Lib Dems in conference ‘censorship’ row with anti-trans women’s group

The Liberal Democrats have refuted claims that an anti-trans Lib Dems women’s group is unable to hold an event at the party’s annual conference due to “clashes” over trans rights. 

Gender-critical group Liberal Voice for Women – which describes itself as “protecting and advancing the rights and interests of women and girls from within the Liberal Democrats” – hosted an event on Sunday (24 September) at the Hotel Miramar in Bournemouth, on “why sex matters for women’s equality and how political transgenderism is impacting on their ability to hold on to their existing rights”. 

The event, which marks the launch of a new pamphlet by the group, was chaired by journalist and broadcaster Dame Jenni Murray who caused controversy in 2017 when she wrote a column in the Sunday Times Magazine titled: ‘Be trans, be proud — but don’t call yourself a “real woman”.’

The organisers told Sky News the group had not been allowed to promote the event at the Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference due to “censorious forces at work in the party”, which has halted them from running events on site or having a stall.  

Zoe Hollowood, chair of the group, was quoted by the news organisation as saying party members were being halted from “learning” about the issue and MPs were being “sheltered from reality and end up getting in a muddle about women with penises on TV”. 

“It is also particularly regrettable from our perspective as it means members don’t get to hear from us directly about what we actually believe,” she continued. “Meanwhile, smears about us continue to go unchallenged within the party.

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“There is an abusive climate that leaders need to get a handle on.”

However, the Lib Dems have refuted this claim, with a spokesperson saying that no groups are allowed to advertise events in the conference centre, and the same rules apply to all groups,

A spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats told SkyNews: “No groups are allowed to hand out promotional material within the conference centre. This rule applies to everyone.

“Party members submit dozens of motions for discussion at conference and sadly we don’t have time to debate them all. We are debating a range of policies to deal with the cost of living emergency and NHS crisis caused by this chaotic Conservative government.”

The contention is allegedly due to “clashes” over trans rights (Mark Kerrison/In Pictures via Getty Images)

This stance was echoed by the LGBT+ Lib Dems group, which told PinkNews that the “only groups allowed to bring promotional materials into the conference are those with stalls in the exhibition”.

“LV4W don’t have a stall so aren’t allowed to leaflet inside and other organisations have been told the same,” a spokesperson for the group said. “It’s been the policy for as long as I’ve been coming to conference so they aren’t being treated any differently to anyone else.”

They continued that “no external body has the right to a stall in the exhibition space and [Liberal Voice for Women] are considered an external body”, noting that the official party body for women is Liberal Democrat Women, which is chaired by Helen Cross.

“They are allowed to leaflet outside the conference venue and have been although they, and others, have been asked to move away from the doors so as not to create bottlenecks when people are trying to get in and out,” the spokesperson added.

“Essentially they are, yet again, misrepresenting the facts to try and make themselves look like victims because they don’t want to follow the same rules as everyone else has to.”

In response to the Sky News story being published, Hollowood took to X – the platform previously known as Twitter – to “correct the record”. 

“This was not about @LibVoice4Women leafletting inside the venue this is about the fact we placed a booking for an advert in #LDConf extra and at the last minute our booking was declined. No reason given, and we have asked,” she wrote

Adding in a further tweet: “So last week I wrote to those in the party who hold responsibility for making such decisions. I reminded them of the Equality Act 2010 as it applies to political parties around discrimination.”

In the tweet, Hollowood attached a screenshot of a letter she sent. 

“So we are not asking for special treatment, far from it. We are asking not to be discriminated against on the basis of our protected beliefs. We were asking to place a paid advert in #LDConf literature as members can & we have been told in no uncertain terms ‘no’ #LiberalsDebate,” she added. 

PinkNews has contacted the Liberal Democrats and Liberal Voice for Women for comment.