Sophie Cook: Why being transgender was irrelevant to my general election campaign

As I stood on stage, a room full of expectant people looking up at me I was totally focused on the next words that I would hear.

Friday, 23rd June 2017, 12:23 pm
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 5:14 am
Sophie Cook was the Labour candidate for East Worthing and Shoreham

"Sophie Rose Cook, Labour Party, 20,882."

In the space of five short weeks we'd achieved the seemingly impossible, taking a previously safe Tory seat and making it a marginal, increasing the Labour vote by 114 per cent with one of the biggest swings in the country at 19.8 per cent.

At the start of the general election campaign no one gave the Labour Party a chance, both nationally and here in East Worthing and Shoreham.

Sophie campaigning

The constituency had always been blue and the Tory incumbent, Tim Loughton, had been the MP for 20 years.

He felt safe and secure that no one could ever challenge him, and I'm sure that the selection of a little known transgender TV presenter as the Labour candidate only added to the feeling that he would increase his 15,000 majority.

My selection caused a few waves, I was told that 'this isn't Brighton' and that the people of the constituency wouldn't warm to a transgender candidate.

The press gave my campaign some coverage and despite being one of nine transgender candidates I was the one that got the most attention due to my profile from working in football and TV.

Sophie Cook and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn

Being transgender and in the public eye I was already used to abuse, both online and in the real world. I'd been trolled by various groups including receiving death threats on Twitter and as I stepped into the political arena I was bracing myself for a renewed onslaught of hatred.

But then something unexpected happened.

Instead of the abuse I was greeted with love and support, sure there were still a few transphobic remarks online but nothing like I'd experienced previously.

I'd heard first hand accounts of trans people moving out of the constituency because of abuse and yet, when I started to talk to people, they responded with warmth and openness.

My gender identity that had hit the headlines around the world seemed to mean nothing to the constituents that I met, it was never mentioned on the doorsteps, the street stalls or the hustings. The only people that made it an issue were the press, not the voters. They listened to the policies, my ideas, passion and belief and they embraced me.

On June 8 nearly 21,000 of them chose to put their mark next to my name on the ballot paper.

They weren't voting for a trans woman, they were voting for Sophie Cook, they were voting for the Labour Party. They saw beyond the headlines and the things that made us different and in their way struck a massive blow for trans equality.

We now have the most diverse parliament ever with 45 LGB MPs, I missed out on adding a T to that by 5,000 votes.

We need transgender politicians, after all everyone in society needs to feel represented. But the main reason why I believe that the time is right for a trans MP has nothing to do with equality or diversity, it's down to the constituents who put their faith in me to represent them, regardless of my gender identity.

Since the election I've spoken to hundreds of people who said that I've given them hope for the first time.

That feeling goes both ways, they saw that there is more that unites us than separates us, they saw a person rather than a label, and they too gave me hope for a brighter tomorrow.

Sophie Cook was the Labour Party candidate for East Worthing and Shoreham.