Election 2019: Twenty one parliamentary candidates label women as ‘terfs’.
On 21st November 2019, while hearing evidence against the Police in the High Court Mr Justice Julian Knowles, High Court Judge said:
“I have become familiar with the term TERF. It is a derogatory term used by those who seek to de-platform those who hold different views”
The specific targeting of women to silence and control is an age-old tactic. We’ve had the burning of women as witches, denigration of suffragettes, honour killings, rape victim shaming, denouncing of single mothers. Misogynist terms like bitch and cunt are directed at women only. All facilitate control of women through fear, shame and rejection.
It is now abundantly clear that women who voice concerns about the impact of gender ideology on their existing sex-based rights are being specifically targeted with the derogatory label of ‘terf’ designed to shame and silence them.
Twenty one candidates standing in the 2019 election have used the derogatory term ‘terf’.
Use of the abusive word ‘terf’ is not acceptable in political discourse but is increasingly being used by candidates seeking parliamentary election. Fair Play For Women has searched the available twitter accounts of all candidates standing for each of the 651 parliamentary constituents in the United Kingdom going back to 2015. In total we found the word ‘terf’ has been used by twenty one election candidates, with a further six using unfounded accusations of transphobia and hate direct at people who support sex-based rights.
We found the abusive slur ‘Terf’ has been used by seven Liberal Democrat candidates, seven Labour party candidates, four Green Party Candidates and three Scottish Greens. We found no use of the word by candidate for the Conservatives, SNP and Plaid Cymru.
None of the twenty one candidates who has used the word ‘terf’ is a sitting MP. However, one Labour candidate (Sophie Wilson) is defending the Labour safe seat of Rother Valley to replace the sitting Labour MP (Kevin Barron) and is likely to be elected as an MP.
In most cases the word ‘terf’ was first used by a candidate on twitter at some point within the past two years. Eight candidates used the abusive term for the first time this year, ten candidates first used the word in 2018, with two using the word since 2017 and one from 2015. This suggests a recent and growing acceptance of this form of sexist abuse in political discourse.
Over half of the candidates using the word ‘terf’ are male. The word has been used by twelve men and ten women.
Use of ‘terf’ is most frequently used in Scotland. 10% of the parliamentary constituencies in Scotland have at least one candidate seeking election who uses the word ‘terf’ (6/59).
The Labour, Liberal Democrat and the Green party press office has been asked whether they condemn the use of the word ‘terf’ by candidates representing the party. No comment has been received from any party.
The Liberal Democrats
The Liberal Democrats candidates using the word ‘terf’ or accusations of transphobia (*) were all men except one women.
|Candidate||Constituency||Sitting MP for that constituency|
|Lee Dargue||Birmingham||Shabana Mahmood (Lab)|
|Charlie Hasted||Eltham||Clive Efford (Lab)
|James Baker||Halifax||Holly Lynch (Lab)
|Jon Hannah||Leeds North East||Fabian Hamilton (Lab)|
|Katherine Macey||Selby and Ainsty||Nigel Adams (Tory)
|James Harrison||Glasgow East||David Linden (SNP)
|Chris Robertson||Clacton||Giles Watling (Tory)|
|John Waddell*||West Aberdeenshire||Andrew Bowie (Tory)
|Chris Nelson*||Kettering||Philip Hollobone (Tory)|
The Labour party
Of the seven Labour candidates using the word ‘terf’ four were men and three were women.
|Candidate||Constituency||Sitting MP for that constituency|
|Joshua Garfield||Braintree||James Cleverly (Tory)
|Jess Barnard||Broadland||Keith Simpson (Tory)
|Samuel Sweek||Huntingdon||Jonathan Djanogly (Tory)
|Lewis Whyte||Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey||Drew Hendry (SNP)
|Thom Kirkwood||Richmond (Yorks)||Rishi Sunak (Tory)
|Joanne Ainscough||Wyre and Preston North||Ben Wallace (Tory)
|Sophie Wilson||Rother Valley||Kevin Barron (Labour)|
There were six Green Party candidates and three Scottish Greens using the word ‘terf’ or accusations of transphobia (*).
