Sal Brinton writes…Transgender rights are core to Lib Dem values

Following some problems in the Labour Party over whether transgender members can be treated as women for the purposes of all women shortlists (AWS), a number of members of the Liberal Democrats have asked me where the Lib Dems stand on transgender rights, including on AWS.

As a party we voted at Federal Conference in March 2016 to use all the powers available to us under the guidance to political parties under the Equality Act 2010. Helpfully, this also links to our clear and long term view about the rights of an individual in our values, best summarised in 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….

We look forward to a world in which all people share the same basic rights, in which they live together in peace and in which their different cultures will be able to develop freely.’

Under the Equality Act 2010 we are able to have all women ppc shortlists (AWS) & all disabled shortlists (ADS), as well as to reserve places on a ppc shortlist for LGBT+, BAME, women & disabled approved candidates. Our definition for those who are eligible for AWS is based on the self definition of candidates when they ask to go on to the approved candidates list (which can be updated if their circumstances change by sending a formal request to the candidates office to change their equality and diversity form).  We respect the view of the individual as to their gender – it is core to our values – and we’ll continue to do so. 

The same is true for for our internal party committees. We also agreed to change the constitution at our Federal Conference in March 2016 to ensure that for internal Federal elections 40% must be women, 40% must be men, 10% LGBT+, 10% BAME, and 10% disabled.

Some people said that this was too complex and we’d end up with chaos but in fact the opposite was true. We asked you – our members – when voting for your candidates for Federal Committees in December 2016 to ensure that they took account of diversity, and you did! On only one Committee did we need to invoke the rules to ensure representation & that was in just one category. The rest was done by you members looking carefully at the biographies of candidates and thinking about that diversity as you voted.

We also know that there is more to be done on transgender rights in Parliament. During the passage of the Same Sex Marriage Act we were unable to persuade our parliamentary colleagues in other parties to get rid of the spousal veto, a vicious rule that allows a non-transgender spouse to veto their partner’s gender recognition. We have and will continue to fight for this, led by the amazing Baroness Liz Barker who will go on leading on this and other key LGBT+ rights.

Transgender rights remain core to our values. Whether you are at the start of your transgender journey or have many years experience, Liberal Democrats welcome YOU.

* 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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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Thank you for this article, which is very helpful and clear. I hope you don’t get too much blowback because of it.

    Slight correction, though:

    “On only one Committee did we need to invoke the rules to ensure representation & that was in just one category”

    It was one committee, two categories.

  • Sal Brinton 29th Jan '18 - 1:49pm

    Thanks, Jennie, I stand corrected! Still, I was impressed by the way that our members thought carefully about diversity before voting.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 29th Jan '18 - 2:12pm

    This is very good and typical of the common sense and care that Sal shows.

    Baroness Barker is also to be regarded on these areas of concern and consideration.

    There is no place for the sort of nastiness that seems to be ever present online with these issues aired and odd and for most parts, bigoted people weighing in on them.

    Good to see that in this movement this is not the case and transgender is a word and a quality to engender understanding here.

  • Zoe O'connell 29th Jan '18 - 3:11pm

    What Jennie said – thank you for saying this!

  • Hampstead voter 29th Jan '18 - 6:23pm

    Comment rejected as a false e-mail address used. Remember, you should be who you say you are…


  • Sal: yes, me too. They’re good eggs, mostly 🙂

  • Phil Beesley 29th Jan '18 - 7:19pm

    “Whether you are at the start of your transgender journey or have many years experience, Liberal Democrats welcome YOU.”

    [Edited to remove gratuitous insult. Please try to remain civil…


  • OnceALibDem 29th Jan '18 - 8:47pm

    I kind of wish you’d leave these comments in Mark then we could form an opinion if the poster was nice or really quite the most beastly sort of cad. If I can use such language and remain civil 🙂

    [If I did, gentle commenter, people would respond to the insult and we’d all stray off topic… 🙂


  • Possibly I’m biased, but I trust Mark on this, OnceA

  • Andrew Hinton 29th Jan '18 - 9:16pm

    Thanks for your work on the comments culture here, Mark and the rest of the LDV team.

  • Margaret Nelson 29th Jan '18 - 10:46pm

    If the Gender Recognition Act is amended as has been proposed and all it takes to change sex is some form-filling, it will make a mockery of women’s hard-won rights, which is what the fuss in the Labour Party is about, and have a detrimental effect not only on women but on trans people too.

    Transgenderism isn’t fully understood by many, and is far more complicated that it might seem. It would be good if the Liberal Democrats were to strike a note of caution.

    [Edited to remove a problematic link.


  • Thankyou – helpful article on an important issue.

