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Dear Zarah Sultana: an open letter

On 5th June Zarah Sultana, MP for Coventry South, tweeted screenshots of a letter she had written to Liz Truss MP.

 In that letter, Ms Sultana wrote about “attempts by transphobic organisations and individuals to influence the Government’s consultation, and ultimate position on, GRA reform”.

 On 7th June, WPUK wrote to Ms Sultana to see if she would be willing to meet with us so that we could dispel some misconceptions. We have received no response.

 We are publishing an open letter to her here instead.

Dear Zarah Sultana,

We wrote to you in response to the letter you wrote to Liz Truss MP which you shared on social media to seek dialogue about the issues you raised. You have not responded.

Although the letter was not addressed to us, we feel that it is imperative that we respond to challenge some of the misrepresentations you make.

Liz Truss is not alone in her concern about the protection of single sex spaces and the reform of GRA.  Thousands of women and men responded to the GRA consultation to register their concerns about the impact of the GRA on women’s rights and the Equality Act. It is also true to say that several organisations including Stonewall, Scottish Trans Alliance and Gendered Intelligence called for the removal of the single sex exemptions.

‘Hysteria’

The use of the term ‘hysteria’ is one that has long been used to silence and humiliate women and one we are astonished to see a female Labour MP employ.

It is not ‘hysteria’ that has created the toxicity of this debate but rather the failure of political and civil society to listen to women and our concerns or to foster good relations between people with different characteristics.

People in positions of political power and agency have belittled, ignored or attacked women for speaking up. Worse, very few have condemned the verbal and physical intimidation or the abuse that women have been subjected to. This includes the aggressive protest at the WPUK unofficial fringe at the Labour Party Conference in 2019 which was stirred up and supported by some Labour Party members and staff. We have never received a response to our official complaint. To our knowledge, only one Labour MP publicly condemned this intimidation.

Our campaign is committed to respectful debate. We believe that only by facilitating discussion on these issues can we arrive at a resolution that upholds everybody’s rights. We have organised 26 public meetings all over the UK as well as a Women’s Liberation conference of around 1000 people at University College London in February this year. These events have taken place in spite of serious and substantial obstruction including abuse, intimidation, aggressive protests and threats of violence. You can read a record of all the obstacles we have faced here.

We note that you tweeted your support for the Labour Campaign for Trans Rights and have signed the Labour Campaign for Trans Rights pledge calling for Labour MPs and supporters to:

  1. Organise and fight against transphobic organisations such as Woman’s Place UK, LGB Alliance and other trans-exclusionist hate groups.
  1. Support the expulsion from the Labour Party of those who express bigoted, transphobic views.

 These two demands of the Labour Campaign for Trans Rights would result in the expulsion of thousands of female Labour Party members for believing that sex is real and that women’s rights must be upheld.

This pledge only increases the ‘hysteria surrounding this issue’. We urge you and other Labour Party politicians to commit to proper dialogue rather than denunciation and ostracization.

We would remind you that the 2019 Labour Party Manifesto has a clearly stated commitment to the upholding of single-sex exemptions. To eject members who support this position would be in breach of Labour Party policy.

GRA Reform

The Government undertook a public consultation of its proposals to reform the GRA. This is right and proper in any democracy. Such a consultation allows all citizens to engage in a public discussion around changes to laws that will affect them.

The whole point of a consultation is to allow citizens to ‘influence’ the government consultation and its position on reform. To suggest that the Government should just have accepted the Women and Equalities Select Committee recommendations on GRA reforms without interrogation or wider discussion is a very worrying position for a democrat to take.

We have strong criticisms of the way the GRA consultation was carried out and it is clear that the concerns of women were not properly considered or responded to in the original inquiry.

Woman’s Place UK made a submission as did many other organisations and thousands of individual women and men. We don’t know which transphobic organisations you are referring to but we are happy to reassure you that we do not number amongst them. We are against all forms of discrimination. We believe in the right of everyone to live their lives free from discrimination and harassment.

We are not anti-trans and we do not campaign against trans rights. We campaign for women’s rights as they exist under the law, and with an expectation that any proposed change to the law must take women’s rights into account.

We work with a number of trans people: trans women who support our campaign have spoken from the platform and trans people, as well as those who have detransitioned, have attended in the audience and spoken both from the platform and as part of Q&A sections of our meetings.

We cannot answer for the Minister on these questions but we urge you to read the recently updated guidance from the NHS on treatment for young people with body dysphoria which makes it clear that not enough is known about the side-effects of hormone therapy and why caution is therefore essential.

We are pleased to see the Government recognise the very serious concerns regarding young people suffering from gender dysphoria. In particular, we have highlighted the huge increase in young women being referred to specialist gender identity services. We would like to see appropriate support from trained professionals for young people with gender dysphoria as they move into adulthood.

There are no reliable studies yet on the number of people who ‘detransition’ but through our campaign we are aware of a growing number of young women who have taken this step and you will be aware of the case of Keira Bell who is taking legal action against the Tavistock and Portman Clinic for authorising hormone therapy when she was unable to give informed consent.

The principle of Gillick competence established that parents have no right to veto medical treatment to which a minor, fully understanding what is proposed, consents. The statement by Liz Truss has no bearing on this principle. Having the maturity and understanding to consent relates to:

“the complexity and importance of the decision to be made. A young person who has the capacity to consent to straightforward, relatively risk-free treatment may not necessarily have the capacity to consent to complex treatment involving high risks or serious consequences.” (GMC, 0–18 years: guidance for all doctors).

As a feminist organisation we fully support the Gillick test of competence, as well as the Fraser Guidelines which specifically relate only to the issue of giving contraceptive advice and treatment to those under 16 without parental consent.

We agree that health care for trans people in the UK is underfunded and inadequate and we support better provision.  Mental health provision and care has been long underfunded and under-resourced. The cuts to the Children and Mental Health Services (CAMHS) have created a real crisis for provision to young people and their families. This must be urgently addressed.

We are deeply troubled that you have mischaracterised the well-founded concerns of thousands of people as hate. We hope that this response goes some way to reassuring you that what we want, and are committed to, is a society where the rights of everybody are recognised, resourced and upheld.

We look forward to working with you and others in the Labour Party to make that happen.

Yours sincerely,

Judith Green, Ruth Serwotka, Kiri Tunks

16th June 2020

 

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