Labour’s leader said it does “everybody a disservice” to reduce the debate to single comments like “only women have a cervix”
Keir Starmer has pleaded for “mature debate” after a Labour MP avoided the party conference due to her views on trans rights.
The Labour leader suggested Rosie Duffield’s comment that “only women have a cervix” was “not right”, and it does “everybody a disservice” to reduce the debate to single comments like hers.
Sir Keir said the MP, who said she had received advice that her security could be at risk at the Brighton gathering, should be welcome to attend safely.
But he suggested she should not have made her comment, adding: “The trans community are as I say, the most marginalised and abused of many.”
His view that she should not make the comment prompted an immediate furious backlash on social media.
The Canterbury MP told The Sunday Times she feared LGBT rights activists would “have a massive go at me” over her views, including a 2020 tweet in which she said “only women have a cervix”.
She said she was “exhausted” and at times “frightened”, adding: “We have had Labour MPs who have had to have security at conference over the past few years, and I didn’t want that sort of attention or to become the story.
“I just thought it was better for everyone if I quietly stayed away.”
It is part of a bitter dispute between trans women who ask society to honour their wish to be described as women, and some feminists who say the term should be reserved for those who were born biologically female.
Ms Duffield posted in August 2020: “I’m a ‘transphobe’ for knowing that only women have a cervix….?!”
She also ‘liked’ a Twitter post which said “heterosexuals cosplaying as the opposite sex and as ‘gay’” were reclaiming the word “queer”.
Cosplaying is a term for dressing up and the remarks were branded “extremely homophobic and transphobic” by LGBT+ Labour.
Two of Ms Duffield’s staff members quit last year over her views and LGBT+ Labour demanded she have the whip suspended.
Her comments to the Sunday Times also prompted a fierce debate within the party, with some MPs exasperated that the issue was gaining traction instead of Labour policy.
Asked if “someone who thinks only women have a cervix is welcome in the Labour Party”, Keir Starmer told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “Look, we need to have a mature respectful debate about trans rights.
“And we need to I think bear in mind that the trans community is amongst the most marginalised, abused communities and wherever we’ve got to in the law we need to go further.
“And we want to go further on that. But whatever the debate is, it needs to be a tolerant debate and I’m absolutely sure out conference will be a place that is safe for that debate to take place, and it is.”
Asked if it is transphobic to say only women have a cervix, Sir Keir replied: “It is something that shouldn’t be said, it is not right, but I don’t think that -“
Asked why Rosie Duffield should not have said that, he replied: “I don’t think that we can just go through various things that people have said. I spoke to Rosie earlier this week and told her conference was a safe place for her to come and it is a safe place for her to come, and I spoke to others to make exactly the same principle.
“We do everybody a disservice when we reduce what is a really important issue to these exchanges on particular things that are said. The trans community are as I say, the most marginalised and abused of many many communities and we need to make progress on the Gender Recognition Act.”
He added: “I am very concerned that this debate needs to be conducted in a proper way in which proper views are expressed in a way that is respectful.”