Liberals need to stand up against hate speech and prejudice. If we don’t, we condone it.

Over the last couple of weeks, several events have proved, as if we needed it to be proved, that hate speech and prejudice is alive and well in 21st century Britain.

Last week, Pink News reported  a disturbing, angry and hate-filled transphobic rant by Julie Burchill which appeared as a comment on an article by Paris Lees. Paris had written of her delight in being catcalled and wolf-whistled while on holiday in Ibiza and asked if that made her a bad feminist. Burchill’s reply seemed to be trying to make out that she was a bad human being.

I don’t necessarily agree with Paris’ article but although she was being provocative, she balanced it out and showed respect to those who had an opposite view.

But Burchill’s comments, not for the first time, go way beyond disagreement. Graphic personal insult should have no place in civilised debate. We know that the presence of Section 28 on the Statute Book made many young LGBT people fearful in the 80s and 90s. In the same way, how is a young transgender girl going to feel when she reads Burchill’s bile? And might her words encourage the intolerant to abuse, either verbally or physically.

As liberals our commitment to free speech is written into every cell in our body, but with it comes a responsibility to protect others from that sort of hate speech. I was slightly annoyed that no Liberal Democrat came forward to speak out against Burchill’s comments. Lynne Featherstone has done so before, but it shouldn’t always be her. Nick Clegg rightly condemned the outrageous Paddy Power advert offering bets on the Oscar Pistorius trial like it was a game rather than the aftermath of a young women being killed. I’d have liked to have seen him do the same to Burchill and those like her. Nick has a perfectly good record on tackling homophobia in word and in deed. He’s attacked the way the Conservatives talk about people who come to live in this country. He needs to do the same about transphobia and other kinds of prejudice.

We really should have learned. We know what happens when this sort of stuff goes unchallenged. Immigrants and welfare claimants have been the subject of so much insult and misinformation in the media that people actually believe the myths. And what happens when people believe the myths is that those mythified get hurt. 1 in 8 LGBT people, 3 out of every 4 transgender people have been on the receiving end of hate crime as Pink News reported last year. We know that the “benefit scroungers” narrative led to an increase in attacks on disabled people. We can’t stand by and let that happen.

When I  talked about this on Facebook, I was surprised to see quite a few people suggest that ignoring Burchill was the best thing to do, that challenging her made her a victim. Well I wasn’t suggesting using the sort of angry language and action that we’ve come to expect from her and others. But here’s what a friend had to say about the precautions trans people have to take when they go out:

Transwomen *may* undoubtedly share Paris’ delight in being wolfwhistled as it validates their outward appearance. They *will* most certainly have experienced the fear when they have been called-out for being trans. 

They *will* have learned to plan their routes to avoid known “hot spots”, they *will* have grown eyes in the back of their head to keep a wary eye out. They *have* learned a temporary deafness when the name calling starts. They *will* have their handbag slung cross their body and walk in the centre of the pavement on well lit streets, ready to run. They *will* keep £20 for the taxi stuffed in their bra.

How on earth can we stand by when we read that? We should not rest while others live in fear. It really is that simple.

Last week Stephen Glenn recounted how his photo had been taken from Facebook and reposted by someone who then subjected the Faith and Pride organisation to homophobic abuse. I also know of the debilitating effects of persistent transphobia experienced by another friend.

For me, this is all about the old “all that is required for evil to flourish is for the good to do nothing” idea. If we don’t stand with our fellow human beings when they are under attack for being who they are, then we legitimise those attacks.  My experience of being bullied as a child has made me determined to stop anyone else go through that exhausting, debilitating despair that incessant abuse induces.

I also think it might be an idea for Nick as Deputy Prime Minister to go noisily hunting in the long grass for the Transgender Action Plan produced by Lynne Featherstone when she was Equalities Minister.

