50.50: Interview

‘I lost my candidacy because I’m trans’: English Green Party member Kathryn Bristow

‘I’ve been deemed a risk to the party’s reputation for being transgender,’ Bristow tells openDemocracy in an exclusive interview

Lou Ferreira 2022.jpg Adam Ramsay
Lou Ferreira Adam Ramsay
5 August 2021, 3.16pm
Kathryn Bristow is suing the Green Part alleging gender discrimination
Photo: courtesy of Kathryn Bristow. Collage: Inge Snip

Kathryn Bristow was named on 8 March as a Green Party candidate for the UK’s 2021 local government elections – the first openly trans woman to be put forward by a political party in Bristol City. But less than two weeks later the party formally suspended her and selected another candidate, who was not trans, to run in her place.

Now, in an exclusive interview with openDemocracy, Bristow talks publicly for the first time about what happened – and why she’s suing her party over gender-based discrimination. “It’s because I’m trans,” she says, about why she lost her nomination. “It’s clear that I’ve been deemed a risk to the party’s reputation for being transgender.”

“I put female as my sex on the census, and said [that I would do] so publicly,” Bristow explained. A complaint to the Green Party regional council, submitted by Hazel Pegg, then the party’s internal communications coordinator, argued that she was “breaking the law” and “bringing the party into disrepute” with these actions. The Census Act 1920 requires everyone in England to answer questions in the census accurately, though a 2019 amendment makes questions on sex and gender voluntary.

On Monday 17 May, the international day against homophobia, transphobia and biphobia, Bristow filed a court case at Bristol County Court, suing the Green Party for discrimination based on gender and requesting damages for injury to her feelings. She said there are no scheduled court dates right now, and that she is currently in talks with the Green Party on how to proceed.

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‘An immediate and ongoing danger’

“Kathryn is an immediate and ongoing danger to the reputation of the Green Party,” wrote Hazel Pegg in the 13 March complaint – seen by openDemocracy – which triggered the process that led to Bristow’s suspension.

On 19 March, Bristow received an email from the party’s complaints manager – also seen by openDemocracy – informing her of “a temporary no-fault suspension” as a result of this complaint. This suspension was rescinded at the next council meeting in June, but by then she’d lost her chance to stand in the local elections (6 May).

Pegg’s complaint cited tweets in which Bristow announced her intention to mark her sex as female on the 2021 census. She said “Kathryn’s public utterances have clearly brought the Party into disrepute and have moved from Twitter to the national press” – citing articles about Bristow in the Daily Mail and Spectator (both right-wing publications) and “a very lengthy mention in Graham Linehan’s blog”. Linehan is a well-known television writer and vocal opponent of what he calls “trans ideology”.

jane fae, chair of the UK charity Trans Media Watch, told openDemocracy that the Daily Mail and Spectator routinely publish “significantly skewed” articles about trans people.

“We should take opposition from [these] publications as a sign that we are moving in the right direction, rather than as a warning sign,” said a spokesperson for the LGBTIQA+ Greens (a party subgroup that represents the priorities of LGBTIQ members). They called Bristow “a stalwart campaigner for the party, and for trans people everywhere.”

LGBTIQA+ Greens - a party subgroup that represents the priorities of LGBTIQ members - at London Trans Pride
LGBTIQA+ Greens - a party subgroup that represents the priorities of LGBTIQ members - at London Trans Pride
Photo courtesy of: Kathryn Bristow

In response to openDemocracy’s request for comment, Linehan sent an email saying he is not ‘transphobic’. However he misgendered Bristow; called her “a drug pusher who targets vulnerable children” in reference to her role working in trans healthcare; and said he was “delighted to hear” that his writing may have been linked to her suspension.

Pegg told openDemocracy that she does “not think it is appropriate to comment in public on ongoing internal disciplinary matters where all concerned, myself included, have a right to expect confidentiality”.

‘A massive hit to my sense of well-being’

Bristow said she repeatedly asked the party to review its suspension decision in time for her to run in the local government elections, but it failed to do so.

“Having the chance to be a councillor meant so much to me, and it being taken away was a lot,” she told openDemocracy. “I got into politics to help people, that’s why I wanted to be a councillor […] to help local residents.”

She described worsening mental health symptoms and “feelings of helplessness” since her suspension: “Things have been getting better lately, but it’s still a massive hit to my sense of well-being.”

“Being the first openly trans woman to be selected as a candidate by a political party for Bristol City elections had great importance not only to me, but also to the trans community,” Bristow explained in her court claim.

“Things have been getting better lately, but it’s still a massive hit to my sense of well-being.”

Ani Stafford-Townsend, Green Party councillor for Bristol’s Central ward and the party’s equalities spokesperson, who is non-binary, told openDemocracy that transphobia in the party “has to be tackled”. “You can’t just stick your head in the sand,” they added.

A member of the LGBTIQA+ Greens, who spoke to openDemocracy on condition of anonymity, said the regional council “have huge questions to answer about their decision-making and whether or not they’re unfairly targeting inclusive people”.

In December 2020, Bristow was elected co-chair of Green Party Women (a party subgroup that represents the priorities of women party members), prompting what the LGBTIQ news website PinkNews described as a “transphobic backlash“ including from “a very small number of people” in the party. In an official statement at the time, the Green Party said its support for trans rights was “unequivocal”.

Last month, Green Party co-leader Siân Berry announced that she will be leaving the party’s leadership this autumn over divisions about trans rights. Speaking exclusively to openDemocracy, Berry described trans rights as “a moral test for how we behave towards all minorities, how we stand up for this particularly demonised minority.”

‘I still believe in the Green Party’

Bristow told openDemocracy that she will continue her work with the LGBTIQA+ Greens, and has plans to run in the 2024 local elections.

“I still believe in the Green Party and what it’s doing,” Bristow said. The party’s members overwhelmingly support trans rights, but “the processes in the party are broken – and enable a small group of people to make decisions like this.”

A Green Party spokesperson told openDemocracy that they “do not comment on individual disciplinary matters”, but added: “The Green Party recognises that trans men are men, trans women are women, and that non-binary identities exist and are valid.”

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