The Green Party Is Tearing Itself Apart In A Furious Row Over Trans Rights
Sian Berry alluded to a row about trans rights when she announced her decision not to stand again as Green Party leader this week, lighting a fuse among members – just a few months after record election results.
After winning 99 more council seats in May, and boasting a record membership of 53,000, Berry said her pro-trans rights position is inconsistent with individuals chosen by the party to sit on the front-bench. She said the party was now sending “mixed messages” on where it stood.
“There is now an inconsistency between the sincere promise to fight for trans rights and the message sent by the party’s choice of front bench representatives,” Berry said in her statement on why she would not seek to be re-elected as party leader.
Numerous Green Party members who contacted PoliticsHome in the wake of Berry’s announcement pointed to the former deputy leader Shahrar Ali, who is the spokesperson for policing and domestic safety, as the member Berry has likely taken issue with.
In July last year, Ali shared a statement to Twitter titled “What is Woman”.
"A woman is commonly defined as an adult human female and, genetically, typified by two XX chromosomes,” he wrote. “These facts are not in dispute nor should they be in any political party” infuriated some members.”
The statement is consistent with common gender critical views, that state a person can only be considered a woman if they are born biologically female. It attracted criticism that the message was anti-trans.
Despite the party policy being pro-trans – that transgender women are women – and there is a right to self-identification, the party has since attracted criticism as a result of a series of motions at party conference led by a gender critical group who are trying to rewrite the official Green line.
Berry's co-leader of the party, Jonathan Bartley, who is not running for the post again, is on the pro-trans wing of the party as is former leadership candidate Dr Rosi Sexton who came second in the 2020 election on a pro-trans platform.
Members have complained of a party that has a “massive ill-discipline” problem in its ranks, a lack of internal democracy and that minority transphobic views are getting too much exposure.
"These are growing pains. We're having a crisis in the party at the moment but we will get through it,” Sexton told PoliticsHome.
“It's important to have voices like mine, to be constructively critical. We've got to get to grips with the problems in our constitution, our procedural issues. We've got to start behaving like a grown up party."
With little media attention given to the party outside of major elections, and a constitutional rule that bans members from criticising each other in public, some Greens have said they hope Berry’s departure will lift the lid on fierce rifts bubbling below the surface and enable a chance for a re-set.
“The leaders don’t decide the spokespeople which means we’re a fully democratic party,” Zack Polanski, a Green Party London Assembly Member, who praised Berry’s leadership.
“But obviously sometimes that brings things into conflict, and she was unhappy with the spokespeople who are effectively our front-bench.
“She’s a fierce advocate on trans rights. She said we need that front bench to speak with one voice on trans issues and sadly that’s not necessarily true.”
Within the party there are members who advocate a gender critical stance, which has been seen in motions brought to conference since around 2017, according to one member.
Another activist said since the Greens had already passed a motion on in favour of self-identification on gender, as opposed to being it determined by the sex identified at birth, it is inappropriate for it to be continually debated and for efforts to be made to change policy.
“The membership is overwhelmingly in favour of trans and non-binary rights,” said one member who sits on a local party’s executive branch.
“We have repeatedly passed policies showing this, conference after conference, and to see a very small but an extremely vocal insidious minority exert a campaign of control of the party is so disappointing.”
Ali’s position on trans rights came up in nearly all the emails from members who contacted PoliticsHome. This weekend the Young Greens will debate a motion calling for the party to revoke his position as a spokesperson.
But other members feel Berry has spent too much time focused on the trans debate at the expense of environmental matters.
“In the party we all support the rights of trans people to live a free life expressing themselves as they feel most comfortable,” one activist said.
“There is no ‘anti-trans’ faction in the party, and no ‘transphobes’,” they continued.
“There are members, women and men, who see a conflict between the demands of the more extreme trans-rights activists and women's rights.
The activist accused Berry of “attacking” those who disagreed with her with “the unfounded slur of transphobe and being anti-trans” and leaving those concerned with environmental issues feeling “dismayed”.
“Whatever your view on these, the way to resolve them is by reasoned discussion,” they added.
Ashley Routh, a trans woman who co-chairs the Greens LGBTIQA group said she had seen the party change significantly in the decade since she became a member.
“For me being in this party is pushing for the policy you support at conference and accepting the democratic outcome,” she explained.
"I didn’t join the Green Party to talk about trans rights, I joined them to focus on saving the planet.
“I genuinely think most of our members would now rather stop talking about it. We passed policy, let’s move on to other things.”
A Green Party spokesperson welcomed internal debate and said the party was "unified more than most"
"The Green Party recognises that trans men are men, trans women are women, and that non-binary identities exist and are valid," they continued.
"We are proud to have the most progressive trans policy of any other UK-wide party and that members voted on this at conference in a fair and democratic way."
Correction: An earlier version of this post claimed Dr Ali had been banned from standing for elected office. This is untrue, and we have apologised to Dr Ali.
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe