Lib Dem Mum 4: Trans rights are human rights

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Dear Lib Dem Mum,

I am a feminist, and a liberal, and I think we should all have the right to live our lives as we choose. I have been watching, as an outsider, the heated discussions about trans rights. I don’t (to my knowledge) have any trans friends or relatives, and my interest in this is purely a human rights one. I do not want trans people of any gender to suffer, but nor do I want women to suffer. There are people on both sides of this debate who I find broadly credible, and there are people on both sides who seem to want to destroy the other. I want to be fair and just to everybody, and for us all to go forward to a more liberal and just society.

Help?

Confused, Lanarkshire.

 

Dear Confused,

As a peace-loving liberal mum, I generally like to try to see all sides of a debate and reach a compromise if one is possible. This is one of those instances where I do not think compromise is possible.

Those of us who are old enough to remember the 1980s have seen all this before. The discourse around trans rights is very much a warmed over version of things people used to say about gay people in the 1980s, with a thin cloak of feminism added on top to make it more superficially acceptable. Even the toilet panic is an old canard that’s been resurrected. “Men in dresses are a threat to YOUR children” is an exact copy of the scare stories that went around at that time. And yes, there were angry and unreasonable people on both sides of that debate in the 1980s, too. It didn’t stop us, as liberals, ultimately accepting that one side was in the right. The other side, I’m afraid, was a force of reactionary conservatism (even the ones who were otherwise perfectly nice people and were good at phrasing their rhetoric in respectful and reasonable language).

Then as now, I find the best way to navigate claims and counterclaims is to look at evidence. Britain doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and several other countries have already implemented the reforms trans people call for – our closest comparison being Ireland. Trans people of all genders are no more likely to be a threat than any other human being – in fact the horrifying statistics show that they are far, far more likely to be threatened by other humans. Yes, some humans, cis and trans, of all genders and none, are Bad People. Yes, some humans, cis and trans, of all genders and none are “a threat to YOUR children”. This is because those individuals are a threat, not because of their gender, or sex, or lack of either.

It is a basic liberal principle that you judge an individual by their actions, not by what group, class, or label they are attached to. Yes, race, class, gender, sexuality, disability, and so on, affect people’s life chances in our current society, but as liberals we yearn for a world where that is not the case, don’t we? We yearn for freedom and justice for all. The law should protect us all from harmful behaviour by individuals, not demonise entire classes of people as fundamentally dangerous, stripping away their rights.

You cannot be free or have justice if your very existence is a topic for debate, however well-meaning any of the participants in that debate may be. Those who fear specific actions – like sexual assaults in toilets – should seek to legislate (or strengthen existing legislation) against those actions, rather than labelling groups in society as dangerous just because of who they are. 

Trans rights are human rights, and as liberals we should champion them.

Love always,

 

Lib Dem Mum.

 

* Do you have a problem for Lib Dem Mum? Email [email protected] or DM @lib_mum on twitter in complete confidentiality - only Lib Dem Mum sees messages to these accounts. No one in the team at LDV has access (and for the avoidance of doubt Lib Dem Mum’s views are her own and not those of the LDV team).

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19 Comments

  • Lloyd Harris 27th Aug '20 - 4:46pm

    I agree with Mum.

  • Thank you, Lib Dem Mum, for spelling out the Liberal argument so clearly.

  • Paul Barker 27th Aug '20 - 5:10pm

    Thank You for being so clear.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 27th Aug '20 - 5:11pm

    Good arguments. Are these genuine letters to this new agony, aunt, or should I say, mum? Or is it a device, as in a play, to promote good Liberal notions?

