Open Letter RE: Debate on transgender and women's Rights within Scottish Labour
Dear Michael Sharpe and Richard Leonard,
We are a group of women who are members or supporters of Scottish Labour, and who are extremely concerned by recent developments this week regarding Scottish Labour’s role on transgender rights.
Earlier this week, the SEC took a decision to deselect a young, LGBT woman as a parliamentary candidate due to a poorly-worded meme put on Twitter. Hoole was hounded by activists to the point that she had to shut down her Twitter account, for using the term “TERF” and for comparing an opposing candidate to the Cillit Bang adverts. We don’t agree Hoole acted wisely for sharing this meme about her opponent, but we are surprised this incident led to her deselection, particularly considering her full apology and remorse for the unintended connotations with the word “bang”.
In this same week, it became apparent that Jenny Marra MSP is sponsoring an event supposedly on sex-based rights. While we acknowledge the need for space to discuss sex as well as gender, the tone of this event is extremely alarming. The event directly calls for the abolishment of legal protections with contravenes with EU/UK law and EU convention on human rights. Its keynote speakers include an author who has previously described “transgenderism” as a “masochistic sexual obsession”; that trans women are “sexually excited by female clothing”; that "George Soros is involved" in the funding of trans activism; and that they are “parasites”, all across a different range of platforms.
LGBT Labour Scotland have already released a statement detailing their concerns which we fully support. More broadly, it is a worrying trend that organisations and persons who are supposedly in favour of encouraging a non-abusive environment for women are repeatedly bringing in speakers who represent a narrow and extreme view. Scottish Labour should be opposing this trend at every possible occasion.
A number of women’s organisations have since publicly condemned the event. These organisations include Scottish Women’s Aid, Zero Tolerance, the Young Women’s Movement, and Engender. The latter, Engender, has now been criticised by Johann Lamont MSP on Twitter. While we must stress the interaction was not abusive, we find the allegation that Engender are “othering women” preposterous considering their primary function in upholding women’s rights across a range of areas.
It is worth noting that the Director of Engender has received a huge amount of personalised abuse this week due to her positioning on this matter. We think it is vitally important that experts and professionals within women’s organisations are listened to and their motives are not questioned.
These are only examples from over the past week, and unfortunately - particularly when it comes to Twitter - it has not been unnoticed that a number of Scottish Labour representatives and members (including those not mentioned in this letter) have been engaging insenstively on this sensitive matter on a repeated basis for some time.
There are difficult conversations to be had, and it is clear that there are heightened tensions on either side of the debate. In an era of generally toxic political debate which sees women facing abuse on all levels, the Labour Party have been at the forefront of calling for women to be able to engage in politics safely.
However, we believe the direction that Scottish Labour is taking is at odds with this approach. The action taken towards Frances Hoole compared to Scottish MSPs who are using their position to platform one narrow view highlights an inbalance in the views on transgender women that are reaching the leadership. It appears that there is one rule for one group of women, but not for the other.
It is our belief that trans rights are inherently in line with women’s rights. We believe in an intersectional approach to feminism, where we acknowledge both the similarities and differences between women. There are tensions between different waves of feminism within the Labour movement which need to be addressed – but in the meantime, we do not appreciate our views to be ignored. Nor do we want our views to be immediately labelled as toxic while witnessing poor behaviour from individuals who take a more critical stance.
We want a fair discussion, and there are a number of issues that need to face parliamentary scrutiny before any further legislation is reformed. But there are a number of common tropes and offensive terms which make any constructive engagement with the trans community and supporters impossible. We believe organisations that refuse to monitor their language or their aggressive approach to the debate should not be worked with.
Furthermore, we believe that Scottish Labour setting the precedent for penalisation over the use of the term “TERF” while ignoring poor online behaviour by their elected representatives highlights a disparity in the party’s commitment to responsible and non-abusive debate.
We therefore write this letter urging both the Leader of the Scottish Labour Party and the General Secretary to engage with women from all opinions rather than listening to a minority fringe view; to appreciate the role of leading, established women’s organisations who undertake a range of work regarding women’s rights and to take their lead; and to encourage in all quarters, a safe and non-toxic debate where women can express their views without fear of abuse.
The Labour Party is a party whose foundations rest on social equality. We are committed to ensuring all women are able to live in the highest standards across Scotland, and believe advancing the rights of trans women is an integral part of this aim.
(in alphabetical order)
Teo Benea, Edinburgh Northern and Leith CLP
Heather Clark, Edinburgh Central CLP
Angela Chitzanidi, Secretary for Edinburgh Central CLP
Lauren Gilmore, Paisley CLP
Elsie Greenwood, Co-Chair of LGBT Labour
Hayley Griffin, Edinburgh Northern and Leith CLP
Georgie Harris, Youth Officer at Edinburgh Southern CLP
Cecily Holt, Scottish Fabian's Women's Network Mentee
Morag Innes, Chair of Glasgow Uni Labour Club
Patricia Johnston, Youth Officer at Edinburgh Northern and Leith CLP
Alice Eyre Martin, Previous LGBTQIA+ Officer Scottish Young Labour
Rosa McQueen, Aberdeen Central CLP
Kirsten Muat, Chair of Kelvin Labour Party
Shonagh Munro, Edinburgh Northern and Leith CLP
Hazel Nolan, Glasgow South CLP
Elspeth Oakley, Disabled Students Rep for Scottish Labour Students
Emily Oulton, Supporter of Scottish Labour
Bethany Parsons, Chair of Edinburgh Eastern CLP
Heather Pugh, Edinburgh Northern and Leith CLP
Jane Prinsley, SEC Rep for Socialist Societies
Francesca Sellors, Chair of Edinburgh Labour Students
Mariam Shaaban, Secretary of Scottish Labour Students
Jessica Shenton, Glasgow Southside CLP
Emma Swift, Edinburgh Northern and Leith
Cait Vallis, Outgoing SEC Youth Rep
Gwen Wall, Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn CLP Fundraising Officer
Meg Whitelaw, Outgoing SEC Youth Rep
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