Young, Liberal and ready to fight for trans representation on Manchester city council

Manchester – a city of equality and fairness. A place where the Tories homophobic section 28 had no chance without a fight. Known for our world-famous gay village, we aren’t a city that shys away from ensuring that representation matters, are we?

We are home to the largest group of Labour Councillors in the country and we, Liberal Democrats, were close to taking control of Manchester City Council at one point before the coalition. Yet, Manchester has never seen an openly trans politician. Ninety-six seats on our council and not a single openly trans, non-binary or gender diverse councillor insight.

You would expect a city so liberal and diverse like Manchester to have had many trans politicians by now, but because we haven’t, I’m here to say that enough is enough. No more hollow words on trans rights – but real progressive action. Just imagine being a young trans person who has little hope in society and feels that not a single politician truly represents you, because that’s what it’s like for me and so many right now.

I’m fighting to become Manchester’s first openly trans politician because there’s too much at stake for young trans people like myself. With the toxic debate around the ‘gender recognition act’ (GRA) reforms intensifying day by day – we must ensure history is made at the first chance we get (after the current COVID-19 pandemic) and make sure that we seize the opportunity to get our city’s first openly trans politician elected. The Labour Party won’t do it so we Liberal Democrats must!

I am upset and disappointed that still, trans people like myself feel that we don’t matter but what drives me to keep going is that when it comes to discussing trans issues and rights in the town hall, that vital trans voice isn’t there. That’s why I fight because I’m desperate to change that.

We owe it to trans, non-binary and gender diverse people (particular those of colour) because, without us, Pride may not exist.

So, encourage your trans friends and local party members to run for selection in target seats, support them all the way and let’s get the representation our council chambers desperately need. That’s the way we will get our first openly trans politicians in council chambers across the country, and that’s the way we don’t just crack that glass ceiling above, but smash it, once and for all.

In the face of toxic GRA reform debates, let’s demand better for trans representation at a time where being trans in the UK isn’t easy.

* Kobe Bibbon is a trans Lib Dem activist in Manchester

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Chris Bertram 8th Apr '20 - 12:04pm

    Maybe, just maybe, the number of trans people when compared with the population at large is actually vanishingly small?

  • clive english 8th Apr '20 - 1:49pm

    Figures are for probably many reasons hard to establish, but i doubt whether its really less than one per cent, which is what it would have to be if zero out of ninety six were to be considered reasonable representation.

  • Dilettante Eye 8th Apr '20 - 2:14pm

    Yep,.. this is the kind of message that needs to be shouted from the rooftops to get that Core-vote out.

  • Chris Bertram 8th Apr '20 - 2:30pm

    To clarify: Trans rights are very important – but most of all to the people to whom they are important. An awful lot of people will never meet a trans person, and hence will be puzzled by suggestions that it is really crucial that we have trans councillors, trans MPs and so on. They won’t (or at least the vast majority won’t) mind if someone standing for election *is* trans, but they won’t want to be browbeaten into voting for them *just because* they are trans.

    I appreciate that seen from the trans PoV this may feel a little disappointing, but it’s an issue that needs to be seen from both ends, and I’m afraid trans advancement is unlikely to be put at the top of very many people’s voting priorities, no matter how eloquently you plead your case.

  • “trans advancement is unlikely to be put at the top of very many people’s voting priorities, no matter how eloquently you plead your case.”

    But stamping down on trans people is. I’m glad Kobe has the fortitude to stand up against those who wish to do so.

  • Holly Cosmo 8th Apr '20 - 3:30pm

    “An awful lot of people will never meet a trans person”

    And a lot more will have met loads and not known it, not been someone who it’s safe for them to reveal this to.

    “will be puzzled by suggestions that it is really crucial that we have trans councillors, trans MPs and so on.”

    Having just admitted that most cis people don’t know or care much for trans people, surely that’s all the more argument for trans councilors and trans MPs, who do understand the specific and complex problems trans people face due to discrimination in practically every area of life, from employment to healthcare.

    No one’s saying anyone need be “browbeaten,” just that the population should be represented. That’s only fair and reasonable, especially for people concerned with liberalism and democracy.

  • Chris Bertram 8th Apr '20 - 3:49pm

    Let’s have some evidence that anyone in the Lib Dems is “stamping down” on trans people, please. We’ve been the most trans-friendly mainstream party in the UK, AFAICS, and that’s to be welcomed. It’s just never going to make it to P1 of the manifesto.

  • James Brough 8th Apr '20 - 3:51pm

    What a depressing set of responses, basically amounting to “This doesn’t affect me, so it’s not important.” I wish I could say I was surprised.

