Trans debate rages around the world

LONDON: As British politicians wrestle with Brexit, Britain’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community - like others around the world - is grappling with a potential split of its own. 

Can the coalition of allies, which traces its roots back to the early days of gay liberation in the 1960s, survive in its current form? 

Caught in the crossfire between trans activists and feminists over the nature of what it is to be a woman, calls for a break-up of the longstanding LGBT+ alliance back to its constituent elements are starting to emerge. 

At the heart of the increasingly toxic debate is whether trans rights are compatible with those of other women, particularly in terms of access to single-sex spaces, such as rape crisis centers or women’s refuges. 

On one side, trans campaigners say that transgender women are women and deserve equal access. On the other, some feminists and lesbians disagree, making the distinction between natal and trans women. 

The result has been a progressively poisonous row that threatens to tear the LGBT+ community apart. 

Last year, a group called Get the L Out staged a protest against what they saw as “lesbian erasure” – or lesbians being written out of history – at the beginning of London’s annual Pride march. 

“The only way to fight lesbian erasure within ‘LGBT+’ groups is to... create an autonomous and strong lesbian community and build alliances with all feminists willing to fight against male domination,” a spokeswoman said in an email. 

Yet, while the debate has raged with particular ferocity in Britain, other countries have also seen tempers flare. 

In New Zealand, a lesbian group said on Wednesday that it had been banned from Wellington Pride on Saturday for “not being inclusive enough” of trans people. 

On Twitter, Charlie Montague, spokeswoman for the Lesbian Rights Alliance Aotearoa, said the group would now organize “a lesbian-only event of our own.” 

Wellington Pride has not replied to a request for comment. 

And in the United States, lesbian activist Julia Beck was last year voted off the Baltimore city LGBTQ commission after clashes with fellow commissioners over trans issues. 

COMMUNITY MUST REMAIN TOGETHER 

At an event organized by campaign group LBQWomen in the Victorian Gothic splendor of one of the British parliament’s grand state rooms, Baroness Barker, LGBT spokeswoman for the Liberal Democrat party in the House of Lords, is adamant. 

The community must remain together, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“It matters, because we (LGBT+ people) are all outsiders and (on our own) we can be picked off by the forces that are against us,” Barker said. 

However, she added a caveat. 

“I stand alongside my gay brothers, as I always have done, but there comes a time when lesbians and bisexual women have to be able to come to the fore,” she said, referring to one of the aims of the LBQWomen event. 

But for many, the trans debate is at the heart of the matter. 

The tension partly stems from ignorance on the part of the LGB community about the issues faced by trans people, said Michelle Ross, founder of cliniQ, which provides sexual health services to the trans community and others. 

“There’s a lack of awareness and there always has been in the LGB community,” she said. “Things have changed for the better... but there is some kickback around not seeing trans people as part of the LGBTQI community.”

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