There’s good news, and there’s bad news. The good news is that Scottish Labour will go into next year’s election supporting the right of trans people to identify their own gender. The bad news is that an episode of the Channel 4 sit-com The IT Crowd has been banned. I will explain how the two things are connected.

First, a little bit more about the good news. What has happened is that Scottish Labour’s policy forum, which develops the party’s manifesto, has agreed to a number of amendments on LGBT rights. They include an end to the ban on gay men donating blood, and a commitment to reforming the gender recognition process to allow people to self-identify their gender.

These are welcome measures for a couple of fundamental reasons. In the case of the blood donation ban, gay men have been coming forward to donate blood during the coronavirus crisis, but they’ve been told “no” even though the risk of contamination is extremely low, just like it is with heterosexual people. The reform that Scottish Labour proposes would treat gay men like individuals rather than as a member of a certain group that is labelled in a discriminatory way.

The same applies to the gender reforms, except that the issue has become even more critical recently. The UK Government has announced it’s pretty much scrapping its plans to reform the gender laws and in Scotland there’s been a very loud screeching noise as the SNP has put the brakes on their plans to do the same. It makes it even more important that Labour is committed to the reform so trans men and women can easily change their legal gender.

As you know, the proposals to change the law have been controversial. The opponents of the plans say allowing trans women to identify their own gender and live freely as women is a threat to female-only spaces. Some women say they fear they will be forced into uncomfortable situations in men-free spaces, or worse, that they may be attacked by trans women or men posing as trans women.

You’ll also know that the divide on the issue has been pretty bitter, although the proponents of reform are simply doing what all legislators have to do, which is to balance rights and risks. The right, in this case, is the right of trans women to be treated equally and the risk is that some people may abuse that right. The opponents of gender reform have established that a small risk exists but it is not a good enough reason, on balance, to restrict the right. It’s rights and risks being balanced on a scale and it’s tricky.

The same applies to the related issue of transphobia, which is where The IT Crowd comes in. Channel 4 has announced it’s removing an episode of the sit-com from its streaming platform All 4 because there have been “numerous complaints” about it. The complainers have apparently accused the episode of being transphobic because it features the boss character, Douglas, reacting badly when it’s revealed that his girlfriend “used to be a man”.

I have seen the episode in question many times. It is very funny. I am also a strong advocate of trans rights and the kind of reforms that Scottish Labour is supporting. The point is that both states – support for equality and laughing at a joke – can exist at the same time and a balance between the rights and risks needs to be found. Graham Linehan, the writer of The IT Crowd, has a right to make jokes about trans people (even though the joke is really on the sexist idiot Douglas). There is also a risk that trans people will be offended. But the risk of offence is not enough to compromise Mr Linehan’s right. Indeed, I doubt whether it could ever be enough: freedom of expression is too important to be compromised because some people might be upset.

The other danger that exists in Channel 4’s decision is a kind of mission creep. The channel has taken down the episode about the trans woman, but there’s another episode of the show in which one of the characters, Roy, pretends to be disabled by sitting in a wheelchair and putting on a silly voice, and there’s an episode in which a man is horrified by the idea of a musical about gay emancipation, and another one features a woman admitting she doesn’t know what IT stands for and talks about how angry she gets during her period. Will those episodes be next?

There’s certainly a danger. Some viewers have already complained on social media that the jokes about the gay musical and Roy pretending to be disabled are homophobic and ableist. Others have complained that the jokes about a female IT boss are misogynistic. It would not take a lot for these people to become “numerous complaints” and Channel 4 would either have to ban those episodes too or explain why offending trans people is worse than offending disabled people, gay people, or women.

The point is that rights have to co-exist rather than cancel each other out and that includes the right of trans men and women to change their legal gender and live in that gender, but it also includes the right of people like Graham Linehan to assert that “transwomen are not women” and to make jokes about all kinds of subjects. In a world of LGBT equality, people should still be able to make jokes about LGBT people (and often the worst offenders are LGBT people themselves).

Balancing rights in this way does not make for an easy life of course, but that’s the way it goes. Some Scottish people would assert their right to be British, but their right has to be balanced against the right of Scots to determine whether they wish to remain in Britain. Other Scots may assert their right to not wear a covering over their faces, but others would say it has to be balanced against the right of old and vulnerable people to be protected against a virus.

In the end, it’s that kind of balance of rights and risks that is making life so tense and difficult at the moment. But there’s one thing that would surely make it worse: taking away the right of a man or woman to write a funny sit-com. and the right of us all to laugh at it.