    Just as a side note, Chris Bertram describes the number of trans people in the UK as “vanishingly small.” Research by UCLA suggests 0.3% of the adult population of the USA is trans. Assuming the same proportion in the UK gives us a figure of around 160,000 people – about the population of Cambridge.

    Two points come to mind. Firstly, that’s quite a large number to be considered “vanishingly small”. Secondly, the party claims that no-one should be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. I’d like to think that applies to all, not just to groups above a certain number.

  • We don’t stand up for people’s rights because it makes us look trendy or because it’s popular, Chris. We do it because, goodness me, it’s the right thing to do.

    Kobe, I wish you all the best!

  • Chris nobody is saying it should be page one of the manifesto. A trans person is just saying that th want to represent our party. Isn’t that great? Where’s the downside?

  • @ James Brough

    No one is saying that trans rights aren’t important. As a party, we rightly have excellent policies in place to help trans individuals.

    The issue others have pointed out (which I agree with) is that issues like trans rights are simply of no interest to the vast majority of voters (I don’t think this is because they are all transphobic- I think they simply haven’t given it much thought).

    We as a party on the other hand have (particularly over the last year or two) been focusing more on more on these identity politics issues, which I think is not what we need to do to become a serious option for the majority of people.

    A few weeks ago for example we were moaning about gender pay gap reporting requirements being eased during the current crisis- why this was seen as an issue we should be campaigning on is beyond me when most people are concerned about their health and jobs.

    Then we have the quite frankly discriminatory proposals we made the week before to stop prison sentences for women. It’s my belief that too many of our HQ staff are stuck in a ‘bubble’ and think that because these stances are universally popular with party staff, they will resonate with the public.

    We need to get back to basics and focus on the issues that voters care about in our campaigning.

  • @John Smith. I think you have it exactly. I’m sure everyone in the party is entirely on board when it comes to minority rights (as per our constitution….) but just because we believe something doesn’t mean it should be up front and central in our offer to the voters, especially when we have a pretty shrewd idea that they are interested in other things.
    In fact, it’s good that the public are not that concerned with minorities, intersectionality etc. Perhaps we have reached the point Martin Luther King looked forward to, where people are judged only by the content of their character. We need councillors who are able, hard working, passionate. I’m sure anyone who ticks those boxes in welcomed by all in the party. Kobe, I wish you all the best. Win that seat by being the best person for the job…and a liberal.

  • Surely gender pay gap reporting requirements are precisely BECAUSE people are worried about their health and jobs?

    Or do the people that gender pay gap reporting requirements generally affect not really count as people in your eyes?

  • Dilettante Eye 8th Apr '20 - 5:25pm

    Just wondering if I’d get the same unquestioning support from liberals for my plight?

    As a man born in the early 1950’s I’ve always wondered about my gender. So I’ve decided to self identify as a woman (as is my human right).
    I’ve also decided to join the WASPI movement to get redress for the £48,000 state pension I have lost since I turned 60.

    Do I get your unquestioning liberal support, as a M to F WASPI?

  • James Brough 8th Apr '20 - 5:33pm

    John Smith – you may not be saying trans rights aren’t important, but you are saying that we should focus on what voters think is important. I’m not sure what the difference is, other than that this gives the opportunity to pass the buck by saying that neglecting trans representation is down to what the public want.

  • James Brough 8th Apr '20 - 5:40pm

    Chris Cory – No, we haven’t reached a point where people are judged solely by the content of their characters. Going solely by people I know personally, one was subjected to a torrent of transphobic abuse last night, having just finished a second 12 hour shift in 38 hours answering 999 calls. Another was accused of child abuse because her child has come out as non-binary.

    Spend a little time on Twitter, read the news – you’ll find people suffering sexist, racist, homophobic and other forms of abuse, none of which has anything to do with their character.

  • Zoe O'connell 8th Apr '20 - 7:40pm

    The majority of the public “don’t care” about the vast majority of party policies. Who outside politics and the media actually read any of the manifestos?

    What people *do* care about is a party’s values. And supporting marginalised groups by ensuring their representation in political life is one way to demonstrate those values. And if a party doesn’t do it, it gets called out on it. Just imagine how much stick a major party whose representation was still 95% straight white men would get!

  • James Belchamber 9th Apr '20 - 8:03am

    Kobe is absolutely correct and I hope his call for trans people to step forward and stand is not only heard by trans people themselves, but also by those in a position to enable trans people to stand and win.

    As Chair of South West Birmingham I will be doing everything in my power to ensure we stand a diverse range of candidates, and also value that diversity. We must value the ability to represent everyone in society, and part of that is ensuring we populate our teams with a diversity of lived experience.

  • Go for it Kobe and very very good luck! And thanks for the article.

