by Lee-Anne Lawrance

CW: transphobia

As we approach the (extended) close of the consultation to the reform of the Gender Recognition Act, one group of activists is calling for a calm and rational debate – or in their words, a ‘respectful and evidence-based discussion’.

The current debate has been dominated by a group of so-called ‘feminists’ and supporters  who oppose the changes, citing ‘concerns’ for women. The concerns they raise however are based on false information. Nothing short of propaganda is used to disseminate this false information to the wider public.

Organisations such as Women’s Place UK and FairPlayForWomen are some of the biggest campaigners on the issue, and they have repeatedly used sensationalist language and scare tactics in their campaigns. This is a commonly used tactic  by the far right, which relies on manipulating people through fear. We have seen these kinds of tactics before. You might remember the ‘hoards of immigrants’ Brexit campaign; as well as more historical examples such as ‘the red scare’ during the Cold War era and the anti-semitic propaganda of 1920s Germany.

When these groups talk about ‘women’ they intentionally mean ‘cis women’ and not trans women.

Although fearmongering and scare tactics are often associated with nationalism and racism, they have now been employed in the charge against trans rights, resorting to the all too common trope that ‘trans women are dangerous men’. This attack on trans rights is wrapped in the palatable packaging of ‘concerns for women’, which attracts all kinds of people who are – in either good or bad faith – interested in protecting women from dangerous men. When these groups talk about ‘women’ they intentionally mean ‘cis women’ and not trans women. The campaigns also resort to emotive and manipulative language such as ‘Just 7 days to save female rights’, and ‘Say no to state-sanctioned abuse of captive women’. All of this is a strategy of fear. Make people afraid and they will believe anything. And they have.


FairPlayForWomen have been handing out leaflets full of misinformation about what the reforms to the Gender Recognition Act mean, equating protections under the Equality Act 2010 with proposed reforms to the GRA. For example, they argue that introducing a system of self identification will allow men to access women’s spaces, however in practice trans people already self identify in order to use the spaces they feel most comfortable in and this is protected under the Equality Act 2010. The Gender Recognition Act simply enables a trans person to update their birth certificate, and birth certificates are not used to police access to gendered spaces. Their leaflet even goes as far to say that the reforms are being driven by multi-million pound lobby groups. Creating conspiracy theories to discredit a campaign is also far right tactic. Isn’t this just another Brexit Bus?

Isn’t this just another Brexit Bus?

The ‘concerns for women’ crowds have stated they are being ‘silenced’ by trans people, but have taken out massive billboards, £40k ads in national newspapers, and sent endless letters to online news sources. As well as this, the newspapers are flooded with anti-trans articles every week. It is certainly a clever tactic to claim that one is being silenced whilst also having all the media power. It is also disingenuous.

There are claims that this is a new debate and trans people are suddenly ‘changing the definition of woman’. But Christine Burns rightly points out that this debate has been going on for decades.

We do not need a debate on this, that has already happened. We need discussions based on fact, based on law (another example), based on science, based on history, and based on personal experience of trans people. We need to look back at the history of the Gender Recognition Act. We need to read the opening page of the consultation on the government website, which reads:

This consultation does not consider the question of whether trans people exist, whether they have the right to legally change their gender, or whether it is right for a person of any age to identify with another gender, or with no gender. Trans and non-binary people are members of our society and should be treated with respect. Trans people already have the right to legally change their gender, and there is no suggestion of this right being removed. This consultation simply asks how best government might make the existing process under the Gender Recognition Act a better service for those trans and non-binary people who wish to use it.’

If a campaign uses sensationalist language, perhaps it is because they are relying on heightened emotion to manipulate the debate. And if that is the case, perhaps there could never be a calm and rational debate to begin with.

Featured image CC BY 2.0 torbak hopper


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