In Brief

Why ‘trans on Wednesdays’ activist was suspended by Labour

David Lewis stoked gender self-indentification row by standing for women’s officer role

Labour has suspended an activist who attempted to stand as women’s officer while claiming that he identified as female “on Wednesdays”.

Party sources told The Guardian that David Lewis, who was in the running to be Basingstoke’s Labour Party women officer, had been suspended pending an investigation.

Lewis announced his intention to stand for the role earlier this week, and told The Spectator: “My womanness is expressed by my saying, ‘I self-identify as a woman’ now and again on Wednesdays. I make no changes in my behaviour or my appearance.”

He said he didn’t expect to win office, but insisted: “My priority here is to inform the CLP [constituency Labour Party]... about what happens when you say that someone’s gender depends only on what they say and nothing else.”

Following his suspension, a party spokesperson said that Labour was “committed to upholding the principle of affirmative action for women” but that obvious abuse of the process would not be tolerated.

“Anyone attempting to breach Labour Party rules and subvert the intention of all-women shortlists, women’s officers or minimum quotas for women will be dealt with via our established safeguards, selection procedures and disciplinary measures,” the spokesperson warned.

What is the party's gender self-identification policy?

At a meeting on Tuesday, Labour’s National Executive Committee reaffirmed a policy of self-identification, meaning that roles such as the one Lewis applied for are open to “self-identifying trans women”. The crux of that policy is that if someone says they are a woman, Labour accepts that they are a woman. The party does not check or verify a statement of self-identified gender.

The decision, passed without opposition, guarantees trans women equal access to all-women parliamentary shortlists, women’s officer posts and minimum quotas for women.

“The thinking behind that approach is that transgender people should not be subject to additional checks or ‘gatekeeping’ simply to be accepted for who they are,” says The Spectator’s James Kirkup. “Non-trans people don’t have to prove their gender, so why should trans people?”

On wider public policy, the party “is aware that there are real concerns about protecting all women, including vulnerable women (in refuges, for example), from any abuses of the new rights”, says HuffPost’s Paul Waugh. “Lewis’s suspension is clearly part of the message that it would crack down hard on any man who pretended to be a trans woman.”

However, Kirkup argues Lewis’s suspension highlights a key problem with Labour’s self-ID rules.

“The only way to conclude that David Lewis is engaged in a ‘stunt’ or is ‘abusing’ Labour’s self-ID rules is to make a judgement on the validity of his declared gender identity,” Kirkup says.

“If you adhere to a position of accepting self-identified trans women as women (and thus entitled to women’s legal rights) then you have to accept David Lewis is a woman - because he says he is a woman.”

Defending Labour’s decision, trans journalist Shon Faye writes in The Guardian: “The idea that self-ID facilitates an easy route for men or anyone not deadly serious about their identity as a trans woman to sneak into Parliament - or anywhere else for that matter - is a canard, and a weak one at that.

“Politics is already a game rigged for incompetent white men. How would such a man benefit from posing as a trans woman?”

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