The ‘closed ranks’ of Hastings Labour Party are behaving more like Roman Emperors than left-wing collaborators trying to solve issues which directly affect people’s dignity according to veteran campaigner Adam Wide.
Mr Wide was responding to the news that Hastings Mayor James Bacon has had his invitation to this weekend’s Hastings Pride event withdrawn and other Hastings Borough Councillors will not be welcome to attend the event ‘in an official capacity’.
At issue is the decision in May to elect Councillor Ruby Cox as Deputy Mayor. The election of Mayor and Deputy Mayor are usually nothing more than a formality but this year was different when newly elected Labour Councillor Claire Carr abstained. Her abstention was because of what she considered to be transphobic social media posts that Ms Cox had made.
Today Hastings and Rother Rainbow Alliance (HRRA) has gone public, detailing its ongoing concerns about transphobia within the Hastings Constituency Labour Party.
“Sadly, as we approach Hastings Pride, when local people can show support and solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community, it has been demonstrated very clearly why we need such an event; not just to celebrate and have a good time, but to meaningfully stand together against oppression.
“In 2021 we still do not have real support for the whole LGBTQ+ community from those who hold public office,” a spokesperson for the group told Hastings In Focus.
HRRA says it has been trying to get answers from Hastings Borough Council’s Labour group for several months.
They say that in the vote for Deputy Mayor all councillors were whipped to vote in favour of Ms Cox, the only candidate put forward, with only Ms Carr being what they describe as ‘brave enough’ to abstain.
“In the face of significant pressure from party leaders, she did so because of concerns over harmful transphobic posts that had been shared on social media by Ms Cox,” the group says.
Since May Hastings Pride and HRRA, the two major groups in Hastings that represent and support the LGBTQIA+ communities, have been trying to engage with HBC but the council has refused to meet them. The campaign groups even engaged a professional mediator to try and persuade the council to meet to discuss the issues but again HBC refused.
“We exist in a media landscape of harmful transphobic rhetoric that increases the likelihood of verbal and physical attacks on this vulnerable section of society. There have recently been reports of hate crimes committed locally, including one where a child was spat at because he was perceived as being trans,” says HRRA.
Labour councillor, HBC cabinet member and former Mayor Judy Rogers eventually agreed to a meeting and HRRA say that for a time things looked promising as Ms Cox had agreed that she would issue a public apology. However, although an apology was drafted HRRA considered it to be ‘ambiguously worded’.
“She said that, at the time of posting the anti-trans comments and links, she ‘did not understand the complexities of the issues surrounding trans rights,'” HRRA’s spokesperson said.
HRRA and Hasting Pride then asked Ms Cox to acknowledge that trans men are men and trans women are women and should be treated as such, according to the campaigners Ms Cox refused.
“As a result, HRRA and Hastings Pride have both been forced to take a stand. The Mayor’s office and any councillors who voted for Ms Cox, are now unwelcome in an official capacity at any HRRA or Hastings Pride events – including Hastings Pride this Sunday,” the groups say.
The spokesperson said: “We will celebrate Hastings Pride on Sunday. However, the local campaign to ensure basic human rights for a vulnerable part of our LGBTQIA+ community will now ramp up.
“We will not rest until those that are elected to serve the people show support to some of the most vulnerable. We thank those few councillors such as Judy Rogers and Claire Carr who have shown true and unequivocal support and solidarity throughout. This is what we hope to see from more councillors moving forward as we challenge the actions of the council leaders and try to find a resolution.
“We ask everyone to take a stand in defence of members of the LGBTQ+ community- as one community, enriched by our differences, strengthened by our solidarity.”
When Hastings In Focus asked the local Labour Party about the row we were told: “It is Labour Party policy to support trans rights, and we stand in solidarity with the trans community. The party backs self-identification and reform of the Equality Act and as a local party we will continue working to further that aim.”
While Jane Hartnell, HBC’s Managing Director said: “HBC is saddened and very disappointed to have received the HRRA statement via the media. Officers and councillors have been working hard to support the Hastings Pride event and we were looking forward to taking part as community leaders as we have in all previous years.
“The council’s commitment to equality and diversity is embedded in our core values as set out in our Corporate Plan.https://www.hastings.gov.uk/content/my_council/corporate_policies_plans/pdfs/corporate-plan.
“We continue to be proud to support Hastings Pride, which has always received visible support from councillors of all political parties, and officers from across the council. We have had a number of meetings this summer with the Hastings Pride organisers to ensure the event is well managed and safe and a continuing success. We also give a high level of support behind the scenes including lending them equipment for the event.
“The council has a robust complaints process which deals with matters regarding councillor behaviour. Information about how to make a complaint has been passed to HRRA but no official complaint has been received.”
Mr Wide, who has been a campaigner for gay rights for most of his life said: “Can the Labour Party in Hastings please sort itself out and adhere to its own manifesto’s claim to be ‘transparent’ and stop trying to silence people and instead make a final and definitive statement, before what should be a celebration of solidarity on Sunday is tainted by a lack of empathy and understanding.
“Let’s celebrate all lives by letting everyone live their own authentic life as who they are, in safety and with respect, as fellow citizens of our wide, diverse and beautiful community. It is time to stand up and be counted – Gay Pride started 52 years ago as a protest rather than a celebration, sadly it seems there is still quite a long way still to go.
Back in May we made several approaches to Councillor Carr seeking clarification on why she abstained in the vote for Deputy Mayor but she did not respond. We were told at the time by those close to her that was because she feared she would be disciplined by her party if she spoke in public. When we asked her today if that was still the case she told us: “My views are in line with party policy and those of Councillor Cox aren’t.
“If Kim Forward wishes to remove the whip from me for speaking out of turn it is her prerogative to do so but I refuse to be silenced by her or the party when they have acted so appallingly in the handling of this issue.”
She said today: “In May I abstained from voting for Councillor Ruby Cox to be Deputy Mayor on grounds of conscience following her posting several social media posts that contained anti trans sentiment, as well as her refusal to accept the Equality Act as a valid document and her refusal to support the party policy on Self ID in conversation with myself.
“I did not believe Ruby Cox should represent this town holding such views and I still don’t. I have not made a statement until now on orders from The Labour Party but I cannot remain silent when the leadership of HBC and Ms Cox continue to hold the LGBTQ+ community in such contempt.
“As a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community, the mother of a non-binary child, a friend to various members of the trans community, and as someone with empathy and compassion and a strong belief in equality I stand with Hastings Pride and Hastings and Rother Rainbow Alliance and ask you all to do the same.
“Thank you to Councillors Judy Rogers , Heather Bishop and James Bacon for trying to help me get this issue resolved. Trans rights are human rights and as a community we must loudly send that message to Hastings Borough Council’s leaders and to Ruby Cox herself.”
Andy Patmore, leader of the Conservative group on HBC said today: “The Conservatives were courteous in their support of the Labour Mayor and Deputy Mayor candidates and have no wish to get embroiled with a Labour Party internal matter.
“We are sad that Conservative Councillors have been tarnished by a political matter beyond their control and sad they will not be welcome at Hastings Pride.”