A group of Labour members have begun legal action over proposed changes to the party’s policy on the formal inclusion of self-identifying trans women on all-women shortlists.
The challenge comes after it emerged last week that the equalities committee of Labour’s ruling body proposed clarifying that all-women shortlists and women’s reserved places were open to self-defining women.
In a legal letter seen by the Guardian a group of Labour women, including community coordinator and campaigner Pilgrim Tucker and activist Jennifer James, have written to the party to demand clarification on its policy to establish whether it was in breach of the Equality and Gender Recognition acts. Last year the government said it would consult on reforming the Gender Recognition Act, to allow transgender people to self-declare their gender. Under current law, anyone wishing to transition must demonstrate they have lived as that gender for two years.
James has raised £26,000 to bankroll a potential legal challenge; she was suspended from the Labour party in January after accusations of transphobia following online comments. After her suspension James tweeted: “I’ve been suspended from the Labour Party for saying women don’t have dicks.”
Tucker said debate around the issue of self-identification had become very polarised, with reasonable debate stifled.
“This [legal action] is about abiding by current equalities legislation, not getting ahead of the law,” she said. “But this is a part of a much wider issue. There are risks and there are important discussions to be had before any changes to the Equalities Act and the Gender Recognition Act. This has to be an educated, informed decision, not one that has been taken out of heightened emotion or an unwillingness to hurt people’s feelings.”
Opposition to the proposed changes gathered momentum this week, with two meetings held by groups who oppose changes to the Gender Recognition Act which would allow transpeople to change legal gender without a medical assessment.
Community organiser Lucy McDonagh, who attended the event, said she had been labelled a bigot for asking questions about proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act. “Literally just asking a question if these changes could potentially affect women’s safe spaces is deemed as being transphobic. So lots of women, especially working class women, are scared to ask,” she said. “We have had to access this particular space because no one else has allowed us to speak about it. We are trying to find out about law, and we are trying to find out why women have been cut out of the conversation that statistically most affects them.”
A second meeting, in Birmingham, was organised on Thursday by Woman’s Place UK , which is hosting a series of events around the country and describes itself as enabling “proper debate and discussion on sex, gender and the GRA”.