Trans rights protest in London 9 July. Photo: London SP
Trans rights protest in London 9 July. Photo: London SP

Michael Johnson Socialist Party LGBTQ+ caucus convenor

The death of Brianna Ghey has sparked not just mourning but anger across the country. 16-year-old Brianna was killed in Warrington on 11 February; her death is currently under investigation after two teenagers appeared in court charged with murder. Brianna was a transgender girl and it has been reported that the police are investigating whether the killing could be a possible hate crime.

Brianna’s death has led to mourning not just from those who knew her but among the LGBTQ+ community and wider society. Vigils for Brianna in the days since her death have seen hundreds come together, to remember her and to stand against attacks on trans people.

For trans people, Brianna’s death has come at a time of increased attacks across society. The proposed Gender Recognition Reform in Scotland, which would make it easier for trans people to get a gender recognition certificate, was blocked by the Tories using Section 35 of the Scotland Act. This act continued the weak Sunak Tory party’s attempts to sow division though so-called “culture wars”. During the first post-Johnson leadership elections, we saw candidates fall over each other to express the most anti-trans statements.

And trans people are finding little support fighting against the transphobia of the Tory party from Starmer’s Labour Party. When it comes to trans rights, Starmer is only willing to make vague promises to look at the gender recognition process. Under Starmer Labour is reliable only to big business – not workers and young people fighting the cost-of-living crisis or for our rights. He has ruled out making it easier for trans people Brianna’s age to have their gender recognised and get the support they deserve.

The attacks faced by trans people from the Tories and the media can be challenged even if the supposed opposition from Starmer refuses to do so. Friends of Brianna have spoken about the bullying she was receiving at school prior to her death. Unfortunately this is not unique to Brianna and takes place up and down the country. School student unions and workers in trade unions, like those in the National Education Union (NEU) currently taking strike action, could join together to oversee and monitor anti-bullying and harassment policies and action to tackle it when it happens. (See ‘Surrey community condemns brutal racist attack on pupil’ an example of how organised workers in trade unions can take the lead against, in this instance, racist bullying).

Much space has been found in major pro-capitalist newspapers to attack trans rights and whip up division. Many people have drawn links to the ‘moral panics’ against gay and lesbian people in the 1980s at the height of the battle against Thatcher’s homophobic Section 28. Even in reporting Brianna’s death, newspapers have removed the word ‘girl’ to refer to Brianna and reported her name prior to transition, further fuelling anger towards the capitalist media.

The media of the bosses, regurgitating their ideas and the politics of division, can be countered. Trade unionists taking strike action will be able to empathise with trans people as both face attacks from sections of the capitalist media. The Socialist Party calls for the nationalisation of newspaper printing facilities, radio, TV and social media platforms with access to these facilities under democratic workers’ control.

Papers like The Socialist, written by and for working-class people, can tackle the real issues affecting working-class people, including trans people. They can put forward a programme to unite and fight for the resources workers and trans people need. This would include fighting for a fully funded healthcare system, including the services needed by trans people, decent well-paying jobs and high-quality, affordable housing, alongside extending the legal rights necessary to self-identify.

Brianna’s tragic death has sadly highlighted the ongoing issues trans people, young and old, experience. There is a real alternative to the transphobia of the capitalist system and their political representatives. The building of a new mass workers’ party would allow LGBTQ+ people to join forces with workers who are also struggling and taking action, together we can fight for our interests and win a real change in society, for a socialist society based on democratic planning and cooperation instead of the divisive capitalist system of today.

Socialist Party members attended vigils, offering to those who wanted it a leaflet on the fight for trans rights and a fighting programme for a working-class and socialist alternative. Below are reports from some of them:

Scott Hunter, Socialist Party Swindon reports:

“People of all ages, extremely angry and concerned about the state of trans rights, gathered outside Swindon Central Library to mourn Brianna Ghey’s death.

“I was able to say a few words on behalf of the Socialist Party. The word ‘Tories’ was a curse at this vigil but I pointed to Labour’s chequered record on trans and LGBTQ+ rights. Trans people are already more likely to live in poverty and, like other workers, need political representation. I pointed out that the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), which the Socialist Party takes part in standing in elections, holds LGBTQ+ rights as a core part of its platform. I advocated fighting as part of a broader political and industrial movement of trade unionists and the working class.

“As Sunak plans to fight the next election over so-called ‘culture wars’, the Socialist Party and TUSC will continue to stand in solidarity with LGBTQ+ people everywhere and fight for a real working-class alternative.”

Helen Pattison reports from the vigils in London on 18 and 25 February:

“The road was already full outside the Department for Education (DfE) when the vigil was scheduled to start. Yet streaming down the road were hundreds of young people joining it. It was a sombre event but Socialist Party leaflets were well received. The protest had been organised outside the DfE because Brianna Ghey’s family had raised about bullying repeatedly with the school. Hate crimes against trans people saw a 56% rise in 2022.

“Videos appearing on social media of the event included chants of ‘Fuck the Tories’ and ‘Fuck Keir Starmer’ showing the need for a political alternative.

“Our leaflet made the call to build a mass movement against transphobia. Such a movement would also have to fight to get rid of the Tories, end austerity and for the investment in all the services we need. As well as standing for the legal rights necessary such as to self-identify. “

Jas Molloy, Northampton Socialist Party:

“Attendance was high at the vigil in Northampton, an event in which trans and queer people were able to process the very strong emotions attached to this kind of tragedy. Speakers at the vigil voiced their fear, despair, and frustration. We know that Brianna will not be the last under our current political system.”

Protesters said to Nick Hart attending the Birmingham demo: “No great government is going to give us our rights, we have to fight for them. Fuck the Tories and Fuck Keir Starmer”

And: “The media and politicians are playing a dangerous game of divide and conquer. They profit from our lives and treat us as a political football – we are fed up. Our society needs to be corrected.”