Haigh suggests Labour should be ‘safe space’ for gender-critical but not transphobic views

Tom Belger

Labour shadow cabinet member Louise Haigh has suggested Labour should be a “safe space” for gender-critical but not transphobic opinions, amid fresh party tensions over gender in the wake of the Cass review.

Meanwhile the party leadership has faced criticism from some Labour trans rights and youth activists, including Labour Students’ newly elected trans officer who warned Labour “must be better at standing up to the toxic political culture” despite being elected on a pro-leadership slate.

The Shadow Transport Secretary appeared on Sky News to promote Labour’s five-point plan to improve bus services, pledging to let local authorities take control of bus services through franchising or public ownership. Party analysis today suggests the plans could create or save up to 1,300 bus routes and boost passenger journeys.

But Haigh was asked several questions about the Cass review on NHS gender identity services published on Wednesday, including about Health Secretary Victoria Atkins’ claim earlier in the day that Labour had tried to “shut down debate on gender-critical views” and been ‘stopping women saying what they think”, in host Kay Burley’s summary.

‘Clear line’ between gender-critical and transphobic views

Haigh said she did not recognise “that characterisation at all”, saying she’d had many regular conversations “about this issue” with people across the labour movement.

But she added: ” I do understand that colleagues and friends have felt unable to express their views and I will always want the Labour Party to feel like a safe space for those views.

“But I do think it’s important to draw a clear line between those who are gender critical, and those who are causing harm through transphobic expression of views and that’s where I think the line always has to be drawn because at the heart of this debate, we’ve always have to start from the fact that there are a very vulnerable group, particularly in the light of the Cass review.”

Haigh said the Tories had “quite a serious role to play in setting the terms and the tone” of discussion as they had been in government for more than a decade.

Wes Streeting ‘right to hold his hands up’

She was also asked about Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting’s comments on The Sun’s Never Mind the Ballots show yesterday. Streeting said he would once have said “some people are trans, get over it”, but now after some “self-criticism and reflection”, he believes there are “complexities” and he takes criticism of his past stance “on the chin”. He condemned the “ugly rhetoric” towards trans people, however.

Haigh said she agreed Streeting was “absolutely right to hold his hands up and say he was wrong to use language like ‘get over it'”. Such comments were not appropriate in any discussion, but particularly in such a “sensitive” one. But she added that shutting down debate was not “writ large in the wider debate within the Labour party”.

The whole issue has though been “incredibly toxic and incredibly harmful”, with “bad faith actors on all sides”.

Party stance under fire

Streeting said too on Thursday that the Cass Review had to be a “watershed moment”, with healthcare led by evidence and children’s welfare and “free from culture wars”.

Labour would “work to implement the expert recommendations of the Cass review”, with Streeting thanking Cass for her “thoughtful and thorough” work.

But others within Labour have criticised the report’s methodology. Willow Parker, elected this week as Labour Students’ national trans officer as part of the pro-leadership Organise slate, warned Labour must not “uncritically engage” with the report, and “should stand on the side of marginalised groups, even when politically inconvenient”.

While there are some parts of the review “we can all agree” on,  Parker said she knew people who could be “severely impacted…by limiting access to what is often life-saving medication”.

“I’m personally quite scared about what the future might hold for me as a trans person in the UK….Labour can and must be better at standing up to the toxic political culture that has developed in which trans people are dehumanised, stigmatised, and generally treated like dirt.”

Ruby Herbert, also elected on a pro-leadership slate, warned too that Labour “must stand up for trans people” and criticised the report. Young Labour’s LGBT  rep Chloe Brooks, elected on a left ticket, criticised the report too and said she would “urge” Labour to listen to young trans voices.

The Labour for Trans Rights campaign group condemned Labour’s support for the report too, saying the report should have had more input from trans people and LGBT+ organisations and risks “disastrous consequences”.

Meanwhile backbench MP Rosie Duffield  reshared Streeting’s post about Labour’s response with the message “to the many women, blanked, sidelined, dismissed by male leaders when speaking up”.

Labour Women’s Declaration, which describes itself as advocating “sex-based rights”, praised Streeting for backing the review’s recommendations, calling both the review and Labour’s response a “game-changer”.

“This comprehensive report, which accords with the points we and others have been making within the party for years, despite attempts to silence us, should now inform all policies in the arena of sex and gender,” it said in a statement.

Stonewall also said the review could “play a vital role” in getting trans children the quality healthcare they deserve, with many recommendations likely to have a “positive impact”, though others could “lead to new barriers”.

Labour and LGBT+ Labour were approached for comment.

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