Keir Starmer has told an online meeting with members of the public from the West of England that Labour is a “proud” ally and supporter of LGBT+ rights after being grilled on his plans to “show up for marginalised people”.
Taking part in a ‘Call Keir’ event via Zoom this afternoon, the Labour leader was challenged by one participant who said many felt “disenfranchised” by the party’s handling of antisemitism, Black Lives Matter and trans rights.
They raised the scrapping of plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act, saying that the Labour Party should be “really up to date with trans issues”. They asked Starmer how he planned on “showing up for marginalised people”.
Starmer told the virtual meeting: “The Labour Party actually has done a huge amount over the years on this, in relation to the positive acts we’ve done in government and also opposing things like Section 28…
“There’s a long track record in the Labour Party on these issues and we must be absolutely upfront about that and determined. And we will be. On the GRA, I think it is a great shame that the Tories have now gone back on that.”
The UK government dropped plans to allow people to officially change gender without a medical diagnosis earlier this year, abandoning self-identification proposals developed under the last administration led by Theresa May.
The Labour leader added: “The Act was a step in the right direction but it’s obvious from discussions with people it’s not working as it currently is, and it must be possible therefore to make progress and improvements.
“I realise that then takes us into an area where people have very strong and different views, but that’s not a reason for us to do nothing. The Conservative Party simply saying ‘we’ll put it in the too difficult box’ is not acceptable, and we need to have that discussion.
“The only thing I would say about that discussion is it needs to be done in a tolerant and respectful way because we don’t actually do any service to those who want to change the GRA if we just descend into a toxic argument.”
Starmer concluded by saying: “On LGBT+ rights, we are proud allies and supporters – and I will just, having listened to you, make sure we make that absolutely clear all of the time in everything that we do.”
Labour MP Rosie Duffield, who tweeted that “only women have a cervix”, has had members of staff resign over her statements on trans rights and has been criticised by the GMB trade union branch for MPs’ staff.
Party-affiliated group LGBT+ Labour issued a statement criticising the Canterbury MP over her comments and called for “measurable action” from the leadership. Shadow minister Jess Phillips defended Duffield.
Starmer did not address BLM, but said on antisemitism: “I’m absolutely determined we’re going to root it out of our party, and as you’ll have seen I’ve been pretty tough over the last six to seven months and taken some tough decisions…
“It shouldn’t be there in the Labour Party. We’ve been found to be in breach of the law. That is shameful and we’re going to do something about it, and I’m absolutely clear that that is going to happen and it is a very high priority for me.”
The Equality and Human Rights Commission recently found Labour responsible for breaches of the Equality Act relating to political interference in antisemitism complaints, failure to provide training to those handling them and harassment.
Labour was served with an unlawful act notice following the investigation, giving the party six weeks to produce an action plan in response to the findings and recommendations of the report published last month.
Starmer has pledged to implement an independent complaints process “as quickly as possible” and he hopes that this will be “early next year”. Rule changes would normally require conference approval.
The party has until December 10th to deliver an action plan to the commission on how it will implement the recommendations of its report and when. This is legally enforceable by the court if not fulfilled.
The ‘Call Keir’ meeting was part of a series of public events launched in April to allow people to highlight issues relating to the health crisis that they want raised with government, and to facilitate discussion about why Labour lost in 2019.