The final words of Kathleen Stock’s essay can stand as a summary for the whole of this series: “there are more things to consider than some trans activists would have you believe.” The contributions that have argued for the self-declaration of gender identity have offered affecting personal stories (Charlie Kiss and Emily Brothers both movingly describe the peace that transition has brought them), but rarely reckoned with the political and cultural conflicts that writers with more critical standpoints have raised.
Only Vic Valentine of the Scottish Trans Alliance referred to the problem of balancing rights, and then only very subtly, by writing that trans women’s “thoughtful inclusion [in women-only services] is not an undue threat”. What, then, would that thoughtfulness entail? What would thoughtless inclusion look like? And what constitutes an “undue threat” to service users? These are questions of policy, and answering them is a vital stage for the trans rights movement. In short, the trans rights movement needs to articulate exactly what rights it is seeking, and give frank consideration to how those rights would interact with protections currently afforded on the basis of natal sex or transition.
Deborah Hayton and Kristina Harrisson, both trans women, express the fear that corroding public trust in the Gender Recognition Act will cost trans people dearly. Recent polling data supports their case: public backing for gender self-identification is low. But, more positively, the polling also shows that trans activism in Britain is not a culture war issue. Unlike America, where this is a defining schism between liberals and conservatives, in Britain support or resistance to self-identity doesn’t map onto any one political group.
That means that British politics—if it resists the toxic terms of debate exported from America—has the chance to conduct a serious discussion about trans rights and inclusion, in which voices such as Pippa Fleming’s and Kathleen Stock’s are listened to rather than swept aside with the charge of bigotry, and in which trans people are not reduced to proxies in a war of political identities. Only open conversation, like that fostered by The Economist in this series, can produce good law; and bad law will be bad for women and trans people alike.
QotD: “Not biologically essentialist = having language to describe the political status of people with vaginas”
For the millionth time, biologically essentialist = thinking people with vaginas are born to be feminine / empathetic / maternal / subservient / decorative etc. Not biologically essentialist = having language to describe the political status of people with vaginas
Britain’s most powerful union leader has joined a group of feminist campaigners to sign a controversial letter that accuses some transgender rights activists of violent and intimidating behaviour.
The Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey, was one of about 140 people, including Julie Bindel and Ruth Serwotka, who signed a letter in the Morning Star warning that a handful of recent episodes risked drawing “the whole of our progressive movement into disrepute”.
The letter highlights a series of recent incidents, including the conviction of Tara Wood, 26, in April for the assault of Maria MacLachlan “a 60-year-old woman who had gathered with others in order to attend a meeting” to discuss “the potential impact on women and girls” of changes to the Gender Recognition Act.
It also described a confrontation on a Bectu union picket line in March, saying that “trans activists, with no connection to the industrial dispute itself, mobbed and verbally attacked a female trade union member on the basis of having recognised her as an attendee at a similar meeting”.
McCluskey initially said he had signed the letter “to improve the climate of debate around proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act” but immediately faced criticism for signing a document that appeared to make little reference to transgender rights.
Laura Murray, the head of external relations in the office of Jeremy Corbyn, tweeted: “I’m apparently ‘disgusting’ and ‘not a feminist or a socialist’ because I stand against transphobia. But according to today’s letter in the Morning Star, all abusive behaviour in this debate comes from trans activists! Jesus wept.”
The union leader clarified his position, tweeting that “I oppose all hate crime including against trans people” and said that Unite, whose policy conference is going on a Brighton, had agreed a more conciliatory “executive statement”.
That asserted: “We oppose division between our Women’s movement and our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans movement, our campaigns to tackle discrimination are inclusive and member led.”
Ministers this week launched a long expected consultation on potential changes to the Gender Recognition Act 2004 that would make it easier for transgender people to achieve legal recognition of an acquired gender – a prospect that has caused intense debate since it was first mooted in 2016.
The act already allows people to change their gender without first having had surgical treatment, but since it came into force, 4,910 people have legally changed their gender, partly because it requires people to provide medical reports and other documentation to prove they have been living in their acquired gender for two years.
Many feminists have questioned the implications of making it easier for people to reassign their gender, questioning for example whether it is appropriate to share women only spaces with male bodied people who identify as women.
