Ann Henderson election as equalities committee chair sparks transphobia row

Sienna Rodgers

The election of Ann Henderson as chair of the equalities sub-committee within Labour’s national executive committee today has sparked a row among party activists over transphobia.

Commenting on the annual general meeting result, LGBT Labour released a statement this afternoon, which read: “We are appalled by the election of Ann Henderson to the chair of the Labour Party NEC equalities sub-committee given her history of sharing material that has been described as transphobic.

“This is not only a kick in the teeth to the trans community, but to every single Labour activist who is dedicated to our values of equality, justice and liberation. The equalities committee must reconsider their decision and begin to rebuild trust with the trans community.”

After winning the equalities sub-committee election by 12 votes to eight, Henderson has now replaced Unison’s Keith Birch as chair. According to LGBT Labour, concerns were raised during the meeting but general secretary Jennie Formby said they should be “disregarded”.

A Labour Party source said: “Every year the committee elects a chair, who facilitates discussions but doesn’t vote. As the rector of Edinburgh University, former assistant secretary in the Scottish Trades Union Congress, and a lifelong equalities and women’s rights activist, Ann brings a wealth of experience to the role.”

Henderson was elected for the first time as a local party representative on the NEC in September, having received the support of left-wing groups Momentum and Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) during the campaign.

Her views on trans issues have come under scrutiny in the past, particularly over the summer when Labour and trans rights activist Lily Madigan pointed out that the then-candidate followed Women’s Place UK on Twitter.

Women’s Place UK, in conjunction with Fair Play for Women and Transgender Trend, held an event last year called ‘How will changes to the Gender Recognition Act affect women’s rights?’. The details of this meeting were publicised by Henderson in a retweet, which provoked the controversy.

Madigan described the organisation as an “anti-trans hate group” because it has offered a platform to women opposed to new gender identity legislation. Woman’s Place UK says it is “not a transphobic organisation” and told LabourList: “The labour movement needs to assert women’s rights to organise as well as doing more to facilitate debate”.

At Labour conference last year, LabourList invited Henderson – one of Scotland’s first female train drivers and a longtime women’s rights campaigner – to speak as part of a panel entitled ‘A Woman’s Place is in her Trade Union’, during which she raised the importance of trans rights in the workplace.

But Henderson has been known to voice criticisms of Labour’s trans inclusion policy at previous NEC meetings.

The same Labour NEC meeting on Tuesday 22nd January saw Diane Abbott, Shadow Home Secretary, replace Kate Osamor – who resigned from her shadow cabinet post last month – as a frontbench representative on the body.

Ann Henderson has been contacted for comment.

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