By Rod Webb

There’s something going on in the world of gender politics. Radio listeners follow the experiences of ‘a boy born in the wrong body’ in the drama Just a girl; university lecturers are told how to talk about gender identity; members of the Labour party start taking sides about whether transgender women should appear on all women’s short lists.

Despite their impact on everyday life, many people appear to know little about
the issues involved. But they reaIly should because the government is currently consulting on reforms to the Gender Recognition Act 2004 to make it easier for trans people to achieve legal recognition. This includes being able to self-identify as a man or a woman.

According to groups in the transgender movement this would remove unnecessary bureaucratic procedures. But groups in the women’s movement, believe this would take away hard-won rights from women.

Important decisions should be preceded by informed debate but, despite the consultation, there appears to be an attempt to shut down debate and polarise the arguments. From media coverage, the dominant view appears to be that transgender women are actually women, just like born females. Dig deeper and there are concerns that those with different views have been unwilling to speak out, afraid of verbal abuse or even violence.

ACCESS WOMEN-ONLY SPACES
A useful introduction to the women’s argument can be found in a talk given by Dr Kathleen Stock, of the University of Brighton, at a meeting of Woman’s Place UK, in July (available on Youtube).

She has also written extensively (www.medium.com) about the dangers of self-identification, such as ‘unscrupulous men’ using the legislation to access women-only spaces. In these articles she also writes about the online abuse she had received, after writing and talking about the subject. But despite this, it was surprisingly easy to contact
her and arrange an interview
for HIP.

Within a week I was sitting opposite Kathleen, in a café in Lewes, asking what had prompted her, only recently, to engage with the issue. She explained she had been bothered for a couple of years by small top-down changes at the university, to accommodate transgender ideology and she began worrying about its impact on academic freedom. However, she says: “I was in denial, and was actually concerned about the adverse effect speaking out would have on my professional life. Now my aim is to engage other academics in the debate.”

BALANCED AND REASONED DEBATE
Possible changes to the Gender Recognition Act also gave a sense of urgency to speaking out. She insists that academics from a range of disciplines, should be involved in the discussion, to ensure a balanced and reasoned debate: for example within university legal and sociology departments.

I asked what was causing the polarisation of views and where the abuse was coming from. Kathleen makes a distinction between the transgender rights movement which, she feels, is dominating the agenda and politicising the argument, and transgender people in general – a diverse group with many different views. Kathleen acknowledges that transgender people have suffered a lot over the years and that their rights are an important part of creating an inclusive society. But, her concern is that a small section of the transgender community are trying to silence the debate on how transgender rights can be enhanced without impacting the rights of others.

See www.gov.uk/government/consultations/reform-of-the-gender-recognition-act-2004  and Read the full interview with Dr Stock at here


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