Sir Keir Starmer has said a woman is an “adult female” in response to being probed over the “penis question”, echoing language used by the Tories and gender critical’ campaigners to attack the trans community.
The Labour leader appeared on Nicky Campbell’s BBC Radio 5 Live on Wednesday morning (26 July) where he took questions from members of the public on a range of topics, including reaction to the resignation of NatWest’s CEO, the Ultra Low Emission Zone is an area in London and his party’s plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act (GRA).
Introducing the topic and views from listeners, Campbell took a swipe at Starmer by saying Labour “struggles” with “the penis question” – alluding to the fact the leader previously made the comment that womanhood is “completely biological” for “99 per cent of women”.
“A woman is an adult female, so let’s clear that one up,” Starmer stated resolutely, in a marked change to his previous statements on the topic.
The term “biological women” is seen by many as a transphobic dogwhistle, and has been used by anti-trans campaigners as a term to stoke division between trans rights and women.
Starmer’s comments on gender law reforms come two days after Labour announced its new policy on “modernising” the GRA, where it revealed it would be scrapping its commitments to self-ID.
Writing a column in The Guardian, Labour’s shadow women and equalities secretary Anneliese Dodds stated Labour will “modernise, simplify and reform” the legislation by removing “invasive bureaucracy and simplify the process”.
However, in a U-turn on promises to the trans community – which were being made unwaveringly in 2020 – Dodds said Labour would not introduce self-ID and instead keep the “medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria” as an “important” part of obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC).
Starmer reaffirmed Dodds column during his radio appearance, telling listeners Labour does not think “self identification is the right way forward” and “keep it a medical process”.
In October 2022, Keir Starmer was speaking in support of the trans community, criticising attacks on LGBTQ+ people in the UK at last year’s PinkNews awards.
“It wasn’t long ago that these events served as a symbol of how promoting LGBT+ equality had become an issue of political consensus,” he said at the time, referring to anti-trans rhetoric stirred up in the Conservative party leadership race.
“And sadly, I’m not sure that still holds.
“The rhetoric we have seen towards trans people is an obvious example.”
Campbell quizzes Starmer over safe space protections
He continued: “We’ve always said […] that there should be safe spaces for women, particularly in relation to violence against women and girls.
“When I was director of public prosecutions, spent a lot of time dealing with cases of violence against women and girls and therefore feel very strongly about the safe spaces for women.”
At this, Campbell quizzed Starmer on who these safe spaces protect women and girls: “Are you saying [trans women are] disproportionately likely to be violent in these situations? I don’t understand, what are you saying?”
Starmer began: “No, I think it’s more that biological women who have been subjected to violence against women and girls, want a safe space where they can feel –”
“Safe from what?,” Campbell interjected.
“Well, a safe space where they can feel that they are properly supported and protected, and this comes from the tales of survivors,” Keir Starmer continued.
Once more Campbell intervened: “Why wouldn’t they be supported and protected, I don’t understand. Why wouldn’t that be the case?”
“Well, I think the Scottish prisoner case probably answers that question,” Starmer finally stated, referring to the conviction of rapist Isla Bryson.
However, he went on to state he does not believe there is a “lot” of cases of trans women who enter female spaces being sexual predators but feels the “principle of safe spaces is very important for women”.