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Women's meeting besieged by raging crowd

The Morning Star reports from Woman’s Place UK’s Labour Party conference unofficial fringe meeting

AN ANGRY crowd besieged a Woman’s Place UK (WPUK) meeting in Brighton on Monday night, crowding and shouting: “Shame on you” at individuals entering and banging on the windows throughout in an attempt to drown out the speakers.

Protesters chanted that “WPUK is a hate group,” repeating claims by some trans activists that the feminist organisation is hostile to trans people’s rights, an assertion rejected by speakers at the event. 

One woman was doused in water as she entered while a young PhD student was reduced to tears and missed most of the subsequent meeting because the “terrifying” experience brought on a panic attack.

The protest against WPUK’s A Woman’s Place is At Conference event was endorsed from the platform at Momentum’s The World Transformed event, leading to a larger turnout against the meeting, but protesters were heavily outnumbered by the 100 or so women and a few men who braved the demo and attended. 

One retired female police officer said the policing of the demo was “a disgrace,” saying one protester had leaned in and screamed: “Shame on you” in her ear. 

Socialist feminist campaigner Dani Ahrens said the leadership of the LGBT movement had moved away from a liberating vision as it became closer to corporate sponsors. 

Opposing proposals that exemptions under the Equality Act allowing some women’s services to restrict access to natal women be removed, she said: “I’m not suggesting that trans women should be denied support. But I do think it is unreasonable to demand the removal of female-only spaces that allow traumatised women to recover.

“I’m not an enemy of trans people and nothing I have said tonight is an attempt to deny anyone’s rights. We all have a much more dangerous enemy — the growing threat of fascism driven by catastrophic climate change.

“Everyone must acknowledge that there is a discussion to be had. We are well past the point where women will accept being silenced. The Labour Party should be enabling this discussion,” she said to cheers. 

Author and campaigner against trafficking of women and girls Onjali Rauf said the attempt to prevent the meeting going ahead showed “how little women actually possess in terms of safe spaces to speak our minds. Everyone who made it through the crowd outside — well done.”

She argued that “all the labels being given us” in terms of multiple genders “instead of freeing us are boxing us in,” and perpetuate stereotypes of masculinity and femininity.

“If you want to step out of the social ‘he-man’ box and feel more comfortable in the social ‘she-woman’ box feel free,” she said, “but please don’t take away spaces women are still fighting for. Make your own spaces, or better still, take space from men — they’ve got loads!”

Having worked with trafficked victims of sexual abuse, she cautioned that for many “women who have been punched, beaten, raped, being made to accept the presence of former men in their safe spaces will lead to further trauma and distrust of the services that have been set up to help them.”

Final speaker, socialist and Labour Party activist Kay Green, asked how many of the audience were Labour Party members — almost all hands shot up — and said: “My message tonight is specifically for the Labour Party.

“Conflict between sex-based rights and gender reassignment is not inevitable,” she argued, “but it is if you deal with it in terms of ‘gender identity.’

“You cannot be against gender stereotypes because it is sexist and support gender identity which is based on those stereotypes.

“Appeasing noisy complainers doesn’t work: they get more confident and more unpleasant. By complying with bullies and gossips you silence the quiet people.

“In this context and this debate, that means the vulnerable people — abuse survivors. The not-that-out lesbians, the transexuals who have the misfortune not to agree with Stonewall.”

She rejected the monstering of “gender-critical feminists,” saying: “We are attacked as if being critical of gender is some aberration rather than the core principle of feminism that it is. But where women’s groups have led the way the left is lagging behind.”

National Education Union joint general secretary Kevin Courtney was in attendance and he tweeted that he had come to the meeting to find out “what it was all about” but that the protesters were “banging on the windows so loud that you can’t hear yourself think — that can’t be the right way to deal with the issue.”

Later, as the meeting closed, he tweeted that he was pleased to have attended and that “I’ve heard opinions that the protesters wouldn’t agree with. I haven’t heard any hate speech.”

A WPUK spokeswoman told the Morning Star: “The volume, the intensity of the chanting, and the size of the crowd — it was intimidating. It was very aggressive and threatening, and intended to be so.

“We had women arriving through the crush in tears. One woman had liquid thrown at her as she tried to enter. Even the men who attended were shocked at the scale of the harassment because they’re not normally subject to this.

“The police were there but the protesters were allowed to continue their harassment and banging and kicking on the windows for the entire meeting and we felt trapped inside.

“We planned the event for a week in collaboration with the police — and they didn’t step up.

“We will be lodging an official complaint over their failure to protect women's right to freedom of association.”

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