LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The symbolic head of the world’s Anglican community has entered an increasingly bitter row over transgender rights in Britain by backing a lawmaker who came under fire over comments about who can get cervical cancer.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby used Twitter to defend opposition Labour parliamentarian Rosie Duffield after she “liked” a tweet by TV presenter Piers Morgan questioning CNN’s phrase “individuals with a cervix” in a story about cancer.
Duffield “liked” Morgan’s response: “Do you mean women?”
When Duffield was accused of transphobia on social media, she responded: “I’m a ‘transphobe’ for knowing that only women have a cervix...?!
“The implication that one cannot describe oneself as a woman without inviting a pile-on is beyond ridiculous now. Almost 52% of the UK population are women.”
The row comes hot on the heels of a furore sparked in June when “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling questioned a website headline about “people who menstruate”.
Further debates about cervical cancer led to the hashtag #OnlyWomenHaveACervix trending on Twitter in recent weeks.
Critics noted that saying only women menstruated or had cervixes excluded trans men, who have transitioned gender, as well as non-binary people, who do not define themselves as either male or female, and those born intersex.
Welby, who as head of the Church of England is the spiritual head of the world’s 85 million strong Anglican community, backed Duffield as “a brilliant constituency MP for Canterbury as well as brave, honest, kind and passionate for justice”.
“She does not seek to demean others. To troll her is simply cruel and wrong,” he added.
A spokeswoman for the archbishop declined to comment further.
Duffield’s parliamentary office did not respond to a request for comment, but the Labour Party said in an emailed statement that it was important “health services use inclusive language”.
Writer and trans advocate Ugla Stefania Kristjonudottir Jonsdottir said using the broader term of “individuals with a cervix” was “to include trans men, non-binary people and intersex people that have a cervix but aren’t women”.
“Phrases like that are meant to include everyone and be inclusive and open-minded,” Jonsdottir told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by email on Thursday.
Welby’s intervention comes as the row over what it is to be a woman has pitted some radical feminists against members of the trans community in an increasingly toxic debate.
Arguments have flared in particular over who is allowed access to single-sex spaces, such as bathrooms, changing rooms and women’s refuge centres.
Reporting by Hugh Greenhalgh, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith @BeeGoldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit news.trust.org
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