Labour Party’s first ever trans Women’s Officer explains why she has the right to represent her gender
Lily Madigan was the first trans woman to be elected as the Labour Party’s Women’s Officer. A voice for millions of female voters, she also championed trans rights and - having previously sued her own school - fought to ensure that trans people are duly represented.
Now a Labour Party Women’s Officer at her university, Lily continues to fight for equality. However, her right to represent women has been repeatedly questioned. Here, she discusses her gender, her transition and her role within politics.
Four Nine: What do you think are the biggest issues British women will face in 2019?
“I think the biggest one is the cuts to our services. The Tories brought women's refuges out of the protected budget so lots of councils now don't have that protected. At my old council, we managed to get them to protect it. But that's a service that they can get rid of, or not adequately fund. So stuff like that is worrying and it's part of a trend that we always see under the Tories of the gradual defunding of services for everyone, but especially women and LGBT groups.”
Four Nine: Have you seen any change in the world of politics and the way it's conducted following #MeToo campaign?
“I think that #MeToo was mostly American and it didn't take off here as much as I would have liked. We still have to have that argument a lot in Westminster. It's a culture of male entitlement and upper-class bougieness in the worst possible way.
"It's worrying here in Britain that people might be enthused by Trump"
"We have these people - really the people that #MeToo should be calling out and it is calling out. But it’s not really having the same impact here, especially in the Westminster bubble, as in does in America. I do think it's something that we need quite badly.”
Four Nine: What are your thoughts on Trump scrapping the policies which aim to protect trans people?
“I met with the LGBT community in LA a few months ago and it’s really sad that it's really been in between then and now that he said he's going to make it so that all the US government departments define people just on biosex. It's really hard to think about.
“But I think it's part of a gradual trend that we've seen under Trump which is eroding trans people’s rights. He hasn't yet been able to kick them out the military, but it looks like it’s probably going to go that way. There are clashes against defining people by their biological sex. But I think the way the government there is, it will get through eventually. It's a worrying time and it's worrying here in Britain that people might be enthused by Trump. David T Davies or Jacob Rees-Mogg might see what Trump’s doing and think ‘oh that gets votes - maybe we should start throwing people under the bus’. Definitely, there’s a worry that the Tories might turn into the nasty party on LGBT people, but specifically on trans people.”
Four Nine: Do you consider America's bathroom Bill to be a key issue or do you think this was just distracting from the wider picture?
“It's definitely a problem in some places, like North Carolina where they put in the law. Fortunately, there was a lot of solidarity from big business so they pulled it but even still it's there for a few more years. It’s worrying to think about stuff like that and the impact it would have on me if I lived there. If you can't go to public toilets, then you can't really leave your home. Of course, there isn't really a way to enforce it such that it doesn't demonise people who don't fit into a very rigid gender binary.”
Four Nine: You've had quite a public argument with people who you refer to as TERFs. Can you explain that?
“TERFs are Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists, which isn’t the best way to describe them. Personally, I don’t see them as feminists. It’s an old term from the brackets and waves of feminism, the same way that I wouldn’t see first or second wave feminism as actual feminism.
“TERFs are the lemons to my lemonade, I like to say, by which I mean I have a lot of arguments with them. It kind of just builds me up to new platforms and heights. Normally it's about stuff like women's-only spaces and the government trying to reform the Gender Recognition Act. And it’s all straw-man arguments and whistle-blowing because the government isn’t changing our protections for women's-only spaces. They already changed them in 2010 - so trans women would legally be able to use the areas they identify with.
"I went to London one day, with this list of law firms that I went around until I found one which was nice enough to help me for free. Then I sued my school under Labour’s Equality Act"
“My arguments with TERFs are very bizarre in that they don't make much sense. It's very hate and bigotry-fuelled. That’s the way I see it. It’s like arguing with someone who doesn’t necessarily want to listen to reason. I can tell them as many times as I can that the government aren’t changing women's-only protections - they’re just changing how I get my birth certificate and demedicalising the process of transitioning and making it so I don’t have to pay as much.”
Four Nine: Have you been a life-long Labour Party member or was working with them merely an opportunity that presented itself?
“So when I was at school, I came out as trans. My school was really not fab. My family weren’t very fab. I was 17 when I came out and I spent that year not on grades I should have been but trying to get my school to change and call me by my name and use my pronouns and let me dress how I wanted.