And all our elected representatives should sign up to Stonewall’s well-timed new No Bystanders campaign. You have to make a simple pledge:

I will never be a bystander to bullying and teasing language. If I hear it, I will call it out and if I can I will stop it. By adding my name I promise to stand up for fairness, kindness and never be a bystander.

If you’re reading this and agree, then you probably live out those values anyway, but add your name to show your support.



* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • *applause*

  • I agree absolutely that this kind of thing should be “called out” where it appears, and that siteowners should be asked to remove it. But I do question the wisdom of Pink News giving these comments wider currency by writing an article quoting some of them – particularly as the comments themselves had already been removed from the website.

  • Julie Burchill is completely unhinged in exactly the same way as the Simon Heffers of the world, and should be treated in the same way.

  • lynne featherstone 22nd Mar '14 - 12:45pm

    Great post. Totally agree – have to speak out or the haters win! And yes – the Transgender Action Plan (apparently first in the world – but unreliable sources) which we produced when I was Minister of Equalities should be being enacted. So the more exposure it can get – the better.

  • Stuart Mitchell 22nd Mar '14 - 1:09pm

    Repellent though Burchill is, I think her comments should be left on the internet where they belong. I wouldn’t like to see Nick Clegg speak out about this because to do so would give the impression that Burchill is a person of significance, and would simply swell her ego further and encourage her to do more of it. I’d much rather see Clegg ignore non-entities like Burchill and concentrate on putting forward a positive message, such as Lynne’s action plan.

    I actually don’t understand why polemicism even exists as a job. I take no interest in anything people like Burchill say and would urge others to do the same.

  • Paul in Twickenham 22nd Mar '14 - 1:56pm

    I agree with everyone else! Julie Burchill makes a handy living from bring gratuitously offensive. I have no idea whether she actually believes anything she writes or whether she just does whatever it takes to confect outrage. In any case I was not aware of this story and while characteristic of Burchill it adds nothing further to my opinion of her. A touch of the Streisand Effect, maybe?

  • paul barker 22nd Mar '14 - 2:27pm

    I am torn on this one, I totally agree with Caron but I am wary of giving Burchill money. Hate isnt just the way she is its also the way she pays the rent, its her chosen career & everytime anyone reacts to her nonsense the effect is to allow that career to continue. Probably someone will pay her to write a response to this new “controversy”.

  • Eddie Sammon 22nd Mar '14 - 3:07pm

    I agree with standing up to prejudice and hate speech, but the left, feminism, the Guardian, the New Statesman, Labour and others are absolutely stuffed to the rafters with prejudice and hate speech. Yes stand up to it, but it comes from the left just as much as the right. I’ve had to read things like “Notting Hill would be good if it wasn’t for the white men ruining it” (said by a white woman), and constantly being told men are inherently sexist whilst women are not.

    Recently I seen an old woman being bullied by a stronger old man, it made me realise the importance of feminism, but it’s still stuffed to the rafters with hate speech and prejudice and if it isn’t tackled within then it looks like it is condoned.

  • Eddie Sammon 22nd Mar '14 - 5:03pm

    By the way, I accept the right is full of prejudice too, my initial reaction was just to say that prejudice needs to be tackled within one’s own ranks, before attacking others.

  • Shirley Campbell 22nd Mar '14 - 8:26pm

    Thanks Carol, please keep the debate going. For what it is worth, I am a Liberal by instinct rather than by indoctrination.

  • Shirley Campbell 22nd Mar '14 - 8:29pm

    Sorry, CARON, a typo.

  • Really good post, I hope plenty of other people in the party also share your progressive and caring views.

  • Jenny Barnes 23rd Mar '14 - 9:19am

    The TERFs (trans exclusionary rad fems ) tie themselves up in complete knots, claiming that gender is socially constructed on the one hand, but that only women who were assigned female at birth count as women, for some essentialist reason; and then criticising trans women for exactly similar behaviours to cis women. As the reason is actually not a reason at all, but transphobic prejudice, the reason (s) change very rapidly as they get challenged and deconstructed.
    The trouble with these bigots is not their view that transsexual women are not women, but their automatic descent into ranty hate speech when that view is coherently opposed. Far too many examples to link to, and anyway I wouldn’t want to encourage them.

