What is the Labour party really saying on sex and gender?

28 July 2023

Public Policy Researcher Carys Moseley looks at new comments from Labour on its transgender policy

On Monday, Anneliese Dodds, the chair of the Labour party, put in writing in an article in the Guardian what Labour’s position will be on sex and transgender policies from now on.

Sections of the press are cheering this on as Labour finally ditching Keir Starmer’s previous plans to promote self-identification. Is this true?

Pretending to be the balanced middle way

The first that Anneliese Dodds does in her article is to position Labour as different from both the Conservatives and the SNP. She attacks Conservative MP Lee Anderson for saying the Conservatives should fight the next general election with “a mix of culture wars and trans debate”. Her argument is that both women and transgender people are among the most vulnerable in society, and therefore this is inappropriate.

Regarding the SNP, she says its support for gender self-identification “seemed to be more about picking a fight with Westminster than bringing about meaningful change”. This suggests she is really in favour of self-identification. Of course, on that basis her only reason for bashing the SNP is that it was supposedly primarily motivated to oppose Westminster. However, in the same breath, she says “the safeguards that were proposed to protect women and girls from predators who might abuse the system were simply not up to scratch.” This consideration is an afterthought, with self-identification by gender foregrounded. It seems she has not yet learnt anything from the SNP fiasco.

Keeping the paperwork in place

Only after this does Dodds go on to discuss the central question: that of the demedicalisation of gender dysphoria. Again, she positions Labour as different from the SNP, clearly eyeing Scottish Westminster seats. She says Labour “will not make the same mistakes.”

“The requirement to obtain a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria remains an important part of accessing a gender recognition certificate.”

In other words, the purpose of a medical diagnosis is primarily to get that official piece of paper that allows you to lie about your sex and change your birth certificate.

Keeping NHS ‘support services’ going

According to Dodds, the Gender Recognition Certificate enables helping “trans people into the NHS for support services”. Such services would all be geared towards facilitating transition rather than questioning it.

It is rather telling that Dodds is completely silent on the major need for healthcare services for people who regret gender reassignment.

What are Labour’s sources about transgender healthcare?

According to Dodds, “nearly a quarter of trans people don’t know how to access transition-related healthcare”. The big question here is, what source is there for this statistical claim? She doesn’t provide a hyperlink to any such source. In any case, any statistical claims about transgender issues now need to reckon with the fact that the 2021 Census count of people’s gender identity was a complete farce. This means that who counts as a trans person is unclear.

Finally, Dodds proudly concurs with the fact that gender dysphoria is “no longer classified – and stigmatised – as a psychiatric disorder”. The obvious problem here is this: what is the justification for diagnosing it at all on the NHS, and then for offering physical procedures as adequate treatment?

Diagnosis by only one doctor required

The main proposal by Labour for changing the official procedures for gender recognition is to reduce the number of doctors required to make a diagnosis of gender dysphoria to one.

“The current process also requires a panel of anonymous doctors to decide something of momentous significance, based on reams of intrusive medical paperwork and evidence of any surgery. This is demeaning for trans people and meaningless in practice. A diagnosis provided by one doctor, with a registrar instead of a panel, should be enough.”

Dodds sentimentalises the process, on the one hand complaining that the panel of doctors is anonymous. On the other she complains this is based on “reams of intrusive medical paperwork and evidence of any surgery”. In other words, the doctors authorising the process should not be anonymous, whereas transgender people have a greater right to privacy.

Why is this happening?

Leaving aside the general election, the big question is why reduce the number of doctors involved in making a diagnosis to one. Is it possible that increasing numbers of doctors do not want to be involved in facilitating people’s sex-change fantasies because they are turning against the entire process?

Public opinion has been turning against the falsification of birth certificates of transgender people. Many doctors are bound to agree. Indeed GPs were always unhappy about transsexual procedures on the NHS. This is why the NHS in England had to set up a special system for prescription of cross-sex hormones, paying GPs extra money to do this.

Dissident therapist raises the alarm

Therapist James Esses warns that Dodds’ words are empty words. If people only need to see one doctor, this could open the door to greater use of private gender clinics, which never receive public scrutiny.

“In reality this may allow applicants to go to one of the many private gender clinics in the UK and pay a few hundred quid to get a diagnosis, possibly after just a single conversation with a doctor. After they receive a certificate, they could potentially then be allowed to enter a number of women-only spaces. This undermines safeguarding.”

It will require bravery for any politician to address these risks.

Wishing the problems away by tinkering with the paperwork

It is very significant that Dodds is silent in her article on the need to define sex biologically in statute law. This is despite her promise that Labour will uphold the Equality Act 2010. One suspects that this is due to former Stonewall CEO Nancy Kelley recently meeting with Keir Starmer and Anneliese Dodds.

It is impossible to shake off the view that Labour is wishing away the problems by tinkering with paperwork.

How different are Labour and the Conservatives?

The Conservatives did the right thing in stopping gender self-identification. However it is important to be clear here that the problems have not completely gone away. Under Liz Truss the cost of applying for a GRC was slashed to £5, thus making it as easy as possible for people to apply for one. Getting rid of the doctors’ panel by replacing it with a single doctor is going in the same direction. Also, the Conservatives have recently gone silent on defining sex in statute law, and Labour are saying nothing about it. Will either or both speak up before the general election?

I think Kemi Badenoch was right in telling the BBC that Labour’s current position amounts to a ‘copy and paste’ of the government’s position. Unfortunately for her this is not entirely flattering to the Conservatives. So far, both parties are playing a similar game sidestepping the key issues and hoping that by making the right noises, they can appear balanced and win the next general election. Responsibility to live based on truth and reality don’t get a look in either way.

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