Jeremy Corbyn raised the ire of many twitterati commentators on Monday when announcing his plans to consult women on women-only shelters. I generally agree with Lynne Featherstone on this issue: while his intentions are noble, the answer is not in segregating women, but in actually combatting the men who harass them. Women-only spaces are good only as a stop-gap until we create a society without latent sexism or other sorts of bigotry.
But in all the inappropriate and inaccurate comparisons to Jim Crow and apartheid, we are missing the dangerous impact on women, especially trans women. By carelessly segregating a part of something – for example, a train – we make the general space more dangerous. One could imagine a rapist on a train saying “Well, she was asking for it by travelling in this carriage”. Sexual and gender-based harassment runs rampant in these general population spaces; just ask Labour, who find it incredibly hard to select women in open selections.
But for trans people, it gets even worse. Labour’s “Equality Act”, rushed through in the dying days of Brown’s government, has incredibly dangerous provisions that allow single-sex services – say, a rape shelter – to refuse access to trans people. This was pushed through with a significant amount of ministerial muscle despite our own opposition to these provisions, to fix an omission in their previous Equality Act by whipping their MPs to vote against trans equality.
LGBT Labour often say they root out transphobia where they can, but a party which makes the Minister for Transphobia a deputy (and later, acting) leader and the shadow minister who wanted to keep ID cards but only for trans people the most powerful backbencher in Parliament is clearly not doing enough. Indeed, they appear to have done nothing about the leaders of Labour Students who whipped their members to vote against trans representation in the National Union of Students.
In the legal framework for equality set up by Labour, it’s not hard to imagine that Brian Souter – who spent millions of his own money in a failed attempt to keep Section 28 – would insist on this policy on all Stagecoach trains. For reasons of safety, he would say. And unlike the boycott of his buses over Section 28, it’s much harder with Stagecoach’s local monopolies comprising 25% of the market.
But even for the train operating companies that allow trans women into women-only carriages, trans women will be in danger. If they travel in the general carriages, they will experience sexual harassment from men. If they travel in the women-only carriages, they will experience verbal and physical abuse from cis women. This will only have the effect of forcing trans women out of public transport, and given the rates of poverty in the trans population, transport altogether.
Corbyn doesn’t even need to be Labour leader for transphobia to come from this policy. Mark Steel – he of “too left-wing for Labour” fame – has pointed out that a media hostile to Corbyn would report this as “Corbyn wants to force men to have sex-change before being allowed to sit down“. The transphobic innuendo in an institutionally transphobic industry is maybe hours away at most.
The Liberal Democrats should be proud of being at the forefront for the battle for transgender rights. We were the first party to commit to LGBT equality, the first party to commit to gender recognition, the first party to support anti-discrimination law being extended to trans people, and the first party to support trans-inclusive same-sex marriages. We opposed the Whitehall veto and the spousal veto on trans people staying married. We welcome trans people from all walks of life and seek to uplift them in the party and society without gimmicks or tokenism. It’s no surprise that, until this May, the only party who had trans people elected to public office was the Liberal Democrats.
The LGBT+ Liberal Democrats motion at Conference next month is the next step in the battle. We want to support trans people in being able to define their own gender without needless bureaucracy. We want to vastly improve the inadequate access trans people have to healthcare. And we want to ensure that trans people cannot be discriminated against in the name of equality. We hope that you will join us.