The Morning Star letter says its signatories do not share a particular position regarding the act, but concludes that “whatever your view … you will agree it is unacceptable for women to be made scared to engage in political life”.
Lesbians mounted a parade-stopping protest at London Pride today, July 7, 2018. They objected to the erasure of lesbians caused by so-called allies among gay, bisexual, and transgender organizations and individuals who forcibly rename lesbians as generic “queer people” and who demand that heterosexual men who sexually fetishize lesbianism must be accepted by same-sex attracted women as if they were actual lesbians.
The lesbians first gathered in front of the march, displaying their message. They carried signs and banners that read “Lesbian=Female Homosexual”, and “Lesbian Not Queer”, “Transactivism Erases Lesbians” and “Get the ‘L’ Out!”, among others. Then they lay down in the street, halting the parade and drawing attention. After a few minutes, they stood, and led the Pride March, remaining at the helm for the duration.
Following on from this post from May, here’s a quick look at some of the other British LGBT Awards, with MI5 both winning one award and sponsoring another, and Tel Aviv winning an award too, making it the biggest corporate shitfest I have had the misfortune to observe in a long time!
If Brexit is the most divisive issue in British politics, requiring a talent for squaring ideological circles and cajoling compromises from bitter enemies, reform of the 2004 Gender Recognition Act (GRA) runs it a close second. The consultation, long-delayed while three successive ministers for women and equalities scratched their heads, is finally launched on Tuesday.
Although even that isn’t official. Bizarrely the government wouldn’t confirm (or deny) the date. But I’ve seen emails: groups will give evidence in late July, a sleepy summer recess slot calculated, perhaps, to contain the GRA firestorm. Some chance.
Opposing forces are drilled for battle. On one side the trans lobby, including Stonewall and Gendered Intelligence, who claim changes to the process by which a trans person acquires a gender recognition certificate (GRC) are merely a tiny administrative tweak. On the other, feminist activists who fear that a legal redefinition of “woman” from biological sex to the nebulous, inner feeling of “gender identity” threatens female safety and privacy.
Much has changed since Maria Miller’s blithe 2016 trans rights report recommended sweeping, contentious changes including expedited hormone treatment for children and removing gender from official government records. Most controversially she sought to replace the GRC process whereby a person must live in their new gender for two years and have a diagnosis of “gender dysphoria” (a mental disorder whereby a person feels their identity is opposed to their biological sex). Instead Mrs Miller proposed “self-identify”, ie a man could simply declare himself a woman with no requirement to transition physically.
The report caused a furore. Without hearing evidence from a single women’s group, Mrs Miller also proposed abolishing exemptions to the 2010 Equality Act which allow domestic violence refuges or hostels to admit only biological women. Interviewing Mrs Miller last year, I was flabbergasted by how little she had thought this through. She saw no conflict of rights at all: women, she said, must learn to accept without challenge male-bodied people using their changing rooms.
New feminist groups, including A Woman’s Place, sprang up in alarm. Despite picketed meetings, a violent assault and a bomb threat, they’ve shifted the public consensus to the view that liberating trans people from discrimination and abuse should not remove protections from another vulnerable group: women.
Unsurprisingly, Penny Mordaunt, women and equalities minister, is proceeding with caution. She has stated she will not touch the single sex exemptions and is yet to be convinced about “self-ID”. The consultation will address how the GRC process can be “less bureaucratic and intrusive”.
Yet a GRC is a serious undertaking: it allows a person to change the biological sex on their birth certificate, a document of public record. A person’s identity is then sealed, only to be opened in circumstances such as criminal investigation: there is no way of proving someone is not the sex they claim to be. Only 5,000 GRCs have been issued to date. But if this process is made easier, with no careful checks for sincerity, the Equality Act exemptions are rendered almost meaningless.
Moreover if the GRC is “demedicalised”, requiring no gender dysphoria diagnosis, there are implications for the treatment of children. There is an epidemic of teenage girls believing they are trans: female puberty often involves body self-hatred, long expressed in anorexia and self-harm and now breast-binding and demanding double mastectomies. But why explore this new phenomenon if “gender identity” is officially as indisputable as eye colour?