    While I favour free speech and we owe it to people of all backgrounds to discuss these issues fearlessly and the comments here have some validity to be made, the questioning comments do also seem to tend towards some of the arguments made at the time of legalisation of homosexually – you can be gay just don’t tell anyone as of course (virtually) no-one is (and that was among the most progressive politicians of the time!)

    We are all minorities of one. And lib dem representatives should be every gender, every age from 16 to 116 and every letter and combination of the BAME and LGBTQIA+ acronyms as well as not BAME or LGBTQIA+. And too often we don’t make enough effort to be welcoming and encouraging to people who do not share our gender, age, ethnic background, sexuality, religion or spirituality. We are against conformity after all but sometimes only in theory!

    Although I disagree with her politics Mhairi Black’s comment because she was an MP that she was “the only 20-year-old in the whole of the UK who the [then] chancellor [George Osborne]” was “prepared to help with housing.” was powerful. All representatives should of course represent all their constituents but we all know those that are less visible in our democratic chambers up and down the land get less representation.

    So thanks Kobe for standing, being visible and writing the article.

  • Chris Bertram 9th Apr '20 - 10:31am

    @Chris Cory: Absolutely right. There’s a lot of pushing at open doors going on here, and manufacturing grievance gets nobody anywhere very fast. In fact it may work the other way. I won’t care if my next Lib Dem candidate is trans or not, as long as they stand up for liberal values and work hard to get elected.

  • @James Brough. I don’t doubt for a moment that there are plenty of bigots and morons out there, but I do believe that my children’s generation (now in their early twenties) don’t see race, gender and sexual orientation in the same way as older people, It’s just not an issue for them (always exceptions, of course).
    More to the point, I think Martin Luther King’s injunction that we should try to be colour blind (and gender, sexuality etc) is still the liberal goal we should all aspire to, even if you don’t think we’re there yet.

  • James Belchamber 9th Apr '20 - 2:05pm

    Let’s avoid misrepresenting MLK the way our political opponents do; he was never proposing that we be colourblind (and no Liberal should think that’s the goal):

    “The problem with the conservative logic is that King said he didn’t want his children judged by the color of their skin. He never said he wanted the color of their skin to be ignored.”

  • Phil Beesley 9th Apr '20 - 3:49pm

    Chris Bertram: “Maybe, just maybe, the number of trans people when compared with the population at large is actually vanishingly small?”

    It might depend on how you define ‘trans’. When the collective expression trans was adopted 20 years ago, it was inclusive about cross dressers, part time transvestites, transexuals, intersex people and gender identity rebels. The number of ‘transexuals’ is small and they are just part of the trans definition.

    I had a lovely chat years ago with an MtF lady in her 60s. She’d spent half her working life in the army and had to make up stories about where she had worked or her relationships. She avoided travelling on the bus with female friends in case they asked why she didn’t have a free travel pass. Society has moved on a bit from there, and some trans people just want to get on with life without labels and complications.

  • @Michael 1: Don’t forget disabled people. Vastly under-represented in Parliament (two of the five openly disabled MPs in the 2017 intake just left…), somewhat under-represented in councils, very much overlooked societally.

    As regarding the topic matter overall, I think that whatever the wider public thinks about diversity and equality issues at large, much of the sense of a) encouraging trans/non-binary people to run for elected office and b) making sure they’re equally able to access winnable seats isn’t something the wider public would necessarily even need to be engaged in.

  • @James Belchamber. So creating a “colourblind” blind society is a conservative not a liberal aspiration ? Well if the Gaurdian says so…..
    I didn’t intend to drag this thread off track. Key point is that we value all our members and supporters regardless of their personal characteristics and identity. Our own internal processes should reflect that, but I reject the idea that we should choose our candidates based on their identity. Always the best person for the job. Always. And of course we “encourage” trans people who want to run for office, but I would like to think that we encourage EVERY person in our party who has ambition.
    And always we should project to the public a concern for the things that concern them, schools, the NHS, homelessness. If we fail to do that the voters will simply turn their backs on us.

  • The people I know and remember are posting comments here I agree with. They are being stridently opposed by people I don’t know.

    I don’t think this would have happened like that a few years ago.

    So when did the party change. And is it really still worth bothering with?

  • clive english 14th Apr '20 - 12:48pm

    One thing we should remember is that If one stays neutral in a battle between those who want change and those already in exclusive power you are siding with the powerful not being neutral,
    I find that its amazing how those who dont want diversity always find that the best person for the job is white middle class and university educated. A friend (who is a councillor) was told by a member of his original selection panel he could not be a councillor because did not have a university degree and A levels. Fortunately the rest of the panel did not agree with that. But we still only have one BAME Lib Dem councillor and no disabled ones in our Council Group of 20, The only area we are doing well on is Female Representation.

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