Danni Crowter, NEU Trans and Non-binary Educators Network (personal capacity)
The issues of democracy and transphobia within the National Education Union (NEU) have been dragged into the public eye again over the last few weeks. The Officers Group (OG) of the Union voted to nominate Debbie Hayton, a supporter of the transphobic feminist group A Woman’s Place, for a trans position on the TUC LGBT+ Council.
The OG is made up of six current and past presidents, including Kiri Tunks, a founding member of A Woman’s Place. Hayton’s views, encapsulated in her infamous ‘trans women are men - get over it!’ t-shirt, are at odds with NEU policy and the views of the vast majority of NEU members.
This move was met with fury from members in the NEU Trans and Non-binary Network after it was revealed not through a public statement, but through messages shared in the ‘Campaign for a Fighting Democratic Union’ WhatsApp group. We immediately launched a petition demanding that the nomination was withdrawn and that the Union issue a public apology, and wrote to all Executive members asking them to ask for the nomination to be withdrawn. Within two days the petition had 1500 signatures, and was discussed at all of the Executive Steering Groups who overwhelmingly condemned the OG decision. Both Haringey and Lewisham district committees unanimously passed motions demanding the nomination was withdrawn.
The OG then met again and issued a statement claiming they were not ‘fully informed’ on what and who they were voting for, and acknowledging that they had caused ‘upset and discomfort’ among members. It is clear that some of the officers did not know about Hayton’s views - but this cannot be said for Kiri Tunks, who voted for and pushed the nomination of Hayton. This decision was taken despite it being very clear that it does not reflect the views of our membership, particularly our trans and non-binary members.
An email from NEU President Amanda Martin was then sent to Executive members, claiming there had been ‘concerns raised’ about the ‘use of the official NEU logo’ on the petition - a thinly-veiled threat against the organisers. The Trans and Non-binary Network is a recognised group within the Union - despite this we were attacked for using the Union’s logo! Bureaucratic attacks on members over petty issues like this have no place in the labour movement.
Finally, after nine days of campaigning on this issue, Amanda Martin apologised for the decision. It also seems that the threats of action over the use of the NEU logo have been withdrawn. Clearly this does not fix the problem, and members are still pushing for the nomination to be withdrawn - including writing to TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady asking for the TUC not to accept the vote - however it is a significant step forward that the Union’s officers have admitted the problem.
The disgusting nature of Hayton’s views was the catalyst for this outcry, but it would be wrong for the OG to be taking these decisions whoever they voted for. None of the members of the OG can be held accountable by the members, particularly LGBT+ members. The decision could have been taken by the intended delegates to the NEU LGBT+ conference, by the LGBT+ National Organising Forum, or by the Union’s Executive. The Covid-19 pandemic has prevented in-person meetings - it has not prevented democracy altogether! Our Executive and district meetings must be allowed to vote and take decisions, rather than small sections of the leadership making those decisions.
The Tory plans to scrap the Gender Recognition Act reforms and threats to introduce a ‘bathroom bill’ are an attack on trans rights, and the labour movement must meet that attack head on with public statements of support for trans people, lobbying of MPs and ultimately with industrial action. This struggle within the NEU shows that we can win: we need a fighting union that will fight the Tories and the transphobes.
Socialist Alternative members in the NEU are hosting a meeting on fighting for trans rights in schools and in the NEU on Monday 22nd, register here for the Zoom link!