“I didn’t get anywhere until I turned 18 and I could legally take legal action. So I went to London one day, with this list of law firms that I went around until I found one which was nice enough to help me for free. Then I sued my school under Labour’s Equality Act.
“After that, I thought ‘Labour’s quite good now’. Then Jeremy Corbyn came along and that really inspired me. I think it was the general election that got me properly thinking about it. So I joined up just before the general election.”
Four Nine: How do Labour and Conservative party policies differ on trans rights?
“So actually, they're mostly the same. Conservatives are the ones who started the process to reform the Gender Recognition Act. Theresa May has spoken up about it a lot of times - most recently at the Pink News Awards, I think - and said we need to get this done and end this climate of bullying and harassment at school that trans people face. So they’re actually quite good on it and it’s a credit to the last Labour government that the Tories have moved so far to the left on LGBT stuff.
“Labour are quite similar. They want to reform the Gender Recognition Act and make sure it gets done. The only other thing is they’ve said they want to update the Equalities Act. They want to change “gender orientation” to “gender identity”. They mean the same thing but one is the one that we use and one is the one that someone came up with.”
Four Nine: Why do you think it's important to have more trans representation within politics?
“We've had this massive debate this year about trans identity and it's really striking how there are no trans people in Parliament having the debate when there are meetings about whether we should be able to access spaces that we've already been able to access with no problems for the better part of a decade now. There are no trans people who can go along and stand up for ourselves. We have to go and put pressure on MPS and hope that they go and do it for us.
"Things that impact women often impact trans women harder"
“It's just important that we have more trans people in politics generally because all things that impact people in society are going to hit people at the intersections of identities harder. Trans people face mass unemployment. It’s not equivalent in this country but half of the trans people in Ireland aren’t employed and when they do get employment, a lot of those people have to hide their identity. And this links into class and the NHS because the more [cis] passing you are, the more job opportunities you get.
“With the NHS being defunded, the wait times are around 12 weeks but it’s like 113 weeks for a trans person to start getting treatment which is awful. Because they [don’t] consider it essential treatment. If you can’t transition to become more cis passing, or however you want to look, that can impact your job opportunities and then you can’t pay for surgeries to look more cis passing - which really relates it to class as well.
“There are so many different things like that. At uni, I’m not supported by my family which is unfortunately the case for a lot of LGBT people and trans people - who are financially independent for the worse. Even the maximum tuition loan isn’t enough for us, especially for me here in London where my loan doesn’t even cover my rent.”
Four Nine: Would you say there's a divide between politics and activism?
“Activism is more on the fringes, I’d say. I’m starting to campaign more on climate change, which the Tories didn’t even include in their budget. The experts say that we’ve got about 13 years left before it’s too late. And stuff like that is going to impact people at the intersections as well.
“With sex work, I see lots of links between that and being trans - we both just want access to medical care. We both just want better state benefits - so we don’t have to go through precarious job opportunities.”
Four Nine: What do you say to the criticism that your lived experience is inherently different to that of someone who was born biologically female?
“Everyone's life experiences are different. I have a different experience than a cis woman. I don’t overthink it too much. I don’t think it matters in the larger political argument. I think that lots of things that apply to cis women apply to me worse. But also, in some cases, not as bad.
"When you look at the demographics, we should have about five times the amount of young people that we have in Parliament"
“But trans women are more likely to be sexually assaulted and more likely to be attacked. Things that impact women often impact trans women harder.”
Four Nine: What are your hopes for the future of politics?
“I'm hoping that we tackle this far-right personification that we’re seeing in people like Trump, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson. I think they’re definitely feeling emboldened at the moment. But I think we have to target that. I think we have to get a Labour government elected and tackle the things that led to Brexit. It was leave-voting areas that were most impacted by austerity. I think we welcome representation, especially young people. I think young people are so on it in so many regards. If we get more of them in Parliament, we'll be fine.
“Actually, when you look at the demographics, we should have about five times the amount of young people that we have in Parliament. Labor actually is one of the worst. The average age of a Labor MP is 60. The average age of an MP in Parliament overall is 50.
“It feels like young people just aren't being given the opportunity that we deserve, politically. So hopefully we tackle that. And hopefully, we get our first trans MP soon.”
Whether at a constituency level or within a university, the role of Women’s Officer is to represent all women. Lily has proven that, despite attacks from women who don’t feel accurately represented by a trans woman, politics itself has the potential to be a safe space for trans people.