|Zack Polanski||Cities of London and Westminster||Mark Field (Tory)
|Mags Hall||Dunfermline and West Fife||Douglas Chapman (SNP)
|Fay Green||North East Somerset||Jacob Rees-Mogg (Tory)
|Sabrina Poole||The Cotswolds||Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Tory)
|Cass MacGregor||Glasgow North||Patrick Grady (SNP)
|Dan hutchinson||Glasgow South||Stewart McDonald (SNP)
|Julia Brown||Hull East||Karl Turner (Lab)
|Loyd Emmerson*||Great Grimsby||Melanie Onn (Lab)
|Danny Keeling*||West Ham||Lyn Brown (Lab)|
Use with violent and angry rhetoric
Feminists have warned against the violent rhetoric attached to the word ‘terf’ for years and its use as a sexist hate term has been written about many times; Meghan Murphy, Clare Heuchen, Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, Sarah Ditum.
Here we see the word ‘terf’ used with violent and angry rhetoric by election candidates
“This event has been gatecrashed by Terfs and omg my blood is boiling there is gonna be beef” Joshua Garfield (Labour)
“Terfs CAN go definitely fuck themselves”. Samuel Sweek (Labour)
Labelling women as hateful
The word ‘terf’ is used to unfairly label women’s motives and views as transphobic and inspired by hate. This facilitates control of women who speak about their sex-based rights through fear, shame and rejection.
“Hateful TERFS” Charley Hasted (Lib Dem)
“a bunch of anti trans insulting, hate filled people [Fair Play For Women]” Danny Keeling (Greens)
Denial that the word ‘terf’ is offensive.
The word ‘terf’ often appears in insults, threats and incitements and its designation as a slur has been discussed by linguistic expert Deborah Cameron. ‘Terf’ is now being used in a kind of discourse which has clear similarities with hate-speech directed at other groups. There are literally hundreds of examples of posts on social media using the word ‘terf’ and others to denigrate and threaten women. These are catalogued on a number of sites including Terf is a slur, Transcriticalhate, Anti-female receipts, The new backlash. Fair Play For Women has also reviewed the topic in detail where you can see real-life examples here.
Despite this some users of the word ‘terf’ still justify its use by claiming it is nothing more than a neutral ideological descriptor standing for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist. However, as described by Helen Lewis, editor of the New Statesman, “terf” is now used as a derogatory term for a transphobic and bigoted woman in a similar way that the ideological descriptor ‘Zionist’ is now used an abusive term for a Jew and is now widely considered anti-semitic abuse. Many abusive terms in fact originate from a neutral descriptor for a group of people, for example the racist terms ‘pakki’ and ‘gypo’ originate from the neutral descriptors Pakistani and Gypsy.
Here we see election candidates justifying their use of the abusive term ‘terf’.
“TERF however is not a slur any more than sexist or racist is. It is a descriptor of a type of discriminatory mindset nothing more”. Charley Hasted (Lib Dems)
“I was not aware that people now consider it [TERF] a derogatory term. I don’t consider derogatory, and had no intention of being derogatory” James Barker (Lib Dem)
“TERF is not a hate term, it’s a description” Thom Kirkwood (Labour)
Shaming others by calling them ‘terfs’ or transphobes
On 7th November it was reported that the Labour executive sacked its election candidate for Edinburgh South West who had sent a threatening tweet describing Joanna Cherry MP as a ‘terf’. Frances Carmel Hoole had shared a crudely mocked picture of her holding a bottle of Cillit Bang pointing towards a decapitated Cherry, with the words “bang and the terf is gone”. Following the outrage she deleted the tweet, saying she didn’t “perceive” the image as a threat.
We have uncovered many more examples of election candidates attempting to denigrate political opponents by labelling them ‘terfs’ or transphobes.