If attaining a GRC is easier, should single sex exemptions be reinforced? Already companies and public bodies that misunderstand the law or who are intimidated by Twitter storms, such as when Topshop was branded transphobic for excluding a man who identifies as “non-binary” from its women’s fitting rooms, have capitulated.
The government should reassure them and suggest no single sex policy is changed without an impact assessment. This week Times2 reported on a co-ed school where the head designated all toilets “gender neutral” without consultation. Yet “gender reassignment” is just one protected characteristic under the Equality Act: there are eight others, including race and biological sex. The head should first have assessed the impact on girls learning to use sanitary products next to boys, or their fears of phones being used to take pictures under cubicles. The girls won back their single sex toilets, with a few WCs anyone can use.
If my local pool was to allow biological males into its women-only session it should first assess the impact upon the mainly Somali and Arab women in burkinis who, alas, feel unable to swim at any other time. Cancer UK should assess the impact of using the words “people with a cervix” rather than “women” in its cervical cancer campaign. Which will save more lives? Being “trans inclusive” or making sure that women with poor English who might not understand an obscure medical word are screened? If crimes are recorded according to a person’s gender identity rather than biological sex, as FOI requests to police authorities suggest, how will this skew crime figures, given natal women commit a tiny fraction of violent and sexual offences?
All these are reasonable questions for a government consultation, not hate speech. Yet Penny Mordaunt will be dealing with groups who believe “trans women are women” not figuratively or legally, but literally and biologically. Therefore no conflict of rights can possibly exist. Compared to negotiating through this, Brexit is a cinch.
Government response to petition ‘Consult with women on proposals to enshrine ‘gender identity’ in law’
The Government has not yet decided whether or not to introduce a self-declaration model, and will not change the Equality Act 2010 provisions which support organisations to run single sex services.
The Government has committed to consult on how best to reform the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) 2004. This Act sets out the process by which trans people can legally change their gender. We will publish this consultation in due course. All members of the public will be able to respond to the consultation. Once the consultation has closed and the Government has carefully considered the responses, only then will we decide how to reform the GRA.
Gender recognition is a devolved issue and the Scottish Government ran a separate consultation, which closed on 1 March 2018.
We have been clear since announcing our intention to consult on the GRA that we will ask about how we can make the process of applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate less bureaucratic and intrusive for trans people. That does not necessarily mean we are proposing self-declaration of gender. The Government will consider the results of the consultation carefully before making any decision on how to reform the GRA. We are clear that we have no intention of amending the Equality Act 2010, the legislation that allows for single sex spaces. Any GRA reform will not change the protected characteristics in the Equality Act nor the exceptions under the Equality Act that allow provision for single and separate sex spaces.
The Government does not intend to change the safeguarding processes that are currently used in refuges and healthcare services. Providers of women-only services can continue to provide services in a different way, or even not provide services to trans individuals, provided it is objectively justified on a case-by-case basis. The same can be said about toilets, changing rooms or single sex activities. Providers may exclude trans people from facilities of the sex they identify with, provided it is a proportionate means of meeting a legitimate aim.
We are committed to a respectful and evidence-based discussion, and, for this reason, we have engaged in many pre-consultation meetings with a range of stakeholders including women’s groups, charities and service providers. We will continue to do so during the consultation. The consultation offers an opportunity for women from all backgrounds to be heard.
As part of our evidence gathering, we are looking at the experiences of other countries who have different gender recognition models. There are countries, such as Ireland, Malta, and Belgium that have adopted a self-declaration model, making use of statutory declarations. We are also looking at countries that do not have a full self-declaration model, such as the Netherlands.
We want to emphasise that any reform of the GRA will not mean reform to the medical treatment that trans people receive, and the age at which they can receive this. Access to treatment on the NHS, including cross-sex hormones (which the NHS allows from 16) and surgery (which the NHS allows from 18), is not regulated by the GRA, but decided on by clinicians. Any GRA reform will not change this.
When the GRA was introduced, it was considered a world-leading piece of legislation. Whilst it has worked well in many ways, over the last decade it has been viewed as outdated. We have heard from many trans people that the current requirements feel overly intrusive and bureaucratic. It includes the need to provide a diagnosis of gender dysphoria and a second medical report of any treatment, proof of having lived for at least two years in their acquired gender, the approval of their spouse if married, as well as the fee to apply, and any associated costs with obtaining supporting evidence. Furthermore, trans people are already able to more easily change their name and gender in their passport and driving license. Streamlining the process of changing their legal gender on their birth certificate, so that they are recognised legally in their acquired gender, would help trans people to have all their identity documents match.
