Fairness and equality are basic British values. A litmus test for any society that upholds those values is how far it protects even the most marginalised groups. Britain has been among the countries going furthest in recognising lesbian, gay and bisexual rights, but we are still failing this test in respect of trans people, despite welcome progress.
High levels of transphobia are experienced by individuals on a daily basis (including in the provision of public services)—with serious results. About half of young trans people and a third of trans adults attempt suicide. The recent deaths in custody of two trans women, and the case of a trans woman who was placed in a men’s prison, are particularly stark illustrations of the issues.
The Gender Recognition Act 2004 was pioneering but is now dated. Its medicalised approach pathologises trans identities and runs contrary to the dignity and personal autonomy of applicants. The Government must update the Act, in line with the principle of gender self-declaration.
Trans people feel strongly that the provision on spousal consent under the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 gives spouses an effective “veto” on gender recognition. However, marriage is a legal contract between two consenting parties, the terms of which cannot be changed without the consent of both. We do, though, take very seriously the possibility that this provision may be used by spouses with malicious intent.
Protection for trans people under the Equality Act 2010 was a huge step forward. However, the terms “gender reassignment” and “transsexual” in the Act are outdated and misleading; and may not cover wider members of the trans community. The protected characteristic should be amended to that of “gender identity”.
The NHS is letting down trans people: it is failing in its legal duty under the Equality Act. Trans people encounter significant problems in using general NHS services, due to the attitude of some clinicians and other staff who lack knowledge and understanding—and in some cases are prejudiced. The NHS is failing to ensure zero tolerance of transphobic behaviour. GPs too often lack understanding and in some cases this leads to appropriate care not being provided. A root-and-branch review must be conducted, completed and published by the NHS.
We agree with the Chair of the NHS National Clinical Reference Group for Gender Identity Services that: “not treating people [for gender dysphoria] is not a neutral act—it will do harm.” We strongly welcome the trend towards depathologising trans identities. There is a clear and strong case that delaying treatment for young people risks more harm than providing it. We are also concerned that Gender Identity Services continue to be provided as part of mental-health services, giving the impression that trans identity is a disease or disorder of the mind.
There are serious concerns about treatment protocols in Gender Identity Services, particularly regarding “Real-Life Experience” prior to genital surgery. However, we are unconvinced by the argument that the NHS should simply grant on demand whatever treatment patients request.
It is also important to build trans people’s confidence in the criminal justice system. We welcome the Government’s willingness to strengthen hate-crime legislation. The existing provisions on aggravated offences and stirring up hatred should be extended to all protected characteristics. The Government’s new hate-crime action plan must include mandatory training for police officers on transphobic hate crime; and the promotion of third-party reporting. The Government must also work with the courts to tackle the issue of trans people being “outed” inappropriately in court.
Across the board, government departments are struggling to support trans people effectively, with the 2011 Advancing Transgender Equality action plan remaining largely unimplemented. The Government must agree a new strategy which it can deliver with full cross-departmental support.
Prepared 8 January 2016