    Its good whichever it is…

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 27th Aug '20 - 7:10pm

    This may seem naively simplistic, but I feel that this is an issue in which at least some of the divisions could be healed by kindness, and a willingness to listen to what people are really saying, rather than rushing to assume the worst.
    Lib Dem Mum, you say that you do not think compromise is possible, and I’m sure most of us would agree that there cannot be any compromise with people who are genuinely transphobic. But there are people who fully accept the right of trans people to live as members of the gender with which they identify, and to be treated as members of that gender, but who have been labelled “terfs” because they questioned some very specific issues. Even if we cannot agree with them, we can perhaps try to understand.
    Take the JK Rowling incident. We do not need to throw away our previously cherished Harry Potter books and assume that Voldermort was actually a self portrait. We can try to feel some compassion for a woman who spoke for the first time of the terrible domestic violence she endured in her first marriage, abuse of which she clearly still bears the psychological scars, and then received abuse on twitter from people who had not even read her statement. In fact she said that her experiences of domestic abuse made her empathise with victims of transphobic hate crime. Of course the man who abused her was cis, not trans, but I think she was really trying to say that some victims of domestic abuse may be so traumatised that they can only feel safe if they have a safe space where no-one who is biologically male would be admitted – irrational perhaps, but victims must sometimes be forgiven for acting irrationally.
    Again, I feel that what is needed is kindness, from both sides, and then who knows, we might even find compromise.

  • Lib Dem Mum 27th Aug '20 - 8:18pm

    Lloyd, Mary, Paul: thank you.

    Lorenzo: yes, they are genuine letters. Only one left in the To Answer pile right now, though…

    Catherine: while I think that there are people who might have been unjustly labelled, and of course nobody should go through what she went through at anybody’s hands, you do not cure irrational fears by pandering to them. And to be frightened of a group of people who disproportionately suffer abuse because they might or might not share a body part with someone who once abused you is as irrational as having a fear of every person in a red tshirt because one of the Manchester United football team once shouted at you.

  • David Evans 28th Aug '20 - 2:54am

    I’m sad to say that this is another example of LDV entering a debate that is nuanced by only looking at one side. We all know it is very easy to create an illusion of liberalism by portraying one side as an oppressor and the other as the victim. Sir Humphrey Appleby would be adept at framing his argument in such ways in order to get the result he requires.

    However, when you say “This is one of those instances where I do not think compromise is possible” in the very second sentence, you fall straight into that form of debate. Ultimately, it shows an unwillingness to enter into a discussion of the views of both sides and an failure to even look for balance – that very important word in our preamble. Equally, claiming to look at the evidence, but only looking on one side is more akin to the behaviour of the authoritarian left and right, than the approach that has to be taken by a liberal.

    Finally when you say “You cannot be free or have justice if your very existence is a topic for debate, however well-meaning any of the participants in that debate may be. Those who fear specific actions – like sexual assaults in toilets – should seek to legislate (or strengthen existing legislation) against those actions, rather than labelling groups in society as dangerous just because of who they are.” Well as we all know, because hundreds of real Lib Dem Mums told us a long time ago “Prevention is better than cure”, and as people whose very existence is a topic for debate, just remember what William Hague said in 2010 – “I think I’ve just destroyed the Liberals.” William Hague was right in questioning the very existence of the liberals, and we will all have to work very hard to ensure his claim does not come true

    Lib Dem Mum – 2/10. Must try harder.

  • The liberal instinct to be reasonable and compassionate is a good one and I applaud it. Unfortunately there are hard choices to be made here and I think Mum is skirting around them.
    You may have read that World Rugby have just decided that Trans women can not play in women’s rugby games. That decision has been criticised as being transphobic. So, imagine you’re a good card carrying liberal and your daughter, 8 stone soaking wet, plays rugby…….it’s tough isn’t it ?

    I

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 28th Aug '20 - 9:58am

    Lib Dem Mum, I would agree that it would never be acceptable to deny someone their human rights because of someone else’s irrational fears.
    But if someone has an irrational fear because of a trauma like domestic violence or rape, then it is not fair to telling them that their fear is ridiculous and they should snap out of it. They probably know that their fear is irrational, but they cannot help it. Your analogy of someone having an irrational fear of red shirts because a member of the Manchester United football team once shouted at them, does seem to belittle the experiences of victims of real trauma. Actually a red shirt could be a trigger to someone whose abusive former partner was a Manchester United fan, and was always violent after Manchester United lost a match.
    My comment was calling for kindness from both sides. If someone recovering from trauma feels that they need a “safe space” to which no-one who is biologically male can be admitted, it is clearly not kind to tell them their fear is ridiculous. But it is of course also right to point out that a trans woman is highly unlikely to be a danger to woman, and that trans women are themselves likely to have very real fears of being victims of violence, often based on personal experience.

