Over the last few weeks, many party members of the SNP have been leaving the party due to transphobia. Although recent amendments to the Hate Crime Bill, in addition to the transphobic comments made by MP Joanna Cherry on Twitter, may have precipitated this shift, it is one which has been building for a long time. Indeed, these incidents are only the visible surface of transphobia in the party. According to trans activist Teddy Hope speaking in The Scotsman; “My friends have been complaining about transphobic abuse in the party for years… and just haven’t been getting any feedback or response from the party.”
I found myself in two minds about this issue. On the one hand, Sturgeon is the leader of the Scottish government and her statement sends a powerful message that transphobia is not acceptable in her party. This is more than the leaders of the major political parties in England have done. Labour and the Conservatives both have similar problems with rampant transphobia from a vocal minority within their parties, and yet this problem is still not being addressed by those in a position to actually do something about it.
However, whilst Sturgeon’s statement might be reassuring for some, for many people who have left the party due to its culture of transphobia, this reassurance is too little too late. For many ex-members, parties such as the Scottish Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Greens provide a better alternative to the SNP.
In my opinion, if you are going to call yourself an ally to trans people, you cannot stay silent until it jeopardises your own comfort or reputation to speak out against injustice. Trans rights are human rights, and silence is a privilege that most trans people do not have, because our existence and personhood are constantly up for debate in the British media.
Bigots are empowered by silence because it makes their voices seem louder than they actually are. But speaking out is not enough. Sturgeon now has the opportunity to listen to trans people to come up with solutions for how to make the SNP a party that they feel they can be a part of, that truly represents all Scottish people, not just those who happen to be cisgender.
More importantly, she should enact laws that mean that trans people in Scotland can live their lives safely, and that they have access to appropriate healthcare, employment, and protection against discrimination under Scottish law. This is more important than ever, as we are now out of the EU and it is uncertain whether the Equalities Act (2010) will guarantee trans people legal protection against discrimination.
On a positive note, Green Party Co-Leader Sian Berry who is running for mayor of London, has made trans rights a large part of her campaign, promising if elected to set up a commission that addresses the needs of trans Londoners in regards to healthcare, employment and housing, with the aim to make London the most “trans-inclusive city in the world.” In addition, she ambitiously claimed in Pink News that she would set up the commission within two months of election. Significantly, she also stated the importance of involving trans and non-binary people in the process, and said that “You should never do anything without involving the people you are trying to help, and you should never make any assumptions about the range of issues that might need to be raised.”
I think that Nicola Sturgeon could take a note from Berry, and should be listening to the remaining trans voices in the party to work out how to move forward. Unfortunately, for many ex-members who have lost faith in the leadership, trust will take a long time to rebuild. It is not as simple as asking members to “come home where they belong”.
Sturgeon and the SNP must earn back the trust of the trans community because they are not entitled to it, especially after years of ignoring the voices of trans people within the party.
Image courtesy of Sharon McCutcheon