Lib Dems are very clear about the rights of transgender people

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Once again transgender issues are making media headlines – sadly for all the wrong reasons. Arguments are being made that are based on misunderstanding and fear, rather than facts and tolerance.

As a party the Liberal Democrats are very clear about the rights of transgender people. We had a debate, and passed party policy on this, at conference in September 2015. The motion starts:

“The transgender and intersex communities are too often marginalised, with little or no emphasis on their needs from government or third sector organisations. Transgender and intersex individuals experience similar levels and types of discrimination within society, including but not limited to hate crime, health discrimination, and difficulty obtaining documents in the correct gender.

Legislation concerning the transgender population often does not fully advance – and sometimes actively hinders – transgender equality. Transgender and intersex people are at a higher risk of mental health issues and suicidal ideation than the general population and the rest of the LGBT+ population, especially among BME transgender and intersex people.”

This policy is based on the core of our values, placed at the heart of our Preamble to the Constitution:

“The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full….”

In the last couple of years there has been a vigorous debate on social media, especially Twitter about transgender rights, with a number of people opposed to trans equality asserting that they do not recognise transgender women as women, and that trans women should not have access to what they regard as “women-only safe spaces”. Part of their campaign has been to insist that they call trans people by their original, pre transition name (known as dead-naming), and using the pronouns relating to their previous identity. There is no doubt that this is extremely hurtful and has been very provocative to the trans members of our party and those who agree with them.

Much of the vicious tone and nature of allegations from these people is reminiscent of the homophobia that was commonplace forty years ago – assuming all gay men were paedophiles, or that they could be “cured” by therapy or were just a malevolent curse on society. We would not tolerate that sort of debate today. Indeed, there is now a law against such homophobic hate crime, and the same law applies for transphobic hate crimes.

We had no opposition to our policy when it was debated in 2015, either inside or outside the party. Over the last year these transphobic views have caused internal arguments in the Labour party, and more recently targeting the Lib Dem LGBT community.

As a liberal and as a Liberal Democrat, I believe that people are entitled to their views. If we want to live our values, “champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, and acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience“ as set out above, we must ensure that one of the most vulnerable groups in our society are able to live as they are entitled to under our law. And most feminists I know, including myself, support trans women, affirming that they too are women with us. But I am concerned that the culture of fear and misrepresentation, made by a handful of radical feminists, is unedifying and contrary to our values. I do not want our trans members to feel excluded or under pressure.

I do hope that we can persuade all those involved in this debate to tone down the anger and language.

* Baroness Sal Brinton is President of the Liberal Democrats. She is a working Lib Dem peer, and was the candidate for Watford at the 2010 and 2005 General Elections.

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