  • I agree with Catherine Jane Crosland. It is possible to be to be both in favour of trans rights, uncompromising and tough in standing up for trans rights and yet at the same time kind to those who may have a different view. Or even a more nuanced view. Sadly even the latter is now pounced upon and self-described liberals are only too quick to demonise anyone who strays from the accepted orthodoxy. This is not the liberal way, it doesn’t help and it makes us look preachy and ugly to anyone outside our own bubble.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 29th Aug '20 - 3:07am

    Superb calling for calm from Catherine. I am very considered on this issue, but few are conveyors of that. Anger is fine, but not expressed to those not being cruel but being concerned. Cruelty is non negotiable, confusion is not. If many have views unclear we must persuade or enlighten not shout.

  • “The question is, why does the existence of trans women in women-only spaces frighten some people? Is it simply because they are trans, which is discriminatory, or is it because they have heard of an incident which leads them to be scared?”

    In the absence of any significant evidence it’s discrimination first and last and always.

    “The problem is that the anti-trans case is often based on irrational or untruthful representations, or by interchanging transvestism with transgender.”

    What is certain is that the biggest number of victims of ‘bathroom policing’ are cis AFAB women who happen to look a bit ‘man like’, have short hair, a butch appearance, suffer from PCOS etc. (‘It happens all the time’ – Ruth Hunt – https://www.buzzfeed.com/patrickstrudwick/she-led-britains-largest-lgbt-charity-this-is-why-she-chose)

    Lib Dems should start labelling WPUK and the LGB Alliance as what they are. Hate Groups

  • Using Trans issues as a wedge to divide the LGBT community (and promote other unsavoury things) is an open tactic of the conservative (religiously inspired) right.

    https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2017/10/23/christian-right-tips-fight-transgender-rights-separate-t-lgb

    “Explain that gender identity rights only come at the expense of others: women, sexual assault survivors, female athletes forced to compete against men and boys, ethnic minorities who culturally value modesty, economically challenged children who face many barriers to educational success and don’t need another level of chaos in their lives, children with anxiety disorders and the list goes on and on and on.”

  • David Evans 31st Aug '20 - 6:55pm

    Mark, I realise that you are a party bureaucrat, and so very focussed on process and method, but surely even you cannot really mean it when you rationalise the almost total destruction of the Lib Dems to “a potential loss of choice but not otherwise fatal.” I cannot accept that someone who has served the party for so long can really still not believe in his bones just how absolutely vital a successful thriving Liberal Democrat party is to this country and to every individual in it.

    Whether it is the lonely OAP driven to distraction by mindless vandalism and anti-social behaviour in her council flat, or the person on benefit sanctions with nothing to eat or a person forced out of their home by a ruthless landlord, you know the value of a local Lib Dem with knowledge and willingness to help out is a life saver. Our movement is so, so much more than a matter of choice.

    Why do we applaud those in Belarus, going out on the streets, risking their safety, their futures, even their lives in an attempt to gain their freedom? Why do we applaud those in Hong Kong, many of whom have ‘disappeared’, why did we applaud those in Tiananmen Square many of them so cruelly cut down by the evil Chinese empire?

    Why, it is because the beacon of light that liberal democracy offers, underpinned by a thriving liberal democratic party based on reasoned debate, discussion and consideration, is so fundamental to people’s future, both in our country and the rest of the world. It is so much more than a mere choice like a tin of beans.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 31st Aug '20 - 8:02pm

    @ David,

    Pretty much a semi-retired Party bureaucrat these days, I’d have to admit. That does allow me to say something sacrilegious though.

    The Liberal Democrats are a vehicle for liberalism, but if they aren’t offering the most liberal choice amongst political parties, and/or cannot attract support, do they have a right to survive? I’d suggest not.

    But the issue of trans rights is about actual people’s right to life. That’s rather more personal than the existence or otherwise of a political party to my mind. If the Liberal Democrats went out of existence, I could still participate in the political process if I chose to, either via an existing party, if one existed that I could tolerate and have some minor degree of influence over, or by forming a new one, if I had the will. Alternatively, I might instead involve myself in the voluntary or campaigns sector, supporting something I strongly believe in.

