“Fanning the flames of populist hate”

Labour MP Nadia Whittome has a way with words. Today she said the government’s endless prevarication over gender recognition (GRA) reform was “fanning the flames of populist hate”.

She’s right.

We’re now going into the third “silly season” where it’s open season on trans people in the media and on social media. GRA reform is the tenuous justification for it.

What was only ever a minor administrative change (and a manifesto commitment of all the major political parties) has been blown out of all proportion and used to excuse a multi-year campaign of vicious demonisation of trans people, particularly trans women. And that’s having a demonstrable effect on real-world hate crimes. The government could and should have prevented this.

Liz Truss responded:

Let me be absolutely clear. We will not be rolling back the rights of transgender people. It is important that transgender people are able to live their lives as they wish, without fear, and we will be making sure that is the case.

I don’t believe her, and I certainly don’t trust her.

I believe she had every intention of announcing a rollback of trans rights today – her government briefed the political editor of The Sunday Times to that effect a few weeks ago – but was prevented from doing so because the government didn’t anticipate tens of thousands of cisgender women contacting them to say “not in my name”.

And I think she is still trying to find a way to reduce trans people’s rights without changing the underlying legislation, such as changing the current guidance around the Equality Act to make it trans-exclusive rather than trans-inclusive as it currently is. That would enable her to say that she hadn’t changed the letter of the law while undermining both its spirit and its practical application.

Whatever she decides to do, if she actually decides to do anything, her government is complicit in “fanning the flames of populist hate”.

Its ill-judged consultation became a referendum on an extremely marginalised group’s basic human rights, and even though the majority of responses were in favour of reform it has repeatedly refused to publish its response, let alone take any action.

Not only that, but it has refused to correct any of the misinformation and outright falsehoods that now circulate about what GRA reform means and what a GRC entitles the holder to do. It’s not as if accurate information is hard to find. It was in the government’s own consultation documents.

The longer the government refuses to say what it will do, let alone actually do anything, the longer it leaves a vacuum that bad actors are only too happy to fill.

Three years ago, the Tories painted targets on trans women’s backs and ran away. Whether by malevolence or incompetence, I don’t know. But I do know that their inaction now looks very much like cowardice.