Portsmouth CLP: What we would have said…

These are the speeches that would have been made by supporters of the Southsea motion if they have been able to contribute to the debate at Portsmouth CLP on Thursday 19th November. You can read an account of the meeting here.

Contributor 1: Tonight’s discussion has shown the importance of hearing people’s stories. This motion is intended to encourage everyone to share their stories of oppression without fear of repression or unfair labelling, and it aims to promote a much needed respectful, critical debate on the issue of sex, gender, and identity.

This is a complex debate and it would be naïve to believe otherwise. Like some people who do not support the motion said tonight, there is no agreement over what gender actually is. As such, this is not a case of one person having the wrong understanding of gender or no understanding of gender at all. Instead, this is a case of people having different views, in the awareness that no one holds the absolute, final truth. It is for this reason that the discussion about what gender is needs very much to be an open debate rather than a closed question. This does not mean that the right of minorities to exist is an open debate. It is not. And the motion neither suggested nor implied this. When it comes to gender, though, if we agree that there is no agreement about what gender is – and many of you have agreed that tonight – then this is all the more a good reason to encourage discussion, because gender, and the oppression that can come with it, is a matter which affects all human beings.

I guess that we would all like to live in a world where sex differences have no meaning, where sex is irrelevant and does not represent an obstacle for anyone. I would like to live in that world. Yet, from a social point of view, I am aware that we are not there, yet. For now, this is an ideal, not a reality and denying the barriers that the meaning given to sex in society creates for some people is not the right way forward. There are still many things that need sorting out to get to that ideal, but how are we going to do so if we can’t have a meaningful debate about it? This motion does not ask people to take sides in this debate, which is complex and far from accomplished, but it encourages a much-needed, respectful discussion to move beyond its toxicity.

In this debate, everyone should have a voice, but, recently, listening to women’s voices has become controversial, disruptive. “Inclusive” language has become more and more exclusive of women.  But why should it be? Why should it be disruptive to listen to stories of women’s oppression? How do we get to that ideal world if we listen to some voices but ignore others? Why should listening to women’s voices be a synonym of denying the oppression of other minority groups?

Women, like all other oppressed groups and minorities, need the language to speak about their own oppression too. In order for language to be truly inclusive, it needs to speak to the oppression that women experience as well as to the oppression that other minority groups experience, and, crucially, it must acknowledge the contextual differences that affect them. Denying or ignoring these will not do anyone a favour.

Taking the word “woman” away from women, like tonight’s amendment to the motion has done, will not take women’s oppression away, it will only take away their ability to speak about it. And other minority groups will not benefit from the silencing of women. Like in all wars between oppressed groups, the ones who really benefit are those who are already in power. This motion is a call to move beyond that “war” to find a way forward that works for all of us.

Contributor 2: I am a social worker and social work is an evidenced based profession as stated in our professional standards. We are also required to challenge thinking and test assumptions. We therefore need to be able to discuss the evidence available regarding the treatment for gender non conforming children or those experiencing gender dysphoria. This is particularly pertinent for girls and young women.

10 years ago, there were 40 boys and 32 girls referred to the NHS Gender Identity Development Clinic (GIDs). In 2019, the number of girls referred stood at 1740 which outstripped the 624 boys. This represents an increase of over 5000% for girls in less than 10 years.  Sweden experienced a similar increase but a 65% decline in referrals in autumn 2019 coincided with experts calling for the government to review protocols. I am pleased to see a similar review of gender identity services is planned for England.

Research in America also tells us that 62% of young people experiencing gender dysphoria had been diagnosed with neuro developmental disabilities or mental health problems. 41% expressed a non-heterosexual orientation.  Although results differ vastly between 5% and 54%, a study involving over 640,000 people found that 25% of gender diverse people are also autistic. There is also a high prevalence of reported childhood trauma and abuse in those experiencing gender dysphoria. We need to be able to ask why.

The government has recently made some changes to guidance but common advice given to teachers and other support workers is to affirm the child’s beliefs, rather than explore other possible reasons for their gender dysphoria or gender non-conforming behaviours.

The puberty blockers administered to children are used ‘off label’, which means that they have not been tested and licenced for this specific purpose.  The NHS has recently withdrawn their statement that these drugs are harm free and fully reversible.

