For someone to be publicly accused of promoting “fear and discrimination”, they must surely have done something pretty damned awful, right?
Maybe they organised a campaign of intimidation or targeted a minority group. Perhaps their actions spilled over into violence.
It turns out that the threshold is rather lower than you might have assumed.
The Labour MSP Jenny Marra finds herself so accused on the basis of asking what seems to be a perfectly legitimate question.
Marra was prompted by new guidance issued to staff by NHS Lanarkshire on the matter of support for transgender staff.
The health board’s policy is that nobody should be obliged to use facilities “designated for use by the gender they were assigned at birth”. Why, Marra asked, if NHS Lanarkshire believes gender is assigned at birth, does it offer expectant mothers the option of discovering their child’s sex at 20 weeks of gestation?
For highlighting this contradiction in a policy document, Marra – one of a number of female politicians who have raised concerns that plans to make it easier for people to self-identity as the gender of their choice stands to erode women’s sex-based rights – is now the target of a campaign by activists.
Labour LGBT+ Scotland – an affiliate of the Scottish Labour Party – is demanding that leader Richard Leonard takes action against the MSP.
Marra joins a number of other high-profile women – including the SNP MP Joanna Cherry, the novelist JK Rowling, and the veteran feminist campaigner and writer Julie Bindel – who find themselves accused of promoting hatred because they have dared raise questions about the tactics and aims of those pushing for reform of the Gender Recognition Act.
For asking how, for example, permitting male-bodied individuals to access safe spaces designated for the use of women, such as shelters or changing rooms, is in keeping with the Equality Act 2010, which provides legal protection for some single-sex facilities, they and countless other women have been on the receiving end of the most horrendous abuse. They are told that they are bigots and that they wish harm on trans people.
Men – surprise, surprise – are often the most aggressive in their condemnation of women raising concerns about GRA reform. I suppose it’s easier to fully explore one’s misogyny when you’ve dressed it up in “progressive” clothes.
The ideology promoted by trans rights activists is a rigid one. Anyone who declares themselves a woman is to be treated as a woman and permitted access to women’s spaces. Those who suggest this might be problematic are to be silenced. And women who dare not to be silenced must feel the consequences of their audacity.
Recently, for example, the writer Gillian Philip lost her main source of income after being dropped by her publisher for the crime of offering public support to JK Rowling over her concerns about the impact on women of GRA reform. Meanwhile, Lucy Hunter-Blackburn, Dr Kath Murray, and Lisa Mackenzie – a trio of policy analysts – faced an attempt to censor their views after complaints that an article they wrote on women’s rights, accepted by an academic journal published by Edinburgh University Press, was transphobic. Fortunately, this attempt failed.
These are halcyon days for the ideologue. In a fractured society, dogma – whether it concerns gender or politics or any number of other issues – provides a sense of identity. This new era of tribalism requires a strict set of rules, the first of which is that anyone who disagrees with us is malign. If someone holds a different opinion to that around which we gather, then their intention must be to harm us.
This leads us into the upside down, a world where the aforementioned Bindel – a feminist who has spent a working lifetime fighting for the rights of women and girls – is a hate figure and physical attacks on her can be excused on the basis that she is, in the words of those who disagree with her, a trans-exclusionary radical feminist, or TERF; where young gay women are asked to accept as sexual partners male-bodied people who identify as lesbians; where Rowling, a philanthropist whose charitable work has changed countless lives, is caricatured as a cold-hearted egotist, whose intention is not to speak up on behalf of women but to protect her right to spread hatred.
Many organisations – from major corporations to health boards to schools – are so eager to demonstrate their progressive instincts that they accept, without question, the “guidance” of trans rights activist groups which, routinely, reject women’s concerns.
Last week, the songwriter Nick Cave wrote a thoughtful piece on “cancel culture”, the contemporary phenomenon which – at its most extreme – sees those holding opinions that are considered problematic hounded out of jobs or threatened with violence. Political correctness, he wrote, has “grown to become the unhappiest religion in the world”. What began as an honourable attempt to reimagine society in a more equitable way, he added, “now embodies all the worst aspects that religion has to offer…moral certainty and self-righteousness shorn even of the capacity for redemption.”
Cave could have been addressing those now calling for the Labour Party to take action against Jenny Marra.
It may be that the most vocal trans rights activists will prevail and that those women now raising concerns about the gender recognition act will have to accept that male-bodied people are entitled to access single sex spaces established for the use of women. But it is by no means certain that this will be so.
The angrier and more aggressive campaigners become, the more they risk radicalising those who have concerns – or even wish simply to ask questions – about their objectives.
If Richard Leonard is bullied into disciplining Jenny Marra for asking a question, he should expect his party to lose more of the little support it retains. And those trans rights activists who wish to silence women may find that their sole achievement is the further marginalisation of the people they claim to represent.