Call for respect as debate on trans rights gets ‘polarised’

The Scottish Government’s equalities minister has attempted to calm an internal SNP row over transgender rights by stating that people concerned about the impact of changes to the Gender Recognition Act are not “motivated by transphobia”.

Shirley-Anne Somerville says womens' concerns are not 'transphobic'. Picture: John Devlin
Shirley-Anne Somerville says womens' concerns are not 'transphobic'. Picture: John Devlin

Shirley-Anne Somerville, who declared herself to be a “trans ally”, also appealed for the “polarised debate” about transgender rights to become more respectful.

In a government blog, she said she believed that there was “not so much a problem with the rights of trans women but instead a fear of men who abuse women”.

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She added: “People raising genuine concerns about women’s rights shouldn’t suffer knee-jerk accusations of transphobia. However, it is also impossible to deny that there is a considerable degree of transphobia in our society.”

The row over transgender rights has been sparked by proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act which would allow people to “self-declare” their preferred gender, rather than having to gain a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria. There have been concerns raised that this could erase women’s sex-protected rights, including the right to women-only spaces.

The blog was published a day after a private conversation, critical of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s stance on transgender rights and held between SNP MSPs Gillian Martin, Ash Denham and Ruth Maguire, was leaked on social media by an SNP activist. Another SNP MSP, Joan McAlpine, has also been subject to abuse since she publicly spoke out about her concerns around the GRA changes.

The First Minister yesterday tweeted her support for Ms Somerville’s statement, and last night Ms McAlpine said she welcomed the acknowledgement that “women raising concerns were not transphobic”.

She added: “Trans people correctly already have legal protections which we all support. However, sex self-ID means the term ‘trans woman’ is broadened to be almost meaningless, as any male can say they are female without making physical changes to their body and then access single-sex services.

“As well as safety, this potentially impacts on legal rights to dignity, privacy and fairness in sport. All women should be able to discuss these matters openly. It is particularly important MSPs can speak up without being attacked.”

But feminist group Women and Girls in Scotland said Ms Somerville’s blog “confirms our fears re the Scottish Government’s complete failure to understand women’s concerns re their GRA proposals, or to understand the wider issues due to changes to female-only provision.

“It is also incredibly concerning … [that] Shirley only said we should all unite around transphobia, with no mention of misogyny at all, despite recent misogynist attacks on MSPs, & violent threats made towards women & a grassroots feminist group.”