Figures do differ but it’s argued that between 80 – 85% will grow out of their gender dysphoria without medical intervention. I am by no means claiming this is not the right route for some children and I also add that a waiting time for services that can run into years is unacceptable. I therefore welcome the news that more money has been promised to improve the situation.

My final comment is about consent. We are expecting our children, some of whom are as young as 10 or 11, to be able to make decisions about their futures which if the medical path is followed, can potentially lead to infertility and the need for medical support for the rest of their lives.

I have been called a bigot for daring to suggest that we need to explore these issues further. We need to ensure we are using the best evidence available to safeguard these young women, girls and indeed boys. To do this we need to be able to say the words ‘women’ and ‘girls’. I am sure you will agree that I and other social workers need to be able to explore the possibilities without fear of harassment and abuse. I am happy to provide references for all data quoted.

Contributor 3: I want to start by thanking the proposers for putting forward this important motion, which I fully support.

This motion is about the right of Women to be able to speak about those issues that affect us. Various means have been employed to prevent Women from participating fully in political life and it is no exaggeration to say that Women have endured thousands of years of documented silencing.

I want to share a quote with you, which I find particularly striking:

“If a woman speaks disrespectfully to a man, her mouth shall be crushed with a fired brick and that brick will be hung at the main gate”. This quote is from the c. 2350 BC Urukagina’s Code and represents the first written laws, carved into stone and silencing Women.

In recent years we have certainly witnessed an increase in open hostility towards Women speaking on the issue that this motion refers to; both within and outside of the Labour Party. Make no mistake – it is Women who bear the brunt of this hostility, in the form of protests at meetings, threats to our livelihoods; rape and death threats.

This is both an issue of Women’s rights and one of democratic principles.

In 2019 I re-joined the Labour Party. As a feminist and women’s rights activist I was glad to see commitments laid out in the Party Manifesto such as the creation of a modernised National Women’s Commission and a new department for Women and Equalities with a full-time Secretary of State, as well as a pledge to ratify the Istanbul Convention. Also, to ensure that single sex exemptions in the Equality Act 2010 are understood and fully enforced in service provision.

“Labour is the party of equality” states the manifesto.

Yet here we are, in 2020, having to put forward a motion asking you all to support our right to speak on this topic; to self-organise and to campaign for Women’s rights. Within the Labour Party. In 2020!

It seems obvious to me that complex issues must surely be discussed and debated; disagreements navigated. This is politics. And politics isn’t always easy. A Party that claims to be democratic must work to ensure that all have a voice, and that includes Women.

So yes, I support this motion and the fundamental principle in any democratic society – our right, as citizens (and in this case members of the Labour Party) to full political participation.

I support this motion.

This is what one man who wanted to support the motion would have said

Contributor 4: I am a relatively new member of the Labour Party and the first meeting that I attended was when this motion was debated by the Southsea Branch last March. In many ways, it was a very useful and interesting discussion, apart from a few moments when a couple of those speaking against the motion inferred that I was an entryist because I was in support of it, which as a new member and the only Black man in the room made me feel very unwelcome. But I’m not here to talk about my feelings.

I joined the Labour Party after the general election, deeply disappointed that Boris had got in but hopeful that by joining the Labour Party I would be able to contribute to a party seeking to bring about meaningful change to improve ordinary people’s lives nationally and internationally. To do that, the Labour Party nationally and locally needs to take a lead on making space for difficult conversations about issues which have real impact, and engage in real action to address them. This goes for racism. As an African, as an Arab and as a Muslim, I actually find it insulting when Labour Party figures take the knee and post it on Twitter, sometimes even with their pets, or propose to light up Portsmouth’s Spinnaker Tower purple in support of Black Lives Matter whilst at the same time cheerfully glorifying the British army who continue to kill black and brown people across the Middle East. Either Black Lives Matter everywhere or they don’t.

I see the same politics of superficial solidarity at play on the part of many of those who don’t want to have a conversation about how to balance women’s rights and trans rights. Yes, it is the safe, mainstream thing to do to use the hashtag “be kind” and promote trans awareness week and state your pronouns and claim that anyone – and especially any women – who suggest that there might be other, bigger questions to talk about is a bigot who must be silenced. But that is not the right thing to do. Nor will it help us challenge the many and different structural inequalities facing women and also trans people today. I urge you to support this motion.

Click here to read an account of the Portsmouth CLP meeting