  • Iain Donaldson 29th Jan '18 - 11:12pm

    Thank you Sal for explaining so clearly the staunch support that our trans brothers and sisters can expect from the Liberal Democrats.

  • Mary Regnier-Wilson 30th Jan '18 - 12:10am

    Transwomen aren’t a threat to my rights Margaret.
    Transwomen (and transmen) are even more under-represented in public life than cis women. So I’m more than happy for them to share any positive action we’ve won.

    Spaces that are safe for women are important – but if people behave in a harrasing or threatening way in women only spaces there are already customs and laws which can be used to defend our rights. Punish people who behave like dicks, not those who identify as women but happen to still have them.

  • Zoe O'connell 30th Jan '18 - 12:26am

    @Margaret Nelson – Self-declaration already happens in other countries, including Ireland. The sky has not fallen in there, and there’s no reason to believe it would be any different here.

    High-energy particle physics isn’t fully understood by many, that doesn’t mean that it’s any less valid. I’m not sure why you think that “I don’t understand this marginalised group” is a valid reason to argue against equal rights.

  • Sorry maybe my sarcasm wasn’t as clear as I thought! I’d be fairly certain if Mark removed a comment it was for good reasons.

    “If the Gender Recognition Act is amended as has been proposed and all it takes to change sex is some form-filling, it will make a mockery of women’s hard-won rights,”

    I’m not sure I understand your reasoning. Maybe you could outline 5 rights where this is the case. Or 3. Or even 1. Because the idea of trans rights diminishing women’s rights seems to be predicated on ‘rights’ being a zero sum game.

  • Thanks Sal for putting this so clearly, it means a lot.

    For those who feel that transwomen erode women’s rights could I ask what evidence there is for this. Also do you feel that transmen do the same for men’s rights? It would seem that this view might be more based on othering and sharing of privilage. Yes as women we experience barriers to equality largely based on men’s privilage, surely for women to then effectivly do the same and try to exclude some minority women is not only exhibiting the very same biases but also artificially homogenising the female identity. Diversity has been demonstrated to make groups stronger and more effective not to take anything (other than unearned privilage) away.

  • Sue Sutherland 30th Jan '18 - 2:48pm

    Thank you for this clear explanation Sal.
    Dave Page, I often respect what you say but I’m not sure I agree with your use of the word idiots. Back in the 70s there was a journalist called, if I remember correctly, James Morris, who then became Jan Morris. I read one of the articles she wrote in which she described delighting in flirting with a taxi driver. This made me very uneasy as I felt this was detrimental to the way women were behaving at that time in order to justify feminism. I think this fear may be at the root of why some feminists like Germaine Greer are expressing concerns. Of course this doesn’t mean anyone is justified in expressing prejudice but it might be a key to persuading them to join the fight for trans rights. I agree with what Susanna has said but at the time I remember thinking that it was Jan’s experience as a man which was allowing her to behave in this way and to publicise it without fearing repercussions.
    Of course this is a very minor concern when we consider the terrible treatment trans people receive from society today.

  • I am bemused at the notion that if we take human rights and basic dignity away from transgender people this will make the rights of other marginalised groups more secure.

    It’s like the third domino in a line looking at the finger bearing down on the one at the front and believing they will be immune from the consequences.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 30th Jan '18 - 3:53pm


    Is flirting anything to do with being male, or rather, human? And British, comedy of a carry on sort, harmless.

    Young Liberal, and liberal, women, flirt with me, if by that you mean humourous banter or doublentendre.

    Jan Morris is a flirt because , she was attractive, confident and carismatic .

    I told Joan Baez she looked gorgeous, when I met her a couple of years ago, she twinkled and loved it, shes my mothers age !

  • Jayne mansfield 30th Jan '18 - 5:51pm

    Germaine Greer, when I last went to a talk that she gave a couple of years ago, was still a Liberal Democrat supporter.

    I don’t agree with Dave Page’s description of left wing feminists who have the temerity to voice concerns held by some women, as ‘useful idiots’. Many of them have argued long and hard for womens’ rights and faced appalling insults as a consequence.

    Whether one agrees with them on issues relating to transgender is another matter.

  • OnceALibDem 30th Jan '18 - 7:50pm

    “Many of them have argued long and hard for womens’ rights and faced appalling insults as a consequence.”

    That’s true. But I don’t see why that gives them the power, now they are in secure positions of power, to attack those who are (a) very vulnerable and (b) don’t have people in positions of power to speak up for them. For trans women also read sex workers.

  • Jayne mansfield 31st Jan '18 - 11:03am

    @ OnceA LibDem,
    Women ‘in secure positions of power’ – I don’t think so.