    Like you, I know plenty of people who help that lonely OAP, or that person under benefit sanction. I also know plenty of people who offer help and support, who aren’t Liberal Democrats, or members of any party for that matter, because they don’t think that compassion or decency or civic duty are uniquely party political, or they feel that they can exercise their compassion best through another political party.

    In fact, the politicisation of compassion is one of the things that repulses me about modern politics. “I am compassionate because I am a select Party of your choice.”, acts to suggest that anyone who doesn’t support your Party is somehow uncaring. I’ve learnt that over the years, having been as guilty of it as anyone in the past.

    Liberal democracy in this country has survived surprisingly well in the absence of a Liberal political party in government for virtually all of the past eighty years, and seems to do alright in a number of European countries without sizeable liberal forces – Norway being a case in point. I’d prefer there to be a strong liberal force in British politics, but it needn’t necessarily be the Liberal Democrats.

  • Mark Valladares, if I may say so, quite beautifully written.

  • David Evans 3rd Sep '20 - 12:39pm

    Thank you Mark for your response which has been deeper and more considered than many here these days. I can understand your comment that ‘The Liberal Democrats are a vehicle for liberalism’ but have to point out that in itself that is a huge oversimplification, remembering that the old Liberal party, which had attempted and totally failed over a period of 60 years to successfully promote liberalism as a standalone political philosophy capable of winning general elections, had decided on a new direction in the 1980s – that of Liberal Democracy.

    To some that change was considered to be a stage in a continuing evolution, which began in the 1950s with Jo Grimond effectively told Liberals to stop sitting on their behinds and talking about liberalism amongst their friends, but instead to “march towards the sound of gunfire,” win seats and gain real political influence in the House of Commons. To others it was a whole new beginning with the return of a tranche of the Social Democrats to the Liberal Party for the first time since their exodus in the 1920s and 30s. But whichever narrative is preferred, it brought a whole generation of like-minded people like Shirley Williams and Charles Kennedy to the party, and they made it more broadly based, more vibrant and stronger and they helped bring it success.

    And Liberal Democracy did win elections (up from 6 MPs in 1955, to 11 in 1979, to 22 in 1987 and 62 in 2005) and gained real power and influence for the first time in many decades. Liberal Democracy had taken the rather limited and increasingly embattled liberalism of the 1920s, 30s and 40s back to its roots – a wider philosophy than just liberal as it is mis-understood these days – to its Liberal and Social Democrat roots, on which it had built its historical success, before the emergence of the Labour party took one of its key elements away.

    So when you then say “The Liberal Democrats are a vehicle for liberalism, but if they aren’t offering the most liberal choice amongst political parties, and/or cannot attract support, do they have a right to survive? I’d suggest not.” You really are building on very dodgy foundations. But that is a point for another day.

  • David Evans 7th Sep '20 - 3:12am

    Mark Valladares, However, following form my earlier post, what I find most inexplicable and dispiriting, is that you, as a person who has spent many years working in the background keeping the party on the road, have now apparently given up on it. Indeed the rest of your post sounds just like so many of those in Generation Clegg during the dark years as coalition finally destroyed the work of fifty years building the party up from almost nothing.

    These were people who just could not come to terms with their hero’s abject failure and instead of fessing up to their naive support of a doomed experiment, instead came out with explanations like ‘If the party fails – So what? A new liberal party will emerge.’

    You say “But the issue of trans rights is about actual people’s right to life. That’s rather more personal than the existence or otherwise of a political party to my mind.” Except for the fact that the Liberal Party and the Lib Dems have saved many more lives than that. Whether it is just by a councillor being there to fight the corner of someone needing support to get housing when escaping an abusive relationship or to raise the problem with an MP when the Home Office try to deport them illegally.

    But most importantly, you forget the 1967 Abortion Act. No governing party had the courage to submit the Act to parliament, so it took a young Liberal MP, David Steel to bring it as a private member’s bill. I wonder how many lives, mutilations and young women driven to despair unable to find an abortion that saved.

    So to my mind, Liberal Democracy, is every bit as important as trans rights, because it too is about *all people’s* right to life – indeed arguably more so because over the years it has saved even more lives, and if you thought it through and looked at the big picture of all the good Liberalism has done, I hope you would too.

    Liberal Democracy and its one vehicle for implementing its values, the Lib Dem party, is far too important to lose, and I think in truth, that you know that, and you always have.

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