On Wednesday this week, the UK Government Minister for Women & Equalities, Liz Truss MP, who serves in Boris Johnson’s Cabinet as Secretary of State for International Trade, set out her priorities for the Government Equalities Office in a statement to a House of Commons Select Committee.
To the distress of many in LGBTQ communities, the Minister seemed to throw into reverse the Government’s previous commitment to reforming the Gender Recognition Act to make it easier for trans people to obtain full legal recognition and a new birth certificate in their correct gender. Moreover, the Minister’s statement contained a number of other sinister references about trans people. She said:
The final point I’d like to make, Madam Chairman, in this initial part, is on the issue of the Gender Recognition Act. We’ve been doing a lot of work internally, making sure we’re in a position to respond to that consultation and launch what we propose to do on the future of the Gender Recognition Act. We will be in a position to do that by the summer, and there are three very important principles that I will be putting place.
First of all, the protection of single-sex spaces, which is extremely important.
Secondly making sure that transgender adults are free to live their lives as they wish without fear of persecution, whilst maintaining the proper checks and balances in the system.
Finally, which is not a direct issue concerning the Gender Recognition Act, but is relevant, making sure that the under 18s are protected from decisions that they could make, that are irreversible in the future. I believe strongly that adults should have the freedom to lead their lives as they see fit, but I think it’s very important that while people are still developing their decision-making capabilities that we protect them from making those irreversible decisions.
Today, I have written to the Minister setting out my concerns about her statement, based particularly on the City of London Corporation’s policy consultation on gender identity which found majority support for trans people and their right to access services, including ones designated as single-sex. Here is what I said:
My attention has been drawn to your statement made on Wednesday 22 April to the Women and Equalities Select Committee of the House of Commons, in which you set out a number of priorities for the Government Equalities Office including the publication later this summer of long awaited response to the Government’s 2018 Consultation on the Gender Recognition Act and other issues concerning transgender people.
I served from 2004 to 2013 as the Local Government Association’s Lead Member on Equality and Social Inclusion and was therefore in office when both the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and Equality Act 2010 came into effect. I also served on the Steering Group for the Review of the Public Sector Equality Duty in 2012-2013. I was Chair of the Amateur Swimming Association and of its diversity steering group from 2013 to 2015 and have also served on the boards of a number of other sport governing bodies, again often taking a leading role on equality issues. Since 2018, I have been Chair of the City of London Corporation’s Establishment Committee responsible for its diversity and inclusion policies and I am also a trustee of the LGBT Foundation.
Having read your statement to the Select Committee, I am nervous that your position in relation to transgender people represents a complete volte-face when compared to the policy adopted by your predecessors in this office. I am also concerned that this new policy approach stands in opposition to mainstream medical, psychological, and public opinion in Great Britain.
Others with greater expertise than me will doubtless be writing to you about the protection of transgender young people from harm but, from a purely lay perspective, I cannot see how granting trans identifying teenagers access to temporary and entirely reversable puberty suppressants can be anything other than a good thing. It allows those young people to explore their gender identity, under appropriate professional supervision, whilst not being under the pressure of their bodies developing in such a way that they suffer from significant mental distress.
Turning now to your proposals for:
- the “protection of single-sex spaces”, which you identify as being as extremely important; and
- ensuring that “that transgender adults are free to live their lives as they wish without fear of persecution, whilst maintaining the proper checks and balances in the system”,
on which I hope I can offer some useful thoughts.
Shortly after taking up my current role in the City of London, the Corporation launched its own consultation in respect of transgender inclusion to inform our policy on gender identity in our service delivery and employment practices. This was in response to concerns expressed by some anti-trans campaigners who challenged the Corporation’s interpretation of the Equality Act to permit trans women to use the Highgate Women’s Pond on Hampstead Heath.
As part of the policy formulation exercise, we put out an open access online opinion survey asking a range of questions about attitudes towards trans people and their access to public services. The findings were very clear. Of the 21,191 respondents who completed our survey (of whom 53% were women):
- 81% accepted that ‘a person may come to feel their gender identity is different to that assigned at birth’;
- 74% agreed that ‘someone who consistently identifies with a different gender (to that assigned at birth) should be accepted by society in that gender’;
- 68% agreed that ‘a person who consistently identifies with a gender (being different from the gender assigned to them at birth) should be able to access services commonly provided to that gender’; and
- 67% agreed that ‘where access to facilities is restricted (to a particular gender/sex) this should relate to the gender with which the service user consistently identifies now’.
Women were in a majority of all of those positive responses.
The importance of these figures in respect of your commitment to the ‘protection of single-sex spaces’ should, I hope, be clear. Contrary to the loud voices of a small number of anti-trans advocates in the media and on social media, there is no public outcry for trans people to be prevented from using single-sex facilities, indeed quite the reverse. It appears to me that most people are happy for trans people to go about their lives and utilise the services which most adequately match their gender identity. Assuming that you accept this position, could you please therefore guarantee that the protections currently available to trans people in the Equality Act, which permit them to use single-sex facilities in accordance with their gender identity, will be maintained with no abrogation or change?
Turning now to your desire to maintain ‘proper checks and balances in the system’ with respect to transgender adults. I am perplexed as to understand what on earth this means. I am unaware of any current arrangements with respect to trans people which require any additional ‘checks and balances’. Again, would you please clarify whether you envisage any legislative or regulatory changes which will reduce the rights which trans people currently enjoy under the Gender Recognition Act and the Equality Act or any other enactment?
Almost thirty years ago, a Conservative Prime Minister, Sir John Major, spoke of his vision of a nation at ease with itself, something he later defined as his wish to tackle inequality. It was the same Prime Minister who made the first tentative moves towards granting gay people legal equality in this country and did so in the face of similar histrionics in the media as the language used now about trans people. The media coverage was then, as it is now, simply wrong and doubtless designed purely to stir up hatred and antipathy against people who are different.
Surely allowing all people, including trans and non-binary people, to get on and live their lives in accordance with their own identities and beliefs, without let or hindrance from the State was exactly what John Major had in mind when he spoke back in 1990.
I hope as Minister for Women and Equalities, you can live up to that vision for a more equal United Kingdom where diversity is celebrated and in which people of all backgrounds, beliefs, and identities have an opportunity to thrive, and where bullying and discrimination based on difference can be banished forever.
Wishing you well in this important role.
C E LORD
Edward Lord has been a passionate advocate for diversity and inclusion for almost thirty years and was appointed an OBE in 2011 for their public service as lead member for equality and social inclusion at the Local Government Association. Edward has been a City of London Councillor since February 2001 and, as Chair of the Establishment Committee, now leads on workforce and inclusion policy for the City Corporation.