The furore surrounding Julie Bindel’s invitation to speak at the Working Class Movement Library during LGBT History Month rumbles on, and competing petitions have now amassed hundreds of signatures. Frances Donnelly demanded that “Bindel is not given a platform at an alleged ‘LGBT’ event.” In contrast, Catherine Costello welcomed the invitation and seeks to counteract the damage being done to the Working Class Movement Library, its funding and reputation. At the time of writing [21 January 2017], Costello’s petition leads by 1917 to 564. Appeals to popularity do not provide the best support for arguments but the two petitions reveal seemingly intractable divisions between LGBTQ+ people, with significant numbers holding strong feelings on both sides.
The official LGBT History Month Celebrations are managed by Schools Out. CEO Tony Fenwick defended the decision to list Bindel’s event in the calendar in a statement to Pink News. He said, “We gather she will be discussing what it was like to be a working class feminist lesbian in the 1970s, about which, as a middle class gay teenager in the 70s, I for one would like to know more.” He went on to acknowledge that “there’s no denying that Julie Bindel will say things people don’t want to hear and that she will upset people.”
Trans activists and their supporters have already verbalised their concerns and distress following “things” that Bindel has said. Annette Pryce argued here on The Queerness that if the event were to go ahead, it shouldn’t be done under the banner of LGBTQ+ inclusivity. Sam Hope followed from a trans perspective: they wrote about the constant trauma caused to them by Julie Bindel’s words. As a trans woman myself, I am grateful for Pryce’s support and I can empathise with Hope’s article that was written from the heart.
Donnelly’s petition seeks to no-platform Bindel primarily because she is “openly hateful towards trans people.” Bindel has made some outrageous comments in the past. In 2004, for example, she wrote in the Guardian, “I don’t have a problem with men disposing of their genitals, but it does not make them women, in the same way that shoving a bit of vacuum hose down your 501s does not make you a man.” She has since apologised unreservedly for both the tone and content of that 2004 article, but she is still regarded with suspicion by many in the trans community.
It was therefore encouraging to hear words of support from her last year. In her Daily Mail column, she had this to say about trans people: “Any adult convinced they want a sex change deserves our complete support. If they have fully understood what is involved, it is nobody’s business other than their own. Equally, any adult who wants to live as the opposite sex without having surgery or other medical treatment should be completely respected and protected.” Like Fenwick, I am disappointed that she chose to publish in ‘that enemy of equality and human rights, the Daily Mail‘, and I regret terminology such as “sex change”, a favourite of unfriendly Fleet Street editors over the years, but let’s focus on the positive. Bindel has said that trans people deserve “complete support” and should be “completely respected and protected”. If nothing else, I commend that message to gender critical thinkers and others who are suspicious of trans people.
Bindel has strong opinions, some of which are very different to my own, but she has a right to argue them in respectful debate. Banning her from talking about her formative years on 4 February will not prevent hate speech being propagated at meetings elsewhere, and across the internet. I reiterate my thanks to Annette Pryce for her staunch support of trans people, and I offer my best wishes to Sam Hope, but I cherish free speech and I cannot support Frances Donnelly’s petition. Let’s hear what Julie Bindel has to say.
This article was first published by the The Queerness on 21 January 2017: I’m a trans woman and I believe Julie Bindel should be heard.