Yesterday, the House of Lords had a debate, among other things, on ‘Populism and Nationalism’. (Such a vague title should already smell of bullshit.) The transcript of the debate is at Hansard (and the relevant section can also be heard on iPlayer here). Among other speakers, Lord Blencathra (Conservative) gave a critical view of Obama:
Tomorrow, we will be rid of the most useless American President I have ever seen in my entire lifetime, whose only legacy is rhetoric. He has withdrawn America from the world stage and left a disastrous vacuum that has been filled by Putin and China. […] But never mind, he has his place in history: the next time I visit the United States, I will be able to use the transgender toilets.
I quote President Obama because I consider him to be a perfect example of the liberal international order which is now being routed around the world. […] Mr Timothy Garton Ash, writing in the Guardian on 13 October, says:
“Liberal internationalists have to own up: we left too many people behind”.
The phrase ‘transgender toilets’ was a reference to the North Carolina bill, whose passage now grants transgender people the right to use whichever public toilet they feel more comfortable using.
It really struck me that Lord Blencathra chose to use the issue of transgender toilets as an example of a trivial, unimportant piece of legislation pushed by ‘liberal internationalists’. Indeed the number of transgender people is relatively small, but for some reason this is taken to imply that transgender people form a sort of elite (unlike, say, Ministers of State, Members of the House of Lords, or Tory Party Chief Whips). Perhaps most worryingly, he views a civil rights victory for a discriminated-against group not as a step towards a more equal society to be celebrated, but instead, ironically, as an example of everybody else being left behind.
The legal battle for transgender rights is nowhere near won (and not to mention the cultural and social changes that will need to take place). A new bill being tabled in Texas will require transgender people to use the toilets corresponding to their birth sex, in the name of ‘common sense, common decency and public safety’. It remains to be seen what stance the new President will take, but given that the bill comes from his heartland supporters, I am not optimistic.