A comment by the rs21 Steering Group

Photo: Steve Eason

rs21’s usual approach to other groups on the left is to work together where we can, and to avoid getting into disputes with other groups for the sake of it. But we feel it’s necessary to comment on a recent article on the Counterfire website, headlined ‘Liberalism’s hegemony over the left’ and written by Mike Wayne.

This morning two young people have been charged with the murder of Brianna Ghey. Police stated yesterday that they are investigating whether that murder was a hate crime. The attack on Brianna took place in the context of years of media transphobia, increasing transphobic hate crime and attacks on trans people by the Tory government. This is why Brianna’s death has such a resonance for trans people and cisgender people who stand in solidarity with them – why over 40 vigils have now been organised, why the vigil in Liverpool last night was attended by many hundreds of people, and why a larger and angry vigil in London tonight chanted slogans referring to Tory scum. These issues have become even more urgent as the fascists of Patriotic Alternative, linked to the attack last week on refugees at the Suites Hotel in Knowsley, also organised a protest last weekend against a Drag Queen Story Hour at Tate Britain.

It was in this context, on Monday, that Counterfire chose to publish an article which does nothing to condemn Brianna’s murder or transphobia in general, but instead attacks support for trans people, such as using correct pronouns, as ‘rampant individualism and… wild-eyed idealism’. The article also attacks anti-racist organising, using the term critical race theory at a time when the American hard right is also attacking ideas which they label in the same way. Fighting oppression, including racism, must always be the starting point for socialists. The piece also makes ill-informed comments about sex worker activism.

Mike Wayne, the author of the article, has previously written for Counterfire siding with Kathleen Stock and Sussex University management against UCU and LGBT students at the university. He is co-director of the film Adult Human Female, the screening of which at Edinburgh University in December was opposed by the local UCU branch, the staff LGBTQ+ network and the students’ union.

Counterfire’s position on trans oppression is described in a resolution that refers to ‘combatting the oppression of both women and trans people’. Yet it also makes reference to a supposed clash between ‘women’s rights and trans rights’, a framing that is a cornerstone of transphobic ideology in Britain. The articles Counterfire has published, and its failure to take any action in support of trans people, make clear that it is wholly supportive of anti-trans activist efforts.

We call on Counterfire to remove this transphobic article from their website, and to re-evaluate their approach to trans liberation, which can only at present be described as transphobic and reactionary. If the leadership of Counterfire will not change their position, we say to Counterfire members that it’s the duty of socialists to stand in solidarity with the oppressed, and that they should reconsider their continuing Counterfire membership in that light.

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