Britain has long lead the way on championing and securing LGB rights. But this has not been the case for another minority group: trans people.
That’s why, today, the new House of Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee – which I chair - is launching the first ever report scrutinising UK Government policy on trans issues. And we are urging the Government to take up our recommendations in full.
When we launched our inquiry, six months ago and shortly after the committee formed, media coverage of trans issues centred mostly on the lives of celebrities, such as Caitlyn Jenner. That was, of course, helpful in raising awareness and putting trans people on the world stage. Eddie Redmayne’s new film The Danish Girl has done even more to boost this. But the day-to-day realities of life for trans people in Britain are very different from that glitz and glamour of Hollywood.
Despite the ground-breaking Gender Recognition Act of 2004, the committee received evidence from more than 250 organisations and individuals, throughout the UK, revealing a catalogue of appalling legal and public service failures. These are part of everyday life for trans people. The main challenge of our report is to help ensure our laws and services do not lag behind the real and positive changes in public opinion.
Many people now appreciate that gender can be fluid, something endorsed in an independent poll published by women’s charity The Fawcett Society today, which found that more than 40 per cent of British people believe gender can be expressed as a range of identities and is not binary.That’s why we’re calling for changes to the 2004 legislation; moving away from panels of medics and lawyers assigning people’s gender to a system of self-declaration, in line with that already used in countries such as Ireland.
More than that, we’re recommending that the legal minimum age for transgender people to apply for gender recognition should be lowered from 18 to include 16 and 17-year-olds. The changes we recommend would remove outdated and misleading terms (such as ‘transsexual’) and introduce a new protected characteristic: ‘gender identity’. This would provide clearer protection for all trans people, whether or not they have taken the decision to transition physically.
Currently, the 2010 Equality Act is at best confusing, implying that protection is only for those seeking gender reassignment. The evidence we received on the NHS’s support for trans people was also cause for real concern. That’s why our recommendations call for a root and branch review. Simply not treating people for gender dysphoria is not a neutral act - it will do harm. We want to see speedier access to the right support for children, proper training and a zero tolerance of transphobic behaviour at all levels of the service.
As we took evidence and compiled our report, the whole committee was shocked at the death of two trans prisoners, who took their own lives. Vicky Thompson and Joanne Latham committed suicide whilst in custody in all-male prisons. Those tragic stories only served to strengthen our resolve and our belief in the need for real change in Britain. The evidence shows there is a clear risk of harm where trans prisoners are not located in a jail that reflects their affirmed gender. The National Offender Management Service must urgently act to ensure prisons are absolutely clear on their duties in this matter. And they must ensure that staff are thoroughly trained in the care and management of trans prisoners. We cannot sit back and allow more people to die through a lack of understanding.
Today’s report makes more than 30 recommendations to improve the lives of trans people in Britain. The scale of legal and public service failure is clear when you consider the shocking statistic that half of all young trans people, and one third of trans adults, have attempted suicide. We hope our recommendations will encourage the change that is needed and we urge the Government to respond swiftly, with a cross-part strategy in six months time, so trans people have access to the protections and public services they need - and that the rest of us take for granted.