‘Labour’s got it wrong on self-ID – and a generation won’t forgive us for it’

Alex Charilaou
Photo: Shutterstock / Ink Drop

Labour for Trans Rights co-chair Alex Charilaou writes in the second of a series of pieces this week by authors with different perspectives on Labour’s new stance on gender recognition…

It’s important to put the situation for trans people in the UK into context. In 2017, New Zealand accepted a trans woman’s request for residency from the UK, deciding it would have been “unduly harsh” to allow her to return to a country where she would suffer persecution due to her gender identity.

Conditions have only got worse since then. Eight years ago, we were the European leader on LGBTQ+ rights – now, we are 17th on the list. Anti-trans hate crimes are through the roof, with an almost 60% increase in 2022 compared to the previous year. Increasingly, Britain is a place where trans people feel unsafe, unheard and unrepresented.

Britain is an international embarrassment

On gender recognition, the legal process by which somebody is able to live as their true gender, Britain is an international embarrassment. In 2020, the European Commission ranked the UK second from bottom on a list of 28 European countries on the basis of our gender recognition system.

The Commission’s report called attention to the “intrusive medical requirements” of the UK system, such as the need for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria – a diagnosis that can take years to be given. One trans woman interviewed by the report’s authors says she had to wait almost five years for a GRC.

Waits of several years or more are not uncommon in our utterly broken system. Trans people navigate an overly bureaucratic, demeaning process just to be recognised as their true selves.

We urgently need a system that doesn’t treat trans identity as a mental illness – a shockingly Victorian attitude that’s worlds away from both the international and medical consensus on the issue.

Labour policy doesn’t touch the sides of what’s needed

Across Europe (in Ireland, Germany, Spain, Portugal) our sister parties in government have introduced self-ID systems to make trans life a little easier – research is not able to back up the idea that people misuse these frameworks. There is no substantial evidence from international examples that there is a conflict between good trans policy and women’s’ rights.

Unfortunately, the Labour Party has not caught up. In July, Anneliese Dodds outlined what Labour’s approach on trans rights will be in government.

While there is mention of the desperate need to overhaul Britain’s outdated gender recognition system, the policy on the table doesn’t touch the sides of what is needed.

By continuing to impose a diagnosis of gender dysphoria and a doctor’s sign-off on gender transition, we are – however it’s framed – implying that being trans is somehow an illness to be cured.

You wouldn’t compromise between racists and anti-racists

There is a sad reality at the heart of the “trans debate”: there is no centre-ground and no compromise. You either give in to a small, extremist minority intent on making life harder for LGBTQ+ people, or you don’t. Increasingly, the language of compromise is abused.

You may compromise on agricultural policy, or tariffs, or the ins and outs of fiscal rules, but you wouldn’t call for compromise between racists and anti-racists. Why then is it different for trans rights? Why are the opinions of Graham Linehan, or Posie Parker, taken seriously as part of the debate, while those of trans-rights campaigners are routinely dismissed?

Much is made of the Tory attempts at stirring up a culture war – undoubtedly, Sunak’s government is one of the most regressive in modern British history. But what is Labour actually doing to remedy the situation?

The Scottish GRR bill was a ray of hope

In Labour Together fellow Ellie Cumbo’s piece for LabourList earlier today, she accuses the Scottish Government of having “drafted and rushed through [the Gender Recognition Reform legislation] without any apparent interest in resolving the complexities of the issue”.

This is untrue – the GRR Bill was subject to years of scrutiny and public consultation with trans rights campaigners as well as women’s rights groups. It passed with a majority of the Scottish Parliament’s support, including Scottish Labour.

The Bill would have made the process of obtaining a gender recognition certificate more humane for every trans person in Scotland. Before using its failure to take a cheap dig at the SNP, we should be mindful that for many LGBTQ+ people across the UK, it represented a ray of hope that our needs would finally be taken seriously by government.

The Tories made a target of the Bill: to humiliate the Scottish Government, but also to kick down at a group key in their cruel culture war. Labour’s response to the Tory attack on minority rights ought to have been unequivocal and bold, defending our Party’s commitment to self-ID. This didn’t come to pass, and progressives are losing faith in politics as a result.

To an increasing number of young and LGBTQ+ people, the backbone of Britain’s progressive majority, it looks like nothing more than Labour pandering to extremists.

This is not a good look for Britain’s progressive party of government. Instead of fighting steadfastly to keep minority groups safe, it looks to some like Labour is caving in to fringe hate-groups (who will never stop pushing for Labour to go further in marginalising our community).

Many trans members feel unsafe

Inside the Party, the situation has scarcely been worse. Many trans people have felt the need to leave, with rampant transphobia causing them to feel unsafe and unwelcome. I have received hideous death threats, as have other trans campaigners I know.

As a Party, we desperately need to get our own house in order too. Transphobia is a cancer in our movement and we urgently need an action plan to stamp it out – including by clamping down on MPs who have voiced opinions harmful to LGBTQ+ people.

The Labour Party has a proud history of standing up for the marginalised and the oppressed. We are the Party that decriminalised homosexuality and got rid of the abhorrent Tory Section 28. Our duty is to fight for equality, and against bigotry.

I’m proud that Labour Students and LGBT+ Labour has remained committed to campaigning for self-ID and for the Party to adopt a definition of transphobia. Young people in Britain remain in-lockstep with us on trans rights.

We must now take the cue from our sister parties across Europe who have faced down bullying from the far-right to introduce self-ID, making life easier for trans people – to no detriment of others. If we don’t stand up for what is right, for what is decent, a generation will not forgive us for it.

More from LabourList


We provide our content free, but providing daily Labour news, comment and analysis costs money. Small monthly donations from readers like you keep us going. To those already donating: thank you.

If you can afford it, can you join our supporters giving £10 a month?

And if you’re not already reading the best daily round-up of Labour news, analysis and comment…