Socialist Alternative

Why the fight for trans liberation is a class struggle

In Scotland and across the UK, the bosses and establishment politicians lose no opportunity to divide working people and distract us from the need to build a united struggle. Their latest attack is to re-frame the fight for trans liberation as a ‘danger’ to cisgender women. The only ‘danger’ that trans liberation poses is a danger to the position of the ruling class. We should fight for solidarity within the working class, and we must refuse to let the establishment win in this latest ‘divide and rule’ tactic.

Class struggle 

Although heightened by their unique oppression, many of the struggles trans people face are part of the same systemic struggles of the wider working class under capitalism. The following are just some of the arenas trans workers and young people face oppression and discrimination in every day:

In the Workplace: half of transgender people in the UK experience unemployment; one in three employers say they wouldn’t hire a trans person; 40% of young Scottish trans people say their identity has a negative impact on their job prospects. 

In Housing: one in four trans people (even more amongst trans people of colour) experience homelessness at some point in their lives. The need for safe, accessible housing is especially urgent for the more than one in four trans people in relationships experiencing domestic abuse. 

In Healthcare: Almost two in five trans people in Scotland avoid seeking healthcare for fear of discrimination. When they do, services are at breaking point, the waiting list for Scotland’s only young people’s gender service has risen from 151 in 2017 to 903, the average wait is over two years.

In Education: One in three trans university students experience negative treatment from staff; 77% of transgender young people in Scotland experienced bullying in school, and 37% had left education as a result compared to 10% of all LGBTQ+ students – itself a shockingly high figure.

The Westminster and Holyrood governments are failing the working class in all these areas, and these failings are vastly amplified for trans lives. We must stand in solidarity through our shared struggle with all oppressed people. The liberation of trans people is essential for the liberation of the entire working class. The fight against discrimination and trans oppression is inseparable from the fight against cuts and to meet the needs of all working people for jobs, homes and services. 

Culture wars 

The media is ramping up its attacks on trans people. It is common to switch on the radio or television and find a group of cisgender people ‘debating’ the validity of trans identities. There are endless abstract and manufactured ‘debates’ about bathrooms, sports and pronouns.

While these can be important topics, the narratives are skewed in a way that excludes and ‘others’ trans and queer people. They are designed to evoke feelings of confusion and unease. While trans teachers, parents and pensioners are left without a voice, the media does not hesitate to publish baseless but screaming headlines about bearded rapists in frocks demanding access to women’s spaces. 

With the capitalist media attacking from one side, we have the policy makers at Westminster and Holyrood on the other. Reforming the Gender Recognition Act to allow trans people to self-identify their gender would vastly reduce waiting times at Gender Identity Clinics. This is one simple policy that could have meaningful impact, but the Tory and SNP governments have stalled these amendments due to infighting within their parties, as we see the same ‘culture war’ rhetoric being peddled.

This has also been seen in the recent attempts to exclude trans people from a conversion therapy ban in England and Wales in order to pander to the religious right. The same is seen in Scotland, where conversion therapy is in fact legal upon ‘consent’ – completely ignoring the fact that it is impossible to consent to what is essentially a form of psychological torture.

LGBTQ+ liberation must be fought for

As with any other working-class liberation movement, the fight for LGBTQ+ rights has only made gains through struggle.

The first Pride in 1970 commemorated the Stonewall riots of 28 June 1969 in New York City, sparked by a violent police raid on a popular gay bar, the Stonewall Inn. Raids were routine in LGBTQ+ spaces, particularly in Black and brown areas. This night was different, however: the community fought back. As the police detained customers and bar staff, the crowd did not disperse. Long frustrated by police brutality, the crowd resisted the police and liberated the detainees.

The cops, unaccustomed to such resistance from the LGBTQ+ community, barricaded themselves in the bar while the crowd rioted outside. The protest, and unrest in the days after, was largely led by lesbian and trans women of colour. These protests were a galvanising force for LGBTQ+ activism, leading to the formation of grassroots LGBTQ+ rights organisations worldwide.

Stonewall was a stark reminder that those most oppressed under capitalism can become a powerful force when unified against those who seek to divide us.

Build a mass movement in shared struggle

The LGBTQ+ rights movement cannot just be limited to ‘inclusion’ in the existing social order. Indeed, this is an order which is based on the exploitation of the working-class majority by a tiny minority – the capitalist class. Integral to the maintenance of this system, is the special oppression not just trans people, but of all women, people of colour, disabled people and LGBTQ+ people.

We must fight for complete LGBTQ+ liberation. This can only be achieved through revolutionary change to end capitalism and build a socialist society based on the needs of everyone, not the profits of the few. 

The ruling class recognised long ago that a truly united workers’ movement can be an unstoppable force. This is why they sow the seeds of division, pitting worker against worker in the hope we will become too preoccupied to realise that fundamentally our struggles are one. We must unite in solidarity, and build a mass movement to end this transphobic, homophobic, racist and sexist system, for the liberation of all!