May 2021, and someone on Facebook has circulated a notice to elementary teachers in Ontario, Canada, offering training on inclusivity in relation to LGGBDTTTIQQAAPP
No, my finger did not get stuck on the keyboard. This is explained by them as Lesbian, Gay, Genderqueer, Bisexual, Demisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Twospirit, Intersex, Queer, Questioning, Asexual, Allies, Pansexual and Polyamorous. This is the longest list I’ve seen so far. Stonewall is currently using LGBT (by line – ‘acceptance without exception’ and a much longer glossary of terms) but QI+ are also added by some organisations, with the list being deliberately left open- ended by the plus, leaving room for many more ‘identities’.
Identity politics are currently highly contested across all parts of the political spectrum. Part of the problem in understanding and working through these ‘debates’ is the language used and the failure to agree terms; the frequent merging and confusion around the terms sex and gender, for example, being particularly vexatious. Confusion also arises because many wildly different things are in fact being addressed collectively and, far from articulating a clear agenda, the aggregation of letters representing an ever-increasing range of life choices, preferences, orientations, sexual practices and performative gender roles is confusing and self-defeating. Indeed, as is shown above, the number of letters appears to increase at an alarming rate, and the uncritical liberal agenda is to accept it all as somehow an expansion of cool lesbian and gay rights (‘it’s all just like Section 28’), without much thought. Underpinning that acceptance is the notion that there is a much wider definition of sex, sexuality and gender than we have previously been led to believe and that anyone who doesn’t get with it is an old-fashioned bigot.
On April 20th Lesbian Labour launched our website. We received overwhelmingly positive support.
However, within our own party the reception was varied. Comments on one Facebook group were shockingly hostile. The post attracted almost 1,000 comments. Though many members spoke up and argued our case very well, the ratio of negative to positive comments was 2:1.
The responses of a group of individuals on Facebook is not necessarily indicative of attitudes across the party towards Lesbian autonomy. However, such hostility requires a very firm response. This is no way to create a welcoming space for Lesbians.
As Lesbians we have every right to self-organise and do not seek or need permission from hostile men, or women with a different point of view.
The comments levelled at us were offensive and inaccurate and made spurious unfounded allegations.
We have gone through the comments and distilled the various criticisms. Here are our answers.
“Another group co-opting the name and Labour logo”
We are all Labour members and spent time designing a logo incorporating both the Labour rose, the symbol of our party, and the Lesbian double venus, the symbol of our sexuality. Naturally, we chose Labour red. We are, after all, Lesbian Labour.
Last month Keir Starmer spoke at PMQs about the “epidemic” of violence against women and girls in the UK, following the horrific murder of Sarah Everard which sparked an outpouring of collective grief and anger around the country.
The Labour leader spoke of his vision for a “cultural and social” change to bring about long-term improvements by strengthening rights for victims. We welcome the focus on an issue that we as women feel keenly and all too often personally. However, we feel that the Labour Party must first look to set its own house in order – by dealing with the misogyny within our own ranks first and foremost.
We have written to Keir following his comments asking him to urgently address the problems of the abuse, intimidation and harassment of women within our own party. Women have been trying to raise these issues in the Party for many years, but especially since the 2019 Brighton Conference fringe meeting, in which women were left terrified by a large and aggressive mob blocking the entrance and intimidating attendees. This particular incident has never been addressed by the Party.
Keir’s comments also came as misogynistic tweets re-surfaced from Labour’s candidate for Hartlepool, with calls for him to step down. He is far from the only prominent Labour Party member to have fallen far short of acceptable conduct.
Indeed, a cursory google of ‘Labour’ and ‘misogyny’ brings up numerous articles and blog posts with many separate examples of highly offensive language or conduct from party members. Labour women feel unheard and unsupported and are losing faith that the leadership is capable or motivated to bring about real and positive change.
As a new organisation set up to advocate for lesbian members of the Labour party, we would welcome a dialogue with Keir to discuss these matters in more detail. We hope that Keir will take the issues of misogyny within the Labour Party seriously and commit to effecting meaningful change.
Lesbian politics has been a sorely neglected area by all political parties in the longterm. As lesbians in the Labour Party, we expect better.
In the last decade it has often been organisations tasked with representing our interests that have been the most neglectful. For example, gay rights charity Stonewall has ventured far from its original purpose of supporting lesbians and gay men. Thankfully we now have the LGB Alliance standing up for same-sex attraction.
Lesbians also face cultural invisibility in unexpected places. Diva magazine, the only magazine in the U.K. for lesbian women, has recently adopted gender neutral language and embraced the idea that heterosexual males who identify as ‘trans’ can be lesbians. Lesbian dating sites now even feature men ‘identifying’ as lesbians.
It is clear that lesbians today are under ideological attack and face material erasure from within our own quarters. We are in the peculiar position of often finding more support for our rights outside of LGBT politics.
It has become increasingly necessary for lesbians to form our own groups and organisations, run by and for lesbians. We can no longer rely on groups that mix the L in with the GBT to advance our interests. Lesbians suffer from the duality of women’s oppression and homophobic discrimination. It often leaves us at the bottom of the pile within the LGBT sphere, competing against misogyny and sexism, and trying to survive culturally despite greater resources, positive coverage, and government funding awarded to gender identity groups.
Transgenderism itself has led to an existential crisis for lesbianism, as more and more young gender non-conforming lesbians are encouraged to ‘transition’ and attempt to pass as straight men. We understand the reasons for wishing to escape womanhood (namely sexism and misogyny) and that within a landscape that vanishes lesbians it is increasingly appealing for Millennial and Generation-Z dykes to hide by entering a second closet as supposedly heterosexual men.
As feminist Labour activists and lesbians, we still feel it is possible to build an expansive lesbian culture that celebrates gender non-conforming, heralds same-sex attraction, and seeks to better the lives of all lesbians regardless of race or class.
Join us and fight for a better future for lesbians in the Labour Party.
By Jen Izaakson