    Maybe you should check out the threats of violence, often sexual violence , against women in ‘positions of power’.

    I find Dave Page’s reference to women, some of whom I assume, include high profile gay and / or black women who have a clear understanding of vulnerability based on personal experience, objectionable.

    In this timely reminder of the pitfalls of ‘identity politics’, who in this discussion has been attacking whom?

  • OnceALibDem 31st Jan '18 - 4:02pm

    Jayne. People like Linda Bellos and Germaine Greer are in secure positions of power.

  • Margaret Nelson 1st Feb '18 - 1:50am

    I can’t answer all the points made in response to my earlier comment with another comment. The issue is too complex. If I’m permitted, I’ll write about it at length.

  • Jayne mansfield 1st Feb '18 - 8:56am

    @ OnceALibDem,
    Women who have to withdraw from attending university events to which they are invited because of fear of violence, (with good reason given allegations of death threats and rape threats) , i.e Germaine Greer and Julie Bindel are not in a position of power.

    They are having their views as women repressed and it is a repression that should concern us all, whether one agrees with their views or not.

    That their invitations were to speak on matters unrelated to trans issues, demonstrates how ‘Stalinist’ this repression has become – any woman who expresses a view that is counter to current orthodoxy, must not be given a hearing on any subject, lest they slip in something that some find objectionable.

  • OnceALibDem 1st Feb '18 - 9:42am

    The people you refer to are feminist, radical and wish to exclude Trans women. Is there any other way to describe someone who has a placard saying ‘Trans women are men’ –

    So to portray this as “publicly questioned the haste and lack of scrutiny displayed by those who want to amend the Gender Recognition Act” is giving a very benign impression. These are people who want to deny that Trans women exist.

    Jayne – the claim of Germain Greer being ‘no-platformed’ has been challenged fairly comprehensively by a Lib Dem parliamentary candidate –

    What is beyond doubt is that after whatever happened she was able to go on Newsnight and talk about it. That is what I mean by her having a position of power. The subject has been debated on Newsnight several times. I still wait for their debate about the 45% of young trans people who have attempted (not thought about, not seriously considered, actually attempted) suicide.

  • Nonconformistradical 1st Feb '18 - 10:38am

    @Lorenzo Cherin
    “Is flirting anything to do with being male, or rather, human? And British, comedy of a carry on sort, harmless.”

    There’s nothing comical about it if the attention isn’t wanted by the recipient. And if the male dishing out the attention didn’t establish in advance whether or not such attention was wanted – that’s nothing to do with being male – it’s to do with being an offensive idiot!

  • Jayne mansfield 1st Feb '18 - 3:02pm

    @ OnceALibDem,
    There was a petition to try to prevent Germain Greer speaking at Cardiff. Germain Greer has herself said that she chose not to attend , her rationale, fear of violence. Julie Bindel withdrew from a panel to discuss Prostitution, stating her rationale- that the subject was too important to be sidelined as an issue by those with a different agenda. There are many ways of preventing women from expressing their views and enforcing conformity.

    It is fear of violence that is, for me, the crux of the matter. Many women have good reason to fear male anti -women violence. Transgender women seem to be caught up in this fear, because anyone who has appearance of a man triggers this fear in some.

    It is so wrong to dismiss women’s fears out of hand and label them as bigots because they are concerned about the safety of gender neutral lavatories or gender neutral changing rooms , especially as some cubicles are separated only by a curtain.

    I attend a swimming pool where there is a mixed changing room. I shower in a bank of open shower heads next to strange men. Today I went to a wholefood cafe just off Regent’s Street where there was a consciously gender free lavatory. My only annoyance ,that the queue might have been shorter if there had been separate lavatories and a fleeting interest as to whether the men would put the seats down when they left. Both places were busy, well lit and surrounded by people.

    In my life, I have had to take calculated risks and as a consequence I have experienced threatening male behaviour both here and abroad. When women express fears of male violence I listen to what they are saying.

    Trying to separate feminists into some sort of moderate, or ‘left wing radicals’ (good v bad) , just encourages unacceptable behaviour from hotheads, who don’t seem to like women , in all our variety, much at all

  • OnceALibDem 3rd Feb '18 - 10:34am

    “It is fear of violence that is, for me, the crux of the matter. Many women have good reason to fear male anti -women violence. ”

    “Trying to separate feminists into some sort of moderate, or ‘left wing radicals’ (good v bad) , just encourages unacceptable behaviour from hotheads, who don’t seem to like women , in all our variety, much at all”

    There is though quite a minority group within feminists that take this – objectively radical – view. Eg this response when someone contacted all the Scottish women’s aid services asking if they were trans inclusive. All those who responded said yes, none said no

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