A wall of silence has greeted any attempts to gain some clarity on an internal row over the rights of transgender people to ‘self-identify’ that is said to be tearing Hastings Labour Party apart.
Last Wednesday, newly elected Labour Councillor Claire Carr, attending her first meeting, refused to back a member of the old guard–Councillor Ruby Cox–for the role of Deputy Mayor. She was the sole abstention from the vote of the entire council, with Tory opposition even voting in favour.
A statement issued by the party this morning, more than a week after the storm first erupted is already being criticised for not going far enough in explaining the local party’s position, while others are demanding statements from the protagonists at the centre of the row so they can fully understand the positions they themselves are taking. But rather than face the issue head-on and allow councillors Ruby Cox and Claire Carr to explain their positions to the public, the party – we have been told – has instructed councillors NOT to talk to the press about the dispute between the two women.
One party insider told Hastings In Focus: “This is a great embarrassment to the party.” Another said: “This is what we have been seeing for some time – a continued lack of accountability and self-serving behaviour.”
The first council meeting after an election should be a routine matter and last Wednesday’s meeting was going to plan until it came to the election of Deputy Mayor.
Veteran councillor Ruby Cox was nominated. In normal circumstances the vote would have been a formality but last week one of her fellow Labour councillors could not support her and abstained.
It emerged on social media that the two women disagree on the rights that transgender people should have in a modern society.
On one side of the argument you have newly elected Labour councillor for Castle Ward Claire Carr, who on Twitter she describes herself as: “Mother, wife, socialist, ex stage manager,
parent and send advocate, pansexual, she/her and so many other things.” Her issue with Ms Cox revolves around her posting a link to a guide on how to fill out the gender recognition act, to prevent further equal rights for LGBT+ people.
One observer noted: “Any sensible LGBT+ person would not vote for someone who does not want to grant equal rights to them.”
Neither in the meeting itself nor following it did Ms Carr make any official explanation on why she abstained and on Thursday Hastings In Focus made its first of numerous attempts to speak to her. We believe the people of Hastings have a right to to know why a councillor they have elected and a Labour councillor at that, felt unable to support the woman who will be one of the town’s principal figureheads in the coming years.
Our approaches to Ms Carr and to Ms Cox have been ignored.
In the wake of the meeting we also asked the Labour Party for a comment, we emailed: “Does the party have a comment to make regarding Claire Carr’s abstention in the vote for Deputy Mayor last night? We understand the two women disagree over LGBTQ issues.”
The response we received said: “I’ll see if someone can get back to you.” No one did.
So we asked Ms Cox herself: “I was hoping I could get a comment from you on the on-going issues between yourself and Claire Carr.
“Over the last few days I’ve had various on and off-the-record conversations with Labour party supporters, members and councillors. I’ve also had conversations and email exchanges with those representing the local LGBT community. I’m planning to do a story towards the end of the week and that would obviously benefit from direct comments from you and Claire – I’m sure the rumour I’m hearing that the party has slapped a ban on councillors talking to the press on this issue is not true.
“One specific issue I would be interested in hearing your view on is that it has been suggested to me that you will not be welcome at Pride in your role as Deputy Mayor.
Given the great support the council and Labour councillors in particular have given to the event in the past would that not be somewhat embarrassing?”
Once again there was no response.
Finally this morning a statement was forthcoming from the Labour party but it still failed to address the specific issue: “As a Labour council we are committed to tackling inequality and promoting equality and diversity. We passed a motion at full council last year reaffirming our commitment to combat racism and prejudice in all its forms.
“We are refreshing our town’s Equality Charter through the Local Strategic Partnership and will be consulting with and inviting community groups, voluntary organisations, businesses, sports clubs, and service providers to sign up to it.
“We are proud to support Hastings Pride and are working with Pride again this year to ensure a successful event. Hastings Labour group supports our party’s national policy and is committed to championing the fight for LGBT+ equality.
“Locally and nationally we’re proud of our record – Labour abolished Section 28, equalised the age of consent, created civil partnerships and it was only through Labour votes that equal marriage became law. However, transgender people continue to face widespread discrimination and there is still a long way to go on issues such as education, equal access to public services, levels of LGBT+ hate crime, and mental and physical well being.
“As a party we’re committed to ensuring trans people can live their lives with equality, dignity and respect. We will resist any attempts to roll back hard-won rights and we are committed to reforming the Gender Recognition Act 2004 to introduce self-declaration for trans people.”
A Labour party insider explained: “This is a great embarrassment for the party. Ruby is a senior councillor and Claire is seen as someone with a bright future.”
They went on to explain the issue between the two women was a complex one, “… the two sides cannot agree and there is no room for compromise, it is all down to the issue of self identification.”
While Ms Carr supports the concept of transgender people being able to ‘self-identify’ which is described as where a trans person could legally change their gender without, for example, a medical diagnosis, Ms Cox is described by some as a TERF, a Trans Exclusive Radical Feminist, who refuses to accept self-identification as a way forward.
Local resident Adam Wide says: “Sadly the ‘old guard’ will find themselves on the wrong side of history…. young people today don’t care about gender politics – other than to let people be who they are. The TERF battles that trans rights erode women’s rights is very much a reactionary approach that really isn’t supported among the young ones!”