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5 January 2022

Why the right should champion trans rights

Conservatives stand for individual rights and freedoms – those of trans people should be no exception.

By Tom Harwood

I am a Brexiteering, tax-cutting, family-backing, free-trading, marketeering kind of individual. So why am I irritating much of my conservative following by taking a stand over the rights of trans people in this country?

Firstly, the position I have taken is not a new one. I’ve been vocal on these issues since I had the good fortune to be offered a platform, in writing and in broadcast. I like to think I have been consistently individualist.

The UK seems to be sliding backwards on the hard-won individual rights of trans people, rights that the right should heartily support. Placing individual rights ahead of those of the collective has been central to modern Conservative philosophy. Equally, respect, civility and politeness have all been at the core of what British conservatives like to believe. Yet when it comes to transgender rights, these principles are jettisoned in favour of ugly discrimination.

An invented narrative of a “clash of rights” has reared its gruesome head. It relies on the fiction that trans women (note how often trans men are left out of this conversation) are, by nature, predators. The argument goes that if trans women are allowed into female spaces then women who are not trans would be put at risk. It is an argument of lazy, offensive and untrue stereotypes. What’s more, it is an argument of manic collectivism.

The edge-case arguments about prison places that are so often dragged to the forefront of this debate can easily be solved on an individualist basis. Some trans women would be at horrendous risk in male prisons and are, therefore, suitable for female ones. Yet for others who, for example, appear to have made no medical transition or have been convicted of specific crimes, such institutions are entirely inappropriate.

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The point here is that the conservative ethos of healthy individualism on a case-by-case basis provides the obvious answer to these arguments. We are not, after all, numbers in a state computer.

The idea that it is easier for a predatory man to spend years pretending to be transgender than to simply break into a female space is for the birds. No changing room asks for your birth certificate. A trans woman is far more likely to be at risk herself than pose a risk to others.

Yet despite some vocal centrists, leftists and feminists promoting the trans-exclusionary cause, it is still Conservatives who are perceived as more transphobic. This is unhealthy, inconsistent and detrimental to the cause of transgender rights. If trans rights remain the preserve of one political party in this country, or worse, one narrow ideological faction – particularly one in opposition – they will struggle to advance.

I have no doubt that one of the reasons the UK parliament is among the most representative of gay people in the world is due to David Cameron and his conservative championing of equal marriage. Unlike other parts of the world, thanks to Cameron, the equal marriage debate was less partisan. For decades, there has been a strong liberal strain in the “capital C” Conservative movement in this country.

Indeed, Margaret Thatcher defied the majority of her own party to vote to decriminalise homosexuality in 1967. In 2003, Boris Johnson also challenged Tory consensus by voting to abolish Section 28. History has looked kindly on those Conservatives willing to support emancipation, no matter where the majority of their tribe stand at the time.

The analogies between the abhorrent 20th-century stories of homophobia and racism and mainstream transphobia today are clear to see. They centre around casting trans people as other, as dangerous, as predators.

Conservatives pride themselves on being far-sighted on so many aspects of policy. On national debt. On supply-side reform. It is only natural to do so on transgender rights too.

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