Recent legal cases in the public domain have brought greater clarity to the interpretation of the law in this area. Our guidance in this area for members, candidates and spokespeople has therefore been updated on the basis of legal advice from two King’s Counsels.
The latest position is below.
The Liberal Democrats “reject all prejudice and discrimination based upon race, ethnicity, caste, heritage, class, religion or belief, age, disability, sex, gender identity or sexual orientation”. We believe that trans people are entitled to the same rights as everyone else, and that discrimination or harassment on the basis of someone’s gender identity constitutes a material disagreement with the fundamental values and objectives of the Party.
The Liberal Democrats will not tolerate any prejudice or discrimination, either within the party and in wider society. Disciplinary action may be taken against members who exhibit transphobic behaviour, not least because this is a breach of the responsibilities of a member in the Members’ Code of Conduct.
“‘Transphobia’ is the fear or dislike of someone based on the fact they are trans. Transphobia, whether through words or action, may be targeted at people who are, or who are perceived to be, trans or trans allies.
The Liberal Democrats use ‘trans’ as an umbrella term to describe people whose gender is not the same as, or does not sit comfortably with, the sex they were assigned at birth. Trans people may describe themselves using one or more of a variety of terms. Trans people are not required to have undergone any medical or social transition to be considered trans.
Transphobic behaviour may include (i) attempting directly or through advocacy to remove trans people’s rights, (ii) misrepresenting trans people, (iii) abuse of trans people, and (iv) systematically excluding trans people from discussions about issues that directly affect them.”
Holding and expressing gender critical views, whether in internal debates or publicly, is protected by law under the Equality Act, Article 9 ECHR and Article 10 ECHR and is permitted. Those who hold such views may express them freely, as long as they do not harass or discriminate against trans people, nor create an environment which is hostile or discriminatory to trans people.
Disciplinary action will only be taken for conduct that involves discrimination or harassment, hate speech or vilification or other serious abuses of the right to freedom of expression. If disciplinary action is taken, the focus will be on the misconduct itself, i.e. the way someone has acted or expressed themselves, not the underlying views of the speaker.
Genuine errors or misunderstandings about a trans person’s gender identity, or about the nature or effect of a policy or practice, do happen, and genuine errors or misunderstandings should not be considered intentionally transphobic. Some people may have had little or no experience or engagement with issues affecting trans people. Genuine errors and misunderstandings can still have potentially harmful effects, but the action taken to address them should take into account the lack of intention. Where accidental offence or harm has been caused the most appropriate course of action will generally be an apology, retraction or similar.
However, where an individual repeatedly does things which might be viewed as transphobic, it is unlikely this is in genuine error. This is especially true if they have been challenged by others, and they have been pointed to resources to help them learn about trans people’s rights and transphobia. Indeed, disingenuous feigned ignorance of the issues facing trans people is a common tactic of committed opponents of trans rights. A history of transphobic actions or behaviours should be taken into account when considering whether someone is being intentionally transphobic.
Our members code of conduct is here. As a member you have the right to be treated fairly, equally, and within the bounds of party rules. You also have the responsibility to behave in a way that does not negatively impact other members, staff, volunteers, people who interact with the Party in a professional capacity, or the party’s reputation.
We encourage robust and passionate debate on policy, strategy and the way in which the party functions. We also expect our members to behave lawfully and honestly, to be sensitive to other people’s feelings and respect their right to have and express different views to their own.