  • John Broggio 23rd Mar '14 - 10:53am

    re the headline: that’d be a good idea. Perhaps it could be mentioned to those “Liberal” MPs who voted through the bedroom tax, unneeded austerity measures and laughing as they enacted them?

  • Eddie Sammon
    Do you really think this??? —
    ………..the left, feminism, the Guardian, the New Statesman, Labour and others are absolutely stuffed to the rafters with prejudice and hate speech. Yes stand up to it, but it comes from the left just as much as the right.

    Who do you think for example “the left” are? Some of us here in LDV might consider ourselves as on the left.

  • As someone on the deep left of the party, I have to agree that there is a lot of prejudice and hate speech on the Left, but not in the way that’s been said. I mean, it seems like every week another Trot faction ends up with a sexual harassment or sexual assault scandal. And while we had our own at least we took positive steps.. Whereas the SWP allowed Comrade Delta to stay in the leadership and have ended up forcing a lot of women out, even more than those who eventually leave because privileged men in the Left think that equality is a distraction from the revolution.

    When it comes to transphobia, the Labour Party and their supporting press are filled to the rafters to it. After all, one of their last acts of government was to pass an act that allows rape shelters to refuse accommodation to anyone who even looks trans. They allow people like Julie Bindel freedom to influence their party under the guise of “feminism” and what ends up is that members of our party who are deeply committed to equality end up being harassed into silence. Meanwhile, the New Statesman and Guardian will happily publish authors attacking trans women, sex workers and BAME women, because not being invited to speak at a student conference is “silencing” them. If you’re not a white cis middle-class woman, then the Labour Party’s feminism is not for you.

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Mar '14 - 2:52pm

    John, I just typed a bit of an essay, but deleted it after thinking it was not necessary. I think all wings in politics are full of prejudice, left, right, centrist, whatever, but I find the author’s version of feminism to be one of the most prejudiced. There is no ill feeling in this whatsoever, I love humans too much for that, I just wanted to express the initial disbelief that I felt when I read an article criticising others for being prejudiced. Perhaps prejudice is a word used too often, maybe misunderstanding would be more accurate.

  • Excellent post.

    I don’t think it needs lib dem mps to speak up and speak out, its lib dem members.

    Julie Burchill is yet another prone bully picking on minorities for the sake of filling space.

  • Phil Rimmer 23rd Mar '14 - 8:47pm

    Completely agree Caron. My only comment would be that the challenge needs to be tailored to the hater and the medium used.

  • Excellent piece Caron, great to have the subject of bullying of minorities flagged up. This is particularly important in the run-up to the EU elections. Race equality campaigners are becoming increasingly concerned about the language that will be used during the election to refer to immigrant and settled ethnic minorities, and watch out for swipes at all that “European” legislation such as the Human Rights Act. Lib Dems can take a lead on this by bringing any examples they come across to the attention of the bodies whose legal or moral duty it is to respond; the police, political parties, local authorities, the Electoral Commission and others as appropriate.

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Mar '14 - 9:50pm

    Thanks for the partial agreement Sarah. I know we come at this from very different angles, but at least we are both against hate speech! To be specific, I actually think hate speech is fine if there is genuine hatred, because I think it is better out and tackled than left in to rot, but it gets to the stage where I think people are just winding others up on purpose to make money, which not only won’t make much money in the long-run, but is genuinely hurtful.

  • For those of you willing to sign, the ’17-24-30′ campaign, which commemorates the London bombings in Brixton, Brick Lane, and Soho, in 1999, has organised a ‘No To Hate’ petition.

    It can be found at the organisation’s webpage, The site also gives details of the commemoration event that will be taking place this April.

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