The process of gaining a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC), as set out in the Gender Recognition Act, is a Government service that is not working well for the people it is designed for. Only 4,850 GRCs have been issued since the Act came into force. Our research shows that trans people find the process too bureaucratic and hard to use. We therefore propose improving this service, but want to ensure we only do so after a full consultation, to allow us to hear from trans people, and also from women’s groups, faith groups, LGBT groups, young people’s organisations, charities, refuges, and many more individuals and organisations, so that we can decide how best to make these reforms.
The Government is committed to improving the position of women and girls, and supports their rights, safety, privacy and dignity. We are also committed to improving the position of trans people and supporting their rights. We are confident that advancing the rights of trans people does not have to compromise women’s rights, and will work with all groups to ensure this.
QotD: “In Britain in 2018, women trying to hold public meetings to talk about politics and the law are being subjected to intimidation and threats. The police are investigating a bomb threat against one of those meetings”
[On the 20th June] some women got together in a room to talk about law and politics and sex and gender. The meeting, in Hastings, was organised by a group called A Woman’s Place UK, which is concerned about the way politics and public debate is developing with regard to the legal rights of transgender people and women.
This stuff is complicated and, to many people, obscure. I’ve written about these issues quite a bit here, and while quite a lot of people seem keen to read about the transgender debate, I’m under no illusions that this has broken through into wider public consciousness. Most people, I suspect, haven’t really engaged with the detail of this debate, though that might start to change a bit next month when the Government launches a consultation on overhauling the law that allows someone to legally change their gender.
Given that a lot of people haven’t engaged with the detail of the gender debate, let me offer a catchier description of what happened in Hastings this week. Some women organised a meeting to talk about their legal rights. Someone threatened to blow up that meeting with a bomb. The threat in question was made on Twitter a few days ago. I became aware of it shortly afterwards, and I am sorry to say that my initial reaction, was to think: “Just some idiot on Twitter. Doesn’t mean anything.” Sussex Police took a different view. They are taking the threat seriously and have begun an investigation. A Sussex Police spokesman said:
We are not disclosing details of the investigation or of our discussions with the organisers, however the threat is being taken seriously and is not currently being linked to any other event or offence.
What does it say about how strongly the women at that meeting last night feel about this issue that they went along despite such a threat? It’s not as if this was a one-off either: as Judith Green of WPUK wrote here earlier this year, Woman’s Place meetings are frequently the subject of aggressive protests from people who say they are representing transgender people. Yet women turn up anyway, in large numbers. And what does it say about public and political debate about gender issues that this stuff has become normal and almost unremarkable?
In Britain in 2018, women trying to hold public meetings to talk about politics and the law are being subjected to intimidation and threats. The police are investigating a bomb threat against one of those meetings. Yet politicians and large sections of the media are silent. Would that be the case if any other group or community were subject to such threats and intimidation? Why aren’t politicians, of all parties, shouting from the rooftops about this?
It’s not as if they don’t know or don’t care. Since I started writing about the gender debate in February, I’ve lost count of the number of MPs and other political people (of all parties and ranks, from policy advisers to Cabinet ministers) who have privately told me they are worried about the nature of this debate and worried about the implications of policy. Yet almost all of those people have also said they are not willing to talk about this publicly, for fear of the criticism and vitriol they believe they would face from people who believe the interests of transgender people are best served by shouting down questions with allegations of transphobia and bigotry. I understand that silence, but it has costs. When the people who are supposed to speak for ordinary people – and the rules that allow those people to exercise their basic democratic freedoms – stay silent, they leave a vacuum of leadership and moral courage that can be filled with hostility and fear.
I’ll end by repeating the basic facts of this story once more, in the hope that some of the politicians who talk so much about free speech and equality and fairness finally pluck up the courage to talk about this. Some women had a meeting to talk about their legal rights. Someone threatened to blow up the meeting with a bomb. The police are investigating that threat and say it is being “taken seriously”. And this happened in Britain in 2018.