Asking about genitalia ‘debases’ discussion on trans rights – Rayner

Labour’s deputy leader said women’s spaces should be protected but trans people also need to be supported.

29 March 2022

It is not acceptable to ask people about their genitalia in the discussion on trans rights, Labour’s deputy leader has said.

Angela Rayner has urged that the discussion of issues relating to gender identity is taken off social media and away from commentators, as she said she is worried about the impact the often fraught exchanges have on young people struggling with how they identify.

It comes after Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was asked during an LBC phone-in whether a woman could have a penis.

Keir Starmer phone-in on LBC
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer takes part in Call Keir, his regular phone-in on LBC’s Nick Ferrari At Breakfast show (Ian West/PA)

Ms Rayner told Sky News: “When we debase it to whether or not… what genitalia you’ve got, I think all that does is damage people and it doesn’t help us go forward on some of the real issues that people are facing.

“I think we should be protecting women’s spaces – of course we should – and we should be supporting people who are going through transition.”

Sir Keir said too many people are intolerant of others when discussing the issue, when he was asked on Monday.

Asked if a woman can have a penis, Sir Keir said: “I’m not… I don’t think we can conduct this debate with… I don’t think that discussing this issue in this way helps anyone in the long run.

“What I want to see is a reform of the law as it is, but I am also an advocate of safe spaces for women and I want to have a discussion that is… Anybody who genuinely wants to find a way through this, I want to discuss that with, and I do find that too many people – in my view – retreat or hold a position which is intolerant of others.

“And that’s not picking on any individual at all, but I don’t like intolerance, I like open discussion.”

Gender Recognition Reform Bill
People carrying trans rights banners take part in the Pride Glasgow parade (David Cheskin/PA)

Asked on Sky on Tuesday whether it is reasonable to ask a man if they are pregnant, Ms Rayner said there are circumstances where it could be.

“If a man was born with the reproductive (organs) because they were born as a female and they’ve transitioned to a male, then, you know, if they’re getting medical support because they could be pregnant, then that might be a question that is asked as part of that,” she said.

“But it wouldn’t be a reasonable question for me to say ‘Have you got a penis or not?’ because that’s not acceptable.”

She said the issue is not about “men coming into women-only spaces”, it is about “supporting people in their lives”.

Labour has found itself in difficulty over trans issues.

Harry Potter author JK Rowling – who has been vocal on her views on transgender people and biological sex – said earlier this month that the Labour leader could “no longer be counted on to defend women’s rights”.

Labour frontbenchers Yvette Cooper and Anneliese Dodds both struggled to answer questions on the issue this month when asked to define what a woman is.

Gender rights
Harry Potter author JK Rowling has accused Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer of misrepresenting equalities law (PA)

Ms Rayner was asked on Times Radio on Tuesday whether she is comfortable with the question.

She said: “What I’m not comfortable with and what’s frustrating me is that we’re having a debate on social media and commentating (about) what is a very serious issue that people have very genuine concerns about, and it’s all about whether or not you’ve got a penis or whether or not you’ve got a cervix.

“I mean, I don’t get asked – I present as a woman, people don’t ask me ‘Have you got a penis?’ and I think that’s wholly right.”

She added: “I’d be offended if someone asked me what my genitalia is and I don’t think it’s appropriate to do that to any person.

“What we need to do is have protected spaces where people feel comfortable. And when it comes to identity issues that should be dealt with, with the experts at supporting people through their individual circumstances.”

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