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Why Sir Keir Starmer’s op-ed for Attitude cannot run without context or correction

Events have overtaken us, and it’s not good, writes Attitude publisher Darren Styles

By Darren Styles

Sir Keir Starmer in UK Parliament
Sir Keir Starmer (Image: UK Parliament)

Given he’s the would-be Prime Minister, about to lead a Government replacing one that has taken UK LGBTQ+ rights in general – and trans rights in particular – steadily backwards, Attitude asked Sir Keir Starmer to write an open letter to our readers ahead of tomorrow’s General Election.

It wasn’t a free hit by any means, since becoming the first gay owner of Attitude in the magazine’s 30-year history I have encouraged my colleagues to take a BBC-esque approach to political coverage: to paraphrase – “don’t get bogged down in who says it’s raining, get outside and check the weather.”

But it was an opportunity for Sir Keir Starmer to explain to a community that has seen the UK fall from being ranked as Europe’s most queer-friendly country in 2015, according to IGLA Europe’s Rainbow Map, to 15th this year, behind Greece, Spain and Ireland, why his is a mandate for change we can sign up to. 

It was an opportunity for him to offer reassurance to the almost 25,000 LGBTQ+ people on the receiving end of a hate crime in 2023. And to offer hope that the 11% rise in attacks on trans people last year could be reversed, not least as the Home Office itself attributed that rise to a developing anti-trans narrative.

A narrative that Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Government did not so much find thrust upon them, as create, encourage and even celebrate. A Prime Minister that joked about women with a penis, an Equalities Minister issuing guidance to schools that Government lawyers acknowledged conflicts with equality law, and a so-called independent review of trans issues that gave the Government last-minute cover to abandon trans kids without access to help or medication.

So why not offer the floor to the Labour leader? He’s on the record as promising “dignity” to trans people and a ban on quack conversion therapy. But between his copy arriving, on 23rd June, and today’s publication the earth moved beneath our feet.

Since then, the Labour leader has said that he’d be willing to meet with JK Rowling to discuss sex and gender, and “respects” her views, and that he thinks David Tennant should have been more “respectful” to Kemi Badenoch in Tennant’s public message to her on the same subject. 

He also told The Telegraph that he is not in favour of “ideology being taught in our schools on gender.” Then, this week, in an interview with The Times, he was presented with the following question by Rowling: “Do biological males with gender-recognition certificates have the right to enter women-only spaces? It’s a simple yes/no question.” To this, he replied: “No, they don’t have that right. They shouldn’t. That’s why I’ve always said biological women’s spaces need to be protected.”

So, for absolute clarity, on the basis of being pressed by a billionaire author who sometimes pretends to be a man when it suits her for the purpose of writing her books, with a record of misgendering trans people, our would-be Prime Minister aligns himself with the outgoing one. He now apparently believes, despite there having been no issue around such things in decades, a trans woman should use a men’s washroom and, presumably by way of equivalence, that somebody presenting as a bearded, hairy trans man should use the ladies.

Last Friday (28th June), Attitude went back to Labour HQ. We asked that, before we published his open letter, Sir Keir agreed – in due course – to meet with us and Caroline Litman, the mother of Alice Litman, a trans woman who took her own life in 2022 after waiting 1,023 days for her first appointment with the GIC at Charing Cross. An appointment for which, were she alive today, she’d still be waiting.

It’s better, surely, to commit to trans policy having first spoken to trans people or their families, and not just Scottish authors who – as Newsweek pointed out back in 2020 – share a nom de plume with the inventor of the very LGBTQ+ conversion therapy Sir Keir has promised to ban?

Almost a week later, Attitude has not received a response from Sir Keir or the Labour Party to this request despite two follow-up emails to his office.

We pondered spiking the open letter and moving on. But tomorrow, 4th July, we go to the polls and too many of the choices the LGBTQ+ community faces are unpalatable ones. And we need all of the information that reasonably exists to make the best choice we can.

Much of what follows in Sir Keir’s missive is positive and indeed impressive, does offer hope of genuine change and will likely reverse, in part, the trend of decline in LGBTQ+ rights in the UK. But, in our opinion and in light of events, it is equivocal in parts in that it makes no mention of the trans issues that have subsequently come to light.

And Attitude is clear: LGBTQ+ rights include trans rights, trans rights are human rights and human rights are not political. Or at least shouldn’t be. It’s politicians that make human rights political, and when they do so in search of popularity, support and/or power you have but one chance to hold them to account.

As I said at the outset, it’s not for us to report the weather as others would tell it, but to look outside. And for our trans siblings the skies have rarely been darker. 

