I used to write a lot about sex and gender here. I don’t do so quite as much these days for a few reasons, one of which is that the issues involved are now better recognised and better handled by people whose job it is to deal with the complexities of policies and conflicts of rights and arguments.
An example of that came at the weekend when Baroness Falkner, the new chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, told the Times that women should not be penalised or abused if they believe that transgender women do not become female by dint of their professed identity.
‘Someone can believe that people who self-identify as a different sex are not the different sex that they self-identify,’ she said. ‘A lot of people would find this an entirely reasonable belief.’
In other words, the UK’s human rights authority says you don’t have to accept that trans women are female. That’s a big deal, as anyone who has followed this debate will know. It’s also a sign that it’s getting easier to debate the implications of policy and practice around sex and gender, which is a good thing for all concerned. Policies that are properly debated can gain public confidence in a way that is impossible for policies that are implemented quietly and without open discussion.
When I started writing about these issues, it was partly because I was worried that politics was failing to facilitate those discussions. In a few months in 2018, I collected dozens of private accounts from serving parliamentarians from several parties, who said they believed that some policies and practices aimed at benefiting trans people could have adverse effects on other people’s rights, status and services, especially women. Yet almost none of those politicians would say so publicly, because they felt the climate around the issue was simply too hostile and toxic.
That worried me, and in some cases annoyed me. I fully understand that politicians are human and don’t relish jumping into a vipers’ nest of anger and abuse, but it’s also the job of politicians to lead, even when that’s difficult. That means finding ways to drain the poison from the public debate and having the courage to discuss complicated, contentious things, even if doing so makes some people unhappy.
So, having been a bit rude about politicians and their failure to debate sex, gender and public policy, I feel like I should be nice about those who do their job and discuss these things. Which is why most of the rest of this column is the text of a short speech by Tonia Antoniazzi, the Labour MP for Gower.