December 2, 2021 - 12:45pm

At an Oxford City Council meeting on Monday, a motion entitled “Becoming a Trans Inclusive Council” was approved. The BBC reported that it was ‘backed overwhelmingly‘, which, given that it passed almost unanimously in the chamber, might seem like a fair account. But the story isn’t that simple.

Some of us expressed serious concern that hidden among the statements — such as “the council will seek to better support transgender and non-binary people to live happy, healthy and fulfilling lives” — were commitments with enormous ramifications for the legal protections of sex-based rights. The motion itself, which didn’t include a legally necessary Equality Impact Assessment, promised that sweeping changes to policies, services and procedures, would be made.

In the agenda documents, planned statements from a member of the public compared critics of trans-inclusivity to Evangelical Christians and even Nazis (removed when delivered, without apology). A number of claims were posited as scientific fact. Gender identity, for example, was referred to as “neurological” and “genetically determined”.

Many residents first heard about the motion in a news article released after the deadline to request to speak or for questions. One anonymous resident told us that she had not heard back after contacting the council with her concerns. Another resident asked to speak and was told she could not as the deadline had passed. Recent motions on subjects like electric scooters were given wide public consultation, but it seems no effort was made by the council to solicit alternative perspectives in this case.

‘Debate’ speeches during the proposal’s twenty minute slot were unanimously in favour of the ruling. Submitted concerns were not mentioned once. And with that, a well-meaning motion was passed, starting a path of uncertain consequences for women served by the council. By passing a motion including statements such as “trans women are women”, councillors had almost unanimously indirectly pledged to prioritise gender over biological sex. Acting on the basis of this statement (with its implications upon sex-based rights), is likely to bring the council’s future policies into conflict with existing laws.

It is not yet clear what the impact of this motion will be for women in Oxford. However, there is a feeling among some that they can no longer expect their voices to be heard or valued, with the council’s position now firmly sealed. Steadily the number of places willing to support its female residents is falling across the city. Numerous local organisations including the Council and Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust continue to be members of the controversial Stonewall scheme, despite the recent public scrutiny of its practices.

This year, the Oxford Student Union has introduced a seven page definition of transphobia, which includes forbidding “claims” that women’s rights and trans rights may ever conflict. Academics are hounded to the point where, in the case of Professor Selina Todd, they require security at their work. Not a single councillor across four political factions was willing to publicly discuss their residents’ concerns. As a city many across the world look to lead the way, it may concern them which direction they may be heading.