Making Progress

The conversation around the GRA reform has descended into radical extremism. It has moved on considerably from when I first started to engage in it online. Legitimate concerns were the core of the conversation with many women feeling uneasy that men could co-opt a trans identity and access women’s only spaces to prey on vulnerable women.

These concerns have been dealt with many times now. Trans women have had the right to access single sex spaces for over a decade under the Equality Act. Women’s organisations have routinely defended trans women’s right to use these spaces and it is clear that access and use of single sex spaces is not dependant on any kind of documentation.

Many women have addressed these concerns head on and in addition given assurances that women’s rights are not impacted by the proposed GRA reform.

Lynn Welsh, Head of Legal at the Equality and Human Rights Commission has said “Nothing in the Bill will threaten the continued operation of the Equality Act provisions protecting women-only services and spaces, which recognise the particular needs of women and the need for protection from sex-based violence.”

Our First Minister has said “In my view, some of the concerns that are expressed on the part of women and feminists, while we have to listen and understand that, I think many of those are misplaced. As an ardent, passionate feminist, and have been all of my life, I don’t see the greater recognition of transgender rights as a threat to me as a woman or to my feminism.”

The GRA reform allows trans people to change the sex marker on their birth certificate. That’s it. If you’re still feeling uneasy about this ask yourself when was the last time you were asked to show your birth certificate to use the loo.

But despite this, the conversation comes back to the GRA and the want to halt the progression of trans rights.

The conversation has focused on toilets and single sex spaces because it is emotive and plays on fear – a visceral fear of violence that women legitimately hold. Violence against women is very real and it is used as a tool of subjugation of women by a patriarchal society, I hope we all agree on that.

I know this fear. I have spent my adult life maturing as a feminist and coming to terms with an adolescence that was awash with sexulisation, lack of consent and subjugation. I have spoken openly about sexual assaults happening in university campuses. I naively shared my own experience, its presentation I still struggle with and try hard not to regret. 

I try to live my life breaking down stigma and taboo subjects women still carry in silence, alone. I opened my broken heart about my miscarriage last year in the hope that more women found solidarity in my words. 

I have been a strident campaigner for gender balance mechanisms within the SNP to ensure women are represented as they should be, as unequivocal equals. 

Taking on the role of Women’s Convenor has been a dream come true for me. I have spoken with women across the country, listening to their needs and have immersed myself in creating support and programs that will see women supported within the SNP in a way they never have been before. My love for women and my commitment to seeing women strive within our party is unwavering, yet these last few nights I have been weeping at how I am being portrayed by people I have never spoken to in my life.

I am not saying any of this for your pity. I am not trying to play the victim. I am stating this because I want to draw a stark parallel between the woman I am – the woman I have demonstrated to be through my actions – and the woman you are being led to believe I am online.

The legitimate concerns first raised many years ago now have been robustly addressed time and time again. Legitimate concerns have now conceded to statements questioning the legitimacy of trans identities. The persistent vocal mob that are opposed to GRA reform are now completely unwilling and incapable of taking part in civil conversation and their original claims of legitimate concerns have all been dismantled to expose the core of their argument; that trans women are men and therefore should be treated as predators.

Concerns over women’s spaces and safety have been routinely addressed and we have now reached a point where instead of engaging in conversations about the concerns surrounding the GRA reform the narrative has turned to undermine the characters of those that support GRA reform. This shift to undermine supporters of the GRA has created false equivalences that are utterly unfathomable.

Opponents to the GRA would have you believe that the women’s sector in Scotland does not care about the protection of women. That the first ever female First Minister does not care about the safety of women. That the woman at the head of legal of the Equality and Human Rights Commission doesn’t understand the proposed changes in the GRA and how they impact women’s sex based rights in the Equality Act. That women like me who support GRA reform do not care about the safety of women.

Instead of critically engaging with why I and many others support GRA reform, opponents now want you to believe that I am a threat to women and girls. That I am a predator, that I groom children and at worst I am a paedophile. We have reached a point where trans women are openly equated to predators and their allies are accused of being paedophiles and child groomers.

This rhetoric is not normal and cannot become normal. It doesn’t even reflect reality. When put out to consultation the response from the general public has been of support for Gender Recognition reform, yet the rhetoric online would have you believing otherwise.

That is why we have to take these conversations offline. Since the start of this conversation I have had a great many fruitful conversations with women over a cup of tea in Glasgow. It’s where I have seen genuine progress towards mutual understanding happen and it is a world away from the hate that I am subjected to online.

Women are ripping lumps out of each other online in the name of protecting women. The misogynistic vitriol that comes as a result of being a woman online has been amplified ten fold for anyone who dares stick their head above the parapet. The extremism and the routine abuse of any woman online needs to stop. We must unite unequivocally in the face of any kind of violence against women but also be hyper aware of when the threat of violence against women is being used to subjugate and oppress minority groups. 

As women we must come together, find commonalities in our approach to equality and as we enter into a period of global introspection on systemic oppression we must work hard to find a way to make sure our fight for equality is never at the cost of any minority group.