I grew up in 1980s County Durham; it felt at the time like a People’s Democratic Republic. When the miners went on strike in 1984, Labour held 53 of the 72 seats on the county council. But whatever impression southerners might get from watching Billy Elliot, boys like me did not engage in ballet. Labour may have been in charge, but attitudes were socially conservative. We played football and supported the Toon, or Newcastle United to give them their official name. Allegiance to Sunderland raised eyebrows — in my town at least — while Manchester United was beyond the pale.
If boys were ostracised for supporting the wrong football teams, teenagers struggling with sexuality or gender learnt to keep those things very close to their chests. In a society where ‘poof’ and ‘queer’ were insults of choice — terms of abuse hurled at victims to soften them up for a beating — coming out would have required courage beyond comprehension. My own transsexualism, for example, I shared with nobody.
Youngsters today may find it difficult to understand, but to many Generation X-ers, the q-word resonates in a similar way to the n-word. Reclaim it, if you must, but please respect our right to eschew it. Yesterday, Kurtis Lemaster, an American musician known as Kurtis Tripp, said what he thought:
Provocative? certainly; incendiary? Perhaps. But this is Twitter, the public square of the internet. Tripp is only 30 but as a gay man he has suffered the same abuse we knew a generation before. He told me that: ‘I have had that word spat in my face by police officers, people at school, and even my father.’ But in a world where anybody can claim whatever identity floats their boat, Tripp added:
“We should be having a larger discussion about its reclamation being taken too far. It is now considered an umbrella term for just about any person, even heterosexuals. In an age where inclusivity reigns supreme, people are seen as bigoted for being same sex attracted or discussing biological sex, and where anyone can identify as ‘queer’, don’t be surprised when gay men fight back against this homophobia thinly veiled with ‘wokeness’.”Kurtis Tripp
Among the people liking his tweet on this side of the Atlantic were actor James Dreyfus, Constable Kevin Goody in The Thin Blue Line, and Lachlan Stuart, former head of domestic policy at the Labour party. Both gay men, they have skin in the game, though perhaps because they were men they seem to have been left alone.
But when Rosie Duffield, the Labour MP for Canterbury, dared to press the like button, the transgender thought police pounced. Duffield got into hot water with them last year when she pointed out that only women have cervixes. Yesterday she merely acknowledged a tweet from a gay man.
Whether or not Tripp was the wrong sort of gay, he certainly had the wrong sort of opinions. But rather than take it up with him, or perhaps some of the British men liking the Tweet, LGBT+ Labour announced that they had ‘been made aware that Rosie Duffield MP has once again endorsed homophobic & transphobic content online’. Like modern day witch finders they once again tore into Duffield, demanding the whip be withdrawn from her.
Who do these people think they are? While they may act like petulant student politicians getting their knickers in a twist over trivialities, the group is in fact backed by senior Labour parliamentarians. Patrons include Lords Mandelson and Adonis, and no fewer than 19 sitting MPs.
While LGBT+ Labour commented on Tripps’s criminal history — and I am not here to defend what he has done in the past — it is Duffield’s head that they are slavering over. They could barely conceal their excitement.
“We have been concerned with the transphobic interactions on Rosie Duffield’s social media profiles for over a year. During that time, we have tried to constructively engage with her and have repeatedly called on the leadership to take clear and decisive action.”LGBT+ Labour
Keir Starmer certainly does need to take clear and decisive action: but not against Rosie Duffield. He needs to rein in LGBT+ Labour before they take his party any further down a rabbit hole. They are certainly touchy — they took umbrage at the term ‘transgender thought police’. Those are words that I used in a Spectator piece that Duffield then shared. A year later and her ‘crime’ — tweeting that piece written by a transgender journalist — has not been forgotten.
But how will this hounding of Rosie Duffield possibly win hearts and minds on the doorsteps? Thirty years on, County Durham is a very different place. The Labour council has fallen while Tony Blair’s old seat of Sedgefield is now represented by a Conservative. Labour is in an existential crisis. If the party ever wants to climb back into power, it needs to win back voters in Durham.
But while those communities have become more liberal — LGBT people are accepted and included to an extent that would have been unimaginable 30 years ago — the politics of LGBT+ Labour appears distinctly authoritarian. They may talk about ‘diversity’ but when it comes to diversity of thought, they seem to exhibit the same kind of intolerance I grew up with. Starmer does indeed need to take action; he needs to tackle LGBT+ Labour.
Debbie Hayton is a teacher and journalist.