Trans ally Harriet Harman ‘in line to run the Equality and Human Rights Commission’

Harriet Harman

Harriet Harman, a staunch trans ally, is potentially being sized-up by Labour for the top job at the UK’s equalities watchdog if it wins the election, sources close to the party suggest.

A Labour MP of forty years – although not running in the 2024 general election – Harman was leader of the opposition between 2012 and 2015, oversaw the introduction of the Equality Act 2010 and has previously come out swinging in support of transgender rights.

“I stand behind the Gender Recognition Act,” she told Sky News in 2022, “So as far as I’m concerned, women are women who are born women, but women are also women who are trans women.”

According to Labour sources who spoke with The Times, Harman is being “lined up” to replace Baroness Falkner of Margravine as head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission when her contract runs out on 30 November.

Women and equalities minister Kemi Badenoch was allegedly going to extend Baroness Falkner’s contract by another five years but Rishi Sunak’s decision to call an early election put paid to that plan.

Baroness Falkner’s tenure as chair of the EHRC has been one steeped in controversy, with the equalities watchdog facing allegations of transphobia during her time at the helm.

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She also backed plans to amend the 2010 Equality Act to define sex as “biological sex” – something which the Tories have pledged to do so in the next parliamentary term in they win the election.

The controversies have led the organisation to be investigated for “actively harming trans rights” by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) after complaints from Stonewall and other LGBTQ+ organisations.

Another Labour source, however, said Baroness Falkner could still be reappointed as there were no “specific” concerns about her performance.

No decision has been made, the sources said, nor has Keir Starmer yet expressed a view either way.

Baroness Kishwer Falkner
Chairwoman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC),Baroness Kishwer Falkner. (Parliament)

During the course of the six week election cycle, trans rights have been used a “political football to divide people”, with single-sex spaces and the definition of sex in the 2010 Equality Act wielded as culture-war topics.

During one election head-to-head, Sunak said he would “unequivocally” change the law “so that the old Equalities Act recognises that sex means biological sex”. Starmer stated Labour would “protect female spaces” but also said the law did not need to be amended to do so.

Starmer’s party has, however, taken confusing and seemingly contradictory stances about trans rights both prior to the campaign trial and during the run up to general election – with Labour accused of throwing trans people “under the bus”.

During the same election debate, Starmer called out Sunak’s anti-trans jibe which he made during PMQs in February.

“What I will also say is that I do recognise there are a small number of people who are born into a gender that they don’t identify with, and I will treat them, as I treat all human beings, with dignity and respect,” Starmer said.

“I’ll tell you why, because if you don’t, we end up with the prime minister of the United Kingdom standing in parliament making an anti-trans joke in front of the mother of a murdered trans teenager.”

However, in the days that followed the Labour leader also said trans women do not have the right to use female spaces – even if they have a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) – and he opposes the teaching of so-called “gender ideology” in schools, a phrase which is widely considered an anti-trans dogwhistle.

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