“shame [Joanna] Cherry is a TERF” James Harrison (Lib Dem)
“[Caroline] Lucus’s TERF-love” James Harrison (Lib Dem)
“Joanna [Cherry] wants to exclude. She’s wrong about this. She’s a transphobe. Plain and simple”. John Waddell (Lib Dems)
“[Joanna Cherry MP is] an aggressive TERF” James Harrison (Lib Dem)
“She’s [Joan McAlpine MSP] 100% moved from the realms of terf to full blown transphobia, when will the SNP remove the whip?” Dan Hutchinson (Greens)
“This week the SNP have rolled back on promised GRA reform due to pressure from Terfs” Mags Hall (Greens)
“[SNP] caving to TERFs and enabling bigotry is cowardice in the highest order”. Lewis Whyte (Labour)
“McAlpine’s response looks transphobic to me. She doesn’t acknowledge this and says ‘allowing males to self identify as women.” Cass MacGregor (Greens)
On 15th May 2019 Councillor Gregor Murray for Dundee City Council was found in breach of the Councillors’ Code of Conduct. The Standards Commission panel was of the view that it was evident that MacGregor intended the use of the word ‘terf’ in tweets to be an expression of abuse and sanctioned were imposed.
Some of this years election candidates have also used slurs to target other individuals or groups. Motives and views are unfairly denounced as transphobic and inspired by hate. This impacts these people directly but also induces a climate of fear and shame to prevent others speaking or learning more about the issues that impact them also.
“Really disappointed that the Emma [Humphreys] prize team has chosen to shortlist A Womens Place, a group specifically set up with transphobic agenda” Joanne Ainscough (Labour)
“Had to unfollow an author I really admire because the anti-trans sentiments just got too much” Lucy Brown (Independent)
“Boo to [Graham] Lineham encouraging transphobia all over the place”. Julia Brown (Greens)
Equating women’s rights with being ‘anti-trans’.
Today, women’s sex-based rights are taken for granted in the UK but each had to be campaigned and argued for. They were not simply given to us. Women need sex-based rights because of the discrimination females suffer as a direct result of our biology. The freedom to safely and openly campaign to protect and enhance the sex-based rights of women still relevant and essential. However, now women are being told that even the concept of ‘sex-based rights’ is transphobic and anti-trans.
Women do not approach the subject of sex and gender from a position of power – biological sex has been used, for hundreds upon hundreds of years, to oppress women. Here election candidates are propagating the myth that being pro-woman equates to being anti-trans.
“sex-based rights’ is code for excluding trans people from public spaces” Chris Nelson (Lib Dem)
“Sex-based rights” is a well established anti-trans dogwhistle” Lewis Whyte (Labour)
“Disappointing that the Labour manifesto doesn’t stand up for Trans Rights and has a dogwhistle nod and a wink to terfs” James Barker (Lib Dem) [referring to the manifesto pledge to “Ensure that the single-sex-based exemptions contained in the Equality Act 2010 are understood and fully enforced in service provision.”]
“It focuses solely on ‘biology’ and seeks to use that as an excuse to remove the existing rights of trans women. Mags Hall (Greens)
We also found 5 Lib Dem candidates retweeted the Young Liberals tweet describing the Labour manifesto pledges to uphold existing sex based rights as “kowtowing to TERFs and transphobes”
Mr Justice Julian Knowles, High Court Judge recently acknowledged that ‘terf’ is now a derogatory term used to silence others. During the same freedom of speech case he also said that people have “no right not to be offended”.
Use of the word ‘terf’ or anti-woman rhetoric by election candidates shouldn’t necessarily be banned or lead to them losing their job – but it is important that we all see it for what it is.
Shutting down legitimate debate about how we balance the rights of women and trans people in the future is not something we should tolerate from our political representatives.
Name calling is one of the lowest levels of political engagement and a cynical propaganda technique.
Political parties claiming to be progressive and interested in social justice should not be turning a blind eye to sexist and abusive name-calling designed to shut women up.
Appendix: Screenshots and links to all the offending tweets found in our search.
(In response to a complaint that a charity stall had been given to a ‘trans exclusionary group’)
Deleted when publicly criticised in Huff Post
Callum Robertson (Liberal Democrats)
Deleted his tweet.
Five Liberal Democrats retweeted use of the word ‘terf’ posted by the Young Liberals UK account.
Mags Hall (Greens)
(referring to the Declaration of Women’s Rights)
Gender Critical feminists were handing out leaflets and talking to Green Party members during the public consultation on GRA reform.
Lucy Brown (Independent)