This was written in response to the recent statement published in the Morning Star. It has also been submitted to the Morning Star for publication.
We, the undersigned, delegates at the 2018 TUC LGBT+ Conference, trade unionists, and LGBT+ activists, are disappointed with the tone and reasoning behind a letter signed by members, leaders, and organisers of the Trades Union movement, which was published in the Morning Star on the 4th of July, the day before the TUC LGBT+ Workers Conference.
In the letter, entitled “Improving the climate of debate around proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act,” the signatories show their concern for what they claim are the violent tactics deployed by “some trans activists” which, according to them, leave “many women […] simply too frightened to attend meetings that are both public and lawful in order that they may discuss their own rights.”
As trade unionists ourselves, and as LGBT+ activists, our issue with said letter is obviously not the condemnation of violence that seems to be its primary subject matter. Instead, we are concerned with its timing and the rhetoric it deploys.
We agree that the climate of debate needs to be changed, and that no person should be intimidated out of engaging within our collective political life. But in agreeing to continue on the path to significant change, we find absolutely deplorable the way in which this particular letter conflates, erases, and reverses the many changes we have collectively gained with respect to different forms of oppression and exploitation. Chief among them, the letter exploits the wider historic, social and media narrative that maligns and misrepresents transpersons and indeed “women” to continue the symbolic and real oppression of both.
This month we commemorate the 49th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, in which trans and non-binary folk confronted state oppression enacted in the NYPD raid of The Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village. It was those early trans and non-binary activists who triggered what was to become the fight for LGBT+ liberation, a fight that, from very early on, ran alongside the struggle of the labour movement against all forms of exploitation and oppression.
It is unfortunate that, at a time when we remember that event, some in the Trade Union movement have decided to resurrect older abuses, and reenact some patterns of media hostility whilst advocating for less intimidation and increased political inclusion. Such a scaremongering position continues to pit “women” against “trans activists”, to deny trans folk the right to use toilets assigned to the gender they identify with, and to–over and over again–to present the cis-woman as the “natural” woman, despite all the decades of stories and research that have shown the fact that there is no universal experience of gender.
In making use of a rhetoric style that maintains a division between trans women and “women” the signatories of that letter are contributing for the segregation and oppression of trans folk, even if that may not be their intention.
As trade unionists, as LGBT+ activists, and as members of TUC-affiliated unions, we condemn the irresponsible language used in that letter, and we stand shoulder to shoulder with all our trans and non-binary siblings, within and beyond the Trades Union movement, in our collective struggle against all forms of oppression and exploitation. Ours is a single struggle against capitalism, white supremacy and heteropatriarchy. And we invite the signatories of that letter to debate these issues better with their fellow trade unionists, whilst being more attentive to the kinds of language they choose to use, in order not to reproduce the forms of oppression we collectively seek to eliminate.
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