I love the JVL motto. It reads: "Always with the oppressed; never with the oppressor". It seems to me the perfect expression of what the group stands for, and something that all socialists should aspire to. And it's unequivocal. We don't pick and choose which oppressed groups we're going to stand with, letting others go to the wall. Instead we place ourselves shoulder to shoulder with every victim of hatred, discrimination, abuse and violence. Every victim. No exception.
One of the most frequently targeted groups in our society is the transgender community. As the good people over at Stonewall point out, trans folk are more likely than other sections of the LGBT community to experience hate crime, with two in five trans people experiencing a hate crime or incident because of their gender identity in a given twelve month period. This statistic is astonishing, given that most such incidents still go unreported.
One would have thought that extending solidarity to the victims of such discrimination, and supporting the targeted community's attempts to gain legal parity with the rest of the population, would be an absolute no brainer for every socialist. But apparently not.
On my home turf (if you'll excuse the pun) here in Bristol there is a highly vocal, aggressive minority of trans haters firmly ensconced in the local Labour Party. They are well organised and well resourced, and they seem to have decided that the main battleground in British society in 2019 is not going to be around austerity or Brexit or the election of a Labour government, but rather around their struggle to stop the reform of the Gender Recognition Act.
In pursuit of that goal, and in order to win allies in the broader Corbyn-supporting Left, these TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists) have not been shy about broadcasting disinformation about the reform proposals. They have utilised resources and websites promoted and financed by right wing Christian fundamentalist groups based in the United States - groups which are inherently anti-LGBT, and (incidentally) also virulently anti-feminist.
At the same time, these comrades have consistently rubbished and down-played the seriousness of transgender oppression and the difficult lived reality of transgender people. They have sought to marginalise and silence transgender women within the movement. They have created an intellectually dishonest narrative to bolster their case, mostly because the underlying belief they seem to subscribe to - that transgender folk represent a Trojan horse designed by 'the patriarchy' to subvert the gains of women's struggles - would rightly be seen as completely potty were they daft enough to openly promote it.
Perhaps the most depressing thing about this small group of activists is the utter lack of compassion they show towards trans men and women who face a daily struggle against the contempt, hostility and (often) violence of our society - a society that we all wish to see changed for the better. If socialism is about anything, it is about the human capacity to empathise with others and to try and better their lot as well as our own. But for this small group of TERFs, compassion is reserved for those who meet a set of predetermined criteria.
This small but vociferous group has done great harm, breaking the unity of the pro-Corbyn left in Bristol, destroying old friendships and alliances, and injecting bile, spite and toxicity into the political landscape.
One or two of the most vocal activists within this unholy alliance between separatist feminism and the Christian right happen to be members of JVL. I only wish that they'd read - and understood - JVL's founding principles before they joined up. Certainly they don't represent the organisation in any way, shape or form. Actually, they don't represent much of anything, other than an insular and short-lived off-shoot of feminism that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s, and which should have been left there.
It would be easy to remain silent on this issue. But I happen to take the JVL motto seriously. We stand with ALL of the oppressed, shoulder to shoulder with them in their daily struggles. We don't pick and choose. Nor do we, for the sake of expediency, maintain a convenient silence when we see people bullied, marginalised and abused by comrades who should know better.
Footnote: JVL's slogan was adapted from the wonderful words of Marek Edelman, one of the leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising -