Nicola Sturgeon has been challenged to include meaningful reform of gender recognition legislation in her party’s spring manifesto, after making her strongest statement yet in support of transgender rights.
Scottish Prime Minister released what she described as an unplanned and unscripted statement on Twitter late Wednesday evening in response to reports of significant numbers of mostly younger people leaving the SNP due to the leaders’ perceived failure to tackle transphobia.
Sturgeon said: “It pains me deeply that you have come to this conclusion because you consider at this stage that the SNP is not a safe, tolerant or welcoming place for trans people. This is not acceptable to me.
Insisting that transphobia must be treated with the same “zero tolerance” that applies to racism or homophobia, Sturgeon added: “Yes, we have differences of opinion on the reform of the recognition of the gender, we should discuss it openly and respectfully, but no debate can be a cover for transphobia.”
An increasingly toxic online environment has caused some young people to question their commitment to the SNP in recent weeks, the Guardian understands. But after the posts, women’s groups that were formed to challenge transgender rights reform accused Sturgeon of failing to criticize online abuse by their own members.
A number of prominent LGBT activists have told the Guardian there have been fears the party’s commitment to gender recognition reform could be watered down in its manifesto for the May election in Holyrood, but Sturgeon’s video message had given them cause for optimism.
Out for Independence, the official LGBT+ wing of the SNP, whose four executive committee members resigned in protest last week, said the most important action to take must be an overhaul of internal disciplinary procedures, which “were not used to protect people where they should have been”.
The Scottish Trans Alliance said: “We hope that [Sturgeon’s] the words will be followed by the meaningful actions she says she is determined to take. He called for those actions to include improving the delivery of trans health care, with priority on reducing wait times, protecting against hate crimes and reforming gender recognition law.
Plans to allow people to officially change gender without medical diagnosis by reforming the GRA were put on hold in Scotland at the start of the pandemic, and similar plans were scrapped by the UK government last September.
The Scottish proposals had drawn criticism from some feminist groups as well as senior SNP politicians, including Finance Secretary Kate Forbes and MP Joanna Cherry, who has repeatedly challenged the party’s leadership on women’s rights . Cherry won a coveted seat on the SNP’s national executive committee at the party’s conference last November.
At the time, the Guardian reported how a cohort of activists, advisers and MPs also critical of transgender rights politics were elected to the national executive to the shock of the SNP leadership. A number of prominent Sturgeon supporters believe some rebels are using the row over transgender rights to undermine his authority.
While GRA reform stalled, the row has since spilled over into other policy areas, including hate crime law reform.
The Women’s Pledge Group, which was launched at the SNP conference in October 2019 by MPs, MSPs and councilors concerned about gender recognition reform, said it condemned abuses by all members of the party, but added that “women have serious and valid concerns about their rights to privacy, dignity, security and equity.”
The group said women raising such concerns were branded as transphobic and hateful, pointing to online abuse of Cherry, who is one of its founders. “Like the Prime Minister, we believe that debate should always be respectful, but some people object to any kind of debate on these issues.”