I recently interviewed Lord Chris Smith of Finsbury (Labour), the very first MP to come out as gay (in 1983), and David Mundell, Conservative Secretary of State for Scotland, for a magazine feature which looked at why the British Parliament boasts more LGB members than any other parliament in the world. In East Worthing and Shoreham, where Labour’s Sophie Cook lost to Tory incumbent Tim Loughton at last month’s general election, just 5,000 votes stopped me from adding the “T” to LGB. As we commemorate 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in Britain, there are still no transgendered Members of Parliament at Westminster.
Despite – or perhaps because of – achieving a 19 per cent swing and more than doubling Labour’s share of the vote, Cook is still subject to Twitter trolling and death threats. On one occasion following the general election, she even had a man shout: “Show me your genitals” at her as she walked along a pavement in Westminster.
While homophobic bullying remains rife, in our schools, and on the streets, it seems unlikely that Cook would have been subjected to such vicious in-her-face abuse had she not been a transgendered woman.
Imagine if I was required to produce a certificate to prove I was a fully-fledged homosexual, or perhaps be awarded a pink star as in Nazi Germany, before the state recognised my right to self-determination. Yet that is exactly the situation Britain’s transgendered community finds itself in.
In order to obtain full recognition of their status, Trans people in the UK require a GRC, or Gender Recognition Certificate. To get one involves being subjected to the kind of scouring scrutiny that no one should have to endure, and if you are married, even requires a signed statement from your spouse. It is a process designed to be as humiliating as it is unnecessary, and presumes that a panel of complete strangers knows more about your own life than you do.
Any failure to jump through flaming hoops in order to get one can have dire and unexpected consequences.
Take the case of Vicky Thomson, who was found dead, aged 21, at Armley men’s prison, Leeds, in 2015. Thompson, who had identified as a woman for several years, had threatened to take her own life if she was sent to a men’s prison, but did not have a Gender Recognition Certificate, which would allowed her to be detained in a women’s prison instead.
Equalities minister Justine Greening, who earlier this year outed herself on Twitter as being in a same-sex relationship, thus becoming the first openly gay woman in the Cabinet, recently announced plans to overhaul the Gender Recognition Act. Most importantly she will scrap the requirement for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria before a transgendered person is able to apply for gender recognition.
Adopting proposals, which appeared in the 2017 Labour manifesto, but not the Conservative one, Greening added that the changes are all part of a move towards a fairer and more equal society. I’m already planning to attend the debate in the House of Commons, if only to witness the spontaneous combustion of the Democratic Unionist Party.
If Greening is serious about forwarding LGBT rights (and I’ve no reason to believe she isn’t), then she next has to work to end the ban of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, the only part of Britain where it remains unlawful. A task made all the more difficult since the Tories got into bed with the most expensive right-winger since Cristiano Ronaldo.
To allow such an anachronistic state of affairs to continue at the behest of a tiny minority party forced to use a veto in order to uphold the ban in the first place – after Northern Ireland Assembly Members narrowly voted for its abolition at the fifth time of asking – would be to deny the democratic process, not just in the Province but at Westminster, too.
Which is why all in the Labour Party must support Greening’s proposed changes to the law.
Personally, I can’t wait to interview our first transgendered MP, regardless of the party he or she represents – perhaps I’ll get to interview the UK’s first “non-binary’ or “intersex’ MP, a gender option included in Greening’s proposals – but I very much hope it will be a Labour MP. When asked why, as a 16-year-old, I joined the Labour party, my immediate answer was: “I’m a brown poof. Who else am I going to vote for?”
Despite the Tory Party’s conversion to LGBT rights, my cynical twin still believes that David Cameron’s introduction of equal marriage rights was more about turning gays into Conservatives than a genuine commitment to equality. I genuinely hope he’s wrong about this. How far Justine Greening is prepared to go to ensure all British citizens can call on the government to uphold equality will determine just how far along the evolutionary scale the Tories have progressed.
As Sophie Cook says: “We must fight together to protect the rights of everyone, regardless of their gender identity, sexuality, race, religion, gender or disability. Because until everyone is equal, then no one is.”