Hear all sides, but in voting tomorrow – as a member of the LGBTQ+ community – remember we are stronger together, as LGB and T. And the incoming Prime Minister needs to hear you say so, loud and clear.

Open Letter from Sir Keir Starmer to Attitude readers

This general election marks a turning point for Britain: to continue with 14 years of drift and division, or to turn the corner and change our country for the better. 

During Pride month, I know that this is particularly true across the entire LGBT+ community. The progress we have largely taken for granted over the past decades now feels like it’s under threat.

Hate crime on our streets has skyrocketed. Hate crimes based on sexual orientation more than doubled in the last five years, while transphobic hate crimes have nearly tripled in the same period. That’s just absolutely appalling, and I know many Attitude readers will have either been victim to this or know someone that has. 

I’ve seen first-hand the pernicious impact of such crime. As a teenager, my friend Graham, a gay man, was attacked by homophobic thugs. Coming to his aid, another friend and I were also beaten. Decades later, in 2022, a family member was the victim of a similar attack, fracturing her cheekbone, just weeks after her wedding.

Yet, instead of standing up for LGBT+ rights and bringing people together, the Conservatives have pitted people against each other, stoking culture wars that have put vulnerable people in danger. 

Their record in government is shameful. They have ditched their LGBT Action Plan and disbanded their LGBT Advisory Panel, while u-turning on promises to reform the Gender Recognition Act and to ban the insidious practice of so-called conversion therapy. At this election, their manifesto makes no new commitments at all on advancing LGBT+ equality.

That’s why I say we cannot take for granted the hard-fought progress over several decades. Secured by Labour trailblazers such as Chris Smith, now the Baron Smith of Finsbury, who came out as the first openly gay British MP in 1984, and Angela Eagle, the second openly lesbian MP.

LGBT+ representation now stretches across the political spectrum. At this election, Labour has many brilliant LGBT+ candidates, from Olivia Bailey in Reading West and Mid Berks, to Danny Beales in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, to Polly Billington in East Thanet.

The impact of Chris, Angela and others reflect Labour’s absolute commitment to equality. We will always stand against division and hatred. If the public puts its trust in us at this election, it will be incumbent on us to bring communities together once again and take LGBT+ rights forward. We’ve done it before, and we will do it again. 

The Labour Party and the LGBT movement have a history of achieving incredible things together. We decriminalised homosexuality, repealed Section 28, introduced civil partnerships and created the Gender Recognition Act and Equality Act. 

A whole raft of ground-breaking new laws that moved the dial towards the equal rights LGBT+ people deserve, protecting people from discrimination, and changing lives.

But as progressive and ground-breaking as our achievements were then, progress never stands still, and we can never take it for granted. We must keep pushing, keep fighting, keep working together, for a fairer society where LGBT+ people aren’t just safe – but celebrated, welcome, and included.

It’s why I have called out the Tories’ toxicity and division. It’s why I was proud to march at London Pride with friends from across the Labour Party. And it’s why our manifesto promises the progress that is needed on LGBT+ rights.

We will strengthen the law, so every existing category of hate crime – including that perpetrated against LGBT+ people – is treated as an aggravated offence. We will implement a full, trans-inclusive ban on conversion practices, which we recognise as psychologically damaging abuse. Through modernising the Gender Recognition Act, we will remove indignities for trans people, enabling access to healthcare as we rebuild the NHS.

We are committed to tackling all health inequalities, and strongly supported the decision taken last year to give same-sex couples equal access to IVF in the NHS. Before this change, lesbian and bi women faced an unacceptable postcode lottery, often forced to spend thousands or tens of thousands of pounds on private treatment before accessing IVF on the NHS.

We will also tackle broader injustices which disproportionately impact LGBT+ people. We know too many LGBT+ youth end up on the streets, so we’ll bring in a new unit to tackle homelessness and transform the lives of the 24% of the youth homeless population who identify as part of the community. 

Sadly, we also know too many just can’t access the mental health treatment that they need. We will recruit 8,500 new mental health staff to improve access to mental health support across the country. Elsewhere in the NHS, we are fully committed to the Terrence Higgins’ Trust’s target to end new cases of HIV in the UK by 2030, which would make our country the first in the world to achieve this.

The Labour Party is committed to a decade of national renewal. I want every person to feel proud and confident in who they are, every person to be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve, and everyone to enjoy the same rights and opportunities. 

If we win on 4th July, the next Labour government will once again advance LGBT+ rights, build stronger and more compassionate communities, and bring transformative change to Britain.

But change can only come if you vote for it.

Sir Keir Starmer