UK Political Transphobia

Yesterday, some transphobia finally appeared to be noticed as such by Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party. But is all as it appears?

Of course not.

Yesterday was Prime Minister’s Questions a weekly event of the frustratingly banal attempts to score political points under the guise of asking questions and attacking the opposition or bigging up successes in the hope that something will cut through outside the Westminster bubble. Yesterday, I think it did.

Esther Ghey, the mother of murdered trans teenager Brianna Ghey, was in the Gallery for the event prior to meeting with Keir Starmer. Starmer mentioned this as he opened his questioning – a question about u-turning on NHS promises. Rather than answer the question, Sunak goes on about the (many, many) times Keir Starmer has u-turned – including his supposed u-turn on trans rights – “…defining a woman—although, in fairness, that was only 99% of a U-turn.”

Starmer, naturally, called him out –

Of all the weeks to say that, when Brianna’s mother is in this Chamber—shame! Parading as a man of integrity when he has got absolutely no responsibility, it is absolute—[Interruption.]

I think the role of the Prime Minister is to ensure that every single citizen in this country feels safe and respected, and it is a shame that the Prime Minister does not share that view.

Wait, did I say “naturally”… I meant “exceptionally”. Because this is a rare occasion that Starmer has called him out rather than letting Tory transphobia slide or supporting it.

From just a couple of weeks ago – 24th January:

Sunak: The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about what Britain needs, what Britain wants and what Britain values—and that from the man who takes the knee, who wanted to abolish the monarchy, and who still does not know what a woman is. Just this week, one of his Front Benchers said that they backed teaching divisive white privilege in our schools. Looking at his record, it is crystal clear which one of us does not get Britain’s values.

Starmer: The Prime Minister spouts so much nonsense, no wonder they are giving up on him. Even now, as his Government crumble around him and his own MPs point out that he is out of touch and has no plan for growth, crime or building houses…

Keir Starmer’s not exactly leaping to the defence Trans folk there? Or People of Colour? He’s not calling out transphobia and racism, he’s ignoring it.

What about 26th April 2023 –

Sunak: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Leader of the Opposition’s record on women is questionable at best. Before Labour starts preaching about this issue, it should work out the answer to one very simple question. I am certain what a woman is. Is he?


I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the brave British personnel involved in the evacuation effort from Sudan. The Government must do everything in their power to urgently evacuate UK nationals still trapped in Sudan.

Yesterday, George Osborne said that the Tory party’s handling of the economy makes them “vandals”. He is right, isn’t he?

Once again, leaping into inaction1.

But this time he has. The difference – the only difference? Sunak has broken an unwritten rule of etiquette that you do not insult dead relatives of visitors from outside of politics. That, it seems to me, is a large part of what Starmer’s anger is about. After all, Starmer said nothing after Brianna’s murder – indeed a few weeks prior he’d supported the vetoing and blocking of Scotland’s Gender Recognition Reform and said that 16 year olds – like Brianna – were too young to know their own gender.

But after her murder he was silent. This is his first acknowledgement of the case.

And now he’s trying to pal around with Esther Ghey and showing an “open mind” to her campaigns2.

This is Starmer’s Tweet from after meeting Esther Ghey today

Today I met Esther Ghey, whose daughter Brianna was murdered last year. I am utterly in awe of her strength and bravery in the face of such unimaginable grief, as she campaigns to make sure no parent has to go through what she did. Labour will work with campaigners and parents like Esther to ensure our children and young people have the mental health support they need. It’s what Brianna and her family deserve.

Spot anything missing?

Esther Ghey herself has commented on her charity Facebook Page today –

I don’t wish to comment on reports of wording or comments recently made. My focus is on creating a positive change and a lasting legacy for Brianna.

Through Peace & Mind, we want to improve lives by empowering people, giving them the tools they need to build mental resilience, empathy and self-compassion through mindfulness. In developing these skills, I hope that we can create a more understanding, peaceful and stronger society for everyone.

Notice anything not just missing but dismissed?

Esther Ghey’s campaigning explicitly refuses a queer or trans lens – not just here, but in other things she has done. That’s fine, that’s her right – it is so difficult to engage with transphobia when it hits as close as this does and not everyone is going to be able to do so (and we don’t necessarily want cis voices drowning out trans voices either). But I am really worried that Esther Ghey is going to be used by Starmer – or others – to somehow pinkwash their way out of the anti-trans bigotry he and his party keep on showing without having to actually address the specifics of that hostility which made Brianna’s – and other trans folks’ – worlds so much more difficult.

I hope yesterday marks an improvement in political and media attitudes towards trans people, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

Edit to Add: Oh… Sunak and his Ministers have spent most of today pretending that what he said was all A-OK because his point was all about Starmer’s u-turns. We didn’t miss the point of his response – we take issue with the content and way that response was delivered – using trans people as a punching bag.

  1. I should thank “Angela Glansbury” for reassuring me that these things were findable in Hansard after my original search attempts suggested that even “woman” hadn’t been said since 2017 ↩︎
  2. Ghey’s campaigns include Mindfulness in Schools and, more recently, comments on restrictions on social media and web access for under-16s which a queer or trans lens easily reveals as harmful and something to be fought against ↩︎


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