinkNews that the party keeps plunging to “lower depths” on LGBTQ+ rights.

“It’s so dangerous that the party is willing to step back because, frankly, how can we trust that Labour’s going to institute a ban on conversion therapy when they won’t hold up even the most basic of commitments they made on trans rights?” Chilvers asks.

Labour shadow equalities secretary Anneliese Dodds and leader Keir Starmer.
Labour shadow equalities secretary Anneliese Dodds and leader Keir Starmer. (Getty)

“If they’re willing to bend to pressure from other groups on [GRA reform] we don’t know what else they’ll be wiling to bend on. As a community I think that scares a lot of people because they’re supposed to have our back.” 

Dodds has called on the Tories to bring forward a conversion therapy ban imminently, telling the PinkNews Westminster Pride Reception in June: “Those at risk of this insidious practice can’t wait any longer – they need a ban now.”

As far as Chilvers sees it, many of the issues start with transphobia within Labour’s own ranks.

“The party doesn’t want to do anything, it doesn’t want to cause a fuss. It would be happy if we [trans people] didn’t exist and we didn’t complain because then they wouldn’t have to deal with this.”

Chilvers adds: “The party needs to pull itself up, look itself in the eye and ask what does it stand for. Because at the moment it stands for very little other than perpetuating a cycle of bigotry.” 

Anneliese Dodds Labour
Labour no longer supports self-ID for trans people. (Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

Trust has been eroded between LGBTQ+ people and Labour

Frustration is also felt by LGBTQ+ activists – those who work around the clock to advance the rights of marginalised people in the UK. Jayne Ozanne, an anti-conversion therapy campaigner, says Anneliese Dodds’ new policy on gender recognition is misguided.

“The key, as always, is to have the time to engage with and listen to the people you’re serving, and while [Dodds] has met with me a few times and listened hard – particularly on conversion therapy – I am wondering how many trans people she and her team have actually sat down and listened to,” Ozanne tells PinkNews.

However, she adds: “I personally do have a lot of time for Anneliese Dodds. She happens to be my MP here in Oxford East. I do think she is one of the good ones – it doesn’t mean she always gets things right but I do think she genuinely has a heart for those at the rough end of justice.” 

Ozanne recognises that that won’t be enough for the trans community, most of whom just want the toxic discourse surrounding their rights and freedoms to stop. Even so, she argues that Dodds is still the LGBTQ+ community’s best hope – particularly in the face of repeated Tory attacks.

“I’m urging [Labour] to go further but I do welcome the move away from wedge politics. I think the Tories have got this so wrong. I think it will take decades before LGBT people will learn to trust them again.”

She adds: “I’d far rather Labour’s policies which we can work with and shape.”

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