Labour of love?

A year in the life of a “TERF” Labour Party Women’s Officer

Artillery Row

It has been a long year of attacks, slurs and bullying by members of Sheffield Labour Party. 

In May 2021 I applied for the role of Sheffield Hallam Labour Party “Women’s Officer”, in my legal name, and outlined my feminist work for women including “Ride for Murdered Women”. 

I was elected unopposed. On 26 June 2021, I tweeted to followers of my @JeanHatchet Twitter account:

The reaction from two Sheffield Labour Party Councillors was swift, vicious and sought to expose me to mass reporting. These tweets exposed my personal details and called me a liar and a cheat. 

Sophie Wilson, a Labour Party Cllr for Park and Arbourthorne (now Independent), vindictively took to Twitter to call me “transphobic” and to reveal my former married name and my current name. She wrote:

“This is transphobic ex-tory Vonny XXXX. Please report her to the party on the link below. Confident in her views under a pseudonym, but didn’t bother to mention anything like this in her election statement. Funny that!” (surname redacted)

Followed by:

“Also goes by Vonny XXXX” (surname redacted)

I had applied for office under my legal name, rather than my Twitter name, as was surely to be expected. Even before I’d attended a single meeting, I was aggressively targeted by Sophie who disagreed with my stance on single sex space for women. Sophie had no care of how exposing my details might put me at risk and specifically how using the name of my abuser might put me at risk from him. Sophie has now left the Labour Party. She became involved in media furore when she attended a protest in favour of retaining the strip club Spearmint Rhino in the city centre. 

At the same time Neale Gibson, another Labour Councillor and notorious for his attacks on “TERFs”, wrote a potentially defamatory tweet which also used my former married name. It said:

“So Jean, or Vonny xxx as your real name is, are you going to admit lying and cheating your way into this position?”

I hadn’t lied or cheated. It is really distressing to be called by the name I had when I was being abused. Coercive control takes many forms, and women do what they must in order to survive. To poke me with details of my life during abuse, including using the abuser’s surname, is submitting me to shame and humiliation. It could have been dangerous. 

I reported this to the Labour Party via their official complaint procedure. After an undefined process they determined that Gibson had not done anything wrong. 

Despite the fact that my personal Twitter account operates under a pseudonym I’ve used since I opened it in 2014, Sheffield Hallam Labour had decided that immediately upon my election as Women’s Officer they had control over what I was allowed to say there. I received a DM from their Twitter account @ShefHallamLab which said:

“Vonny, we are politely requesting that you delete this tweet immediately. If you wish to serve your CLP as Women’s Officer you must take seriously the duty to allow equitable hearing of points of view. Bigotry cannot be tolerated under any circumstances.”

The attempts at manipulation and bullying were quite extraordinary. They repeatedly asked me to delete my tweet, saying:

 “it sends entirely the wrong message being as it is one-sided”. 

I asked what their authority was to demand this. There was no reply because they had no authority. 

When I attempted to attend my first CLP meeting, I was not sent the Zoom link despite repeated requests. I alerted the hosts many times but they did not admit me. Eventually they admitted me very late, but despite raising my hand many times the Chair refused to allow me to speak. At a later meeting, of the Labour Campaign Forum, which I could not obtain an invite to, I was called transphobic, though this was fudged over in the minutes. 

Pressure was applied to throw these women off the event

If I were less hardened to the assaults on women’s rights from trans activists both within the Labour Party and outside it, I might have been very upset and possibly have resigned. I am not cowed by bullies. 

I submitted, to my local branch, a motion in favour of women’s right to access single sex services. I was critical of Keir Starmer’s performance in this area. I was made to withdraw it in favour of an amendment from another female member, which was much weaker in tone, but seemed more likely to succeed. I seconded it. It succeeded. 

The next battle for me was when I was tasked to organise the International Women’s Day event, traditionally the role of the Women’s Officer. A committee was foisted upon me to “help me”. I suggested the topic would be domestic abuse, women only, open beyond the party and would feature speakers including Karen Ingala Smith, Dr Shonagh Dillon and Lucy Masoud. The committee was initially very enthusiastic about the event. 

A few days later an email from one of the women informed me that the suggested speakers might be problematic after all. These women she told me:

“share interests in issues around trans women… The IWD event needs to be something that all women in the Labour Party feel comfortable attending and I’m not sure we can achieve that with this list of speakers.”

Pressure was applied to throw these women off the event because they had links with Woman’s Place UK and would alienate “some women”. I pushed back and stressed that Karen Ingala Smith is the co-founder of the Femicide Census, Shonagh Dillon is the CEO of a large domestic abuse service and that Lucy Masoud is a barrister working regularly for clients who are victims of domestic abuse. I was outraged that women who are well-qualified to speak at such an event had been found “unsuitable” because of their views on women’s rights. 

The meeting mysteriously wasn’t recorded after all

I then had to defend my speaker list to the Executive Committee, and was told the event could proceed as long as none of these women gave their views on the trans issue. Karen Ingala Smith was denounced as transphobic at this meeting by a male member. Shortly afterwards I received a call from a member of the Regional Office to say he had “received complaints that your event could be anti-transphobic”. I suggested he may have worded that incorrectly. He proceeded to interrogate me about the speakers. I told him their credentials. He seemed satisfied but wanted concrete assurance that they would not discuss trans issues. I gave the assurance. 

The event was attended by almost 80 women. Other executive members took control of the zoom meeting and the recording of it. After the speeches, during the plenary, the attendees drove the conversation to what was important to them and expressed frustration at the Labour Party’s current position that “Trans women are women” and other stances antithetical to women’s rights. They were determined to speak, and I didn’t stop them. 

The meeting mysteriously wasn’t recorded after all. Or disappeared.

Since this event I haven’t attended meetings. If you have a Party leader who can’t say whether women have a penis, that Party doesn’t deserve my time. I won’t be standing for Women’s Officer this time around, and I’m sure Sheffield Hallam Labour Party are all breathing a sigh of relief. 

There are better ways for me to protect women from the assault on their rights. But it was fun.

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