April 6, 2021 - 2:12pm

LGBT+ Labour might be a fringe group in the minds of traditional Labour voters but they have the power to extract a grovelling apology from Keir Starmer.

On Good Friday, the Labour leader visited Jesus House for All the Nations church in North London. The senior pastor, Agu Irukwu, is a controversial figure for having spoken out against equality legislation and equal marriage, and his church has connections to conversion therapy. Nevertheless, the good works of the church in other departments have attracted visits from both Boris Johnson and the Prince of Wales in recent weeks.

Unfortunately for Starmer, however, he fell afoul of the LGBT+ lobby, which deemed his visit ‘unacceptable’. Following his visit, the lobby demanded that Starmer delete the video, apologise publicly (both of which he did), and attend an LGBT+ meeting this week.

I don’t agree with Pastor Irukwu on gay rights either, but he has a right to hold his views. If LGBT+ Labour really cared about LGBT rights, they may wish to consider engaging with the leadership and congregations of churches with traditional views. Because while LGBT rights are largely secured in the UK at least, attitudes are still mixed. Changing people’s minds through persuasion — rather than shunning them wholesale — is a more effective approach to achieving this goal.

However, this lobby has moved on from securing our own rights to trampling over the rights of others. Immediately after Starmer apologised, calls went out once again to remove the party whip from Rosie Duffield, Labour MP for Canterbury who was accused of transphobia last summer when she declared that “only women have a cervix.”

Hiding under the glitter and sparkles of the LGBT+ rainbow lies a misogynistic campaign to dismantle the rights of women. It took only six minutes for Panny Antoniou (pronouns he/him) — co chair of Open Labour — to launch his salvo: “This is a good start. Now can we tackle transphobia in the party? You can start by removing the whip from Rosie Duffield”.

Grovelling apologies are not the answer. Starmer’s tweet pandered to the extremists who replied with condescension: ‘We are pleased that you have recognised and apologised for this mistake’.

If Starmer does not take on the LGBT lobby, it will end up tearing the Labour party apart. Rosie Duffield is not an outlier: the public knows the difference between men and women.

Now is the time for decisive leadership. A generation ago, Neil Kinnock had the guts to take on the Militant tendency that was eating the 1980s Labour Party from the inside. Keir Starmer would be wise to follow Kinnock’s example. The alternative, like then, is political oblivion for his party.

Debbie Hayton is a teacher and a transgender campaigner.