It was one of the most heartrending things for me during the 2015 general election. As Labour Club chair at York, trying to rally the student vote for my party, I was told by too many people; “I’m not sure I can vote for Labour. In student politics they don’t stand up for the most marginalised in our society”.
It was a hard statement to respond to then, after national Labour Students had whipped to vote down a motion for a full time trans officer in the NUS. It was a move that disgusted me and most of my labour club at the time, but we had been powerless to stop it and I found myself deeply uncomfortable with the movement I was, and am, a part of.
Now, of course, a full time trans officer has passed through the NUS, with Labour Students support. York delegates to Labour Students proudly voted for a motion within our movement forcing that movement to do so. But it would be extremely naive to deny that Labour Students, and Labour more broadly, has a problem with trans inclusion still. Only this year, Labour Students National Council filibustered out a motion for a trans officer to make way for more time doorknocking, and the voice of the only out trans person at that Council was ignored.
We need to do more on equality, and especially on intersectional equality and on equality for trans people. One of the great problems with equality legislation is people being left behind and forgotten about. When same gender marriage was passed in this country, we missed huge chances to abolish the necessity of a binary gender identity in order to get married and to abolish the Spousal Veto (which effectively gives the spouses of trans people the right to veto them changing their legal gender). By failing to have truly intersectional equality legislation and policy, that engages all liberation groups, we risk leaving whole communities behind again.
As a member of Labour’s policy commission on Work, Pensions, and Equalities, that is something I think it important to keep in the forefront of my mind. It is something especially clear to me, as someone who may be from a marginalised group within the LGBT community, but who is not trans himself. We have to engage with everyone, or we won’t be the party standing up for the most marginalised in our society. And we should be.
So, we need to talk to trans women when we discuss women’s issues. We need to engage more with BAME and LGBT members when we talk about violence towards women and girls. We need our politics to be more inclusive and accessible for disabled people, whose rights are being destroyed by this Conservative government. Ultimately, my policy commission needs more submissions from party members about equalities, because the voices of our most marginalised members are close to silent right now.
I was particularly saddened to see the section of our consultation document on LGBT equalities basically without content, except a vague statement that Labour had done much in the past. I tried to get firm commitments and ideas suggested in that document, but the policy commission settled on that brief sentence. And, in a sense, I don’t disagree with that; we shouldn’t be speaking for marginalised groups, but instead amplifying their voices. This gives us the chance to do just that.
I’m particularly excited to see a fantastic policy proposal from a trans Labour member, calling for easier and more inclusive ways for people to change their legal gender, the inclusion of being trans in our education system, and the encouragement of gender neutral toilets. All these are simple changes that would dramatically alter the lives of so many people who are so often pushed out of our communities and out of our minds. These should be the voices that policy makers within the party hear loud and clear, and as a member of the National Policy Forum, I’ll be doing my bit to amplify them.
If you’re reading this and you’re a member of the Labour Party from any group that needs equalities legislation, reach out to us and contact the policy commission. As a party, we shouldn’t be about sitting on the laurels of what we’ve already achieved, however great, but about changing the world for the future. And your voice, as marginalised communities, should be much louder in that future.