On December 1st, Transgender Equality was debated on the Floor of the House of Commons for the very first time. Maria Miller MP moved the motion calling on the Government to review its response to the recommendations of the Women and Equalities Committee report on Transgender Equality, to ensure that the UK leads the world on trans equality rights. Following on in debate, Angela Crawley MP highlighted the shortcomings of current legislation, specifically the uncertainty surrounding the rights of non-gendered and non-binary people. Ruth Cadbury MP acknowledged the cultural shift that is happening in society, especially among young people where there is greater acceptance of gender differences. Whilst that is to be applauded and celebrated, transgender people continue to face widespread prejudice and discrimination.
Chris Elmore MP informed the House that 582 incidents of hate crime against transgender people were reported in the UK in 2015 alone, and that this figure had trebled in the past five years. Deplorably, only nineteen had led to prosecution. He went on to quote disturbing evidence from the workplace. In 2000, a survey by GIRES found that, post transition, two in three transgender people had left their job, either because they were forced to do so or because they felt there was no other choice. We may have come a long way in sixteen years but it isn’t far enough. A more recent poll to mark International Transgender Day of Visibility 2016 revealed that around 36% of transgender people left their job due to their transition.
According to The Equality Act 2010, workers cannot be discriminated against because of their gender reassignment. However, the evidence suggests that far too often the Act is ignored. Mr Elmore went on to praise the work of trade unions that campaign tirelessly to make transgender people aware of their rights at work, and work alongside transgender people to fight cases of unlawful discrimination. He cited the superb work of UNISON and PCS, but there are more examples of excellent practice from among the TUC affiliates, for example GMB, Unite and UCU, not to mention the recent guidance published by the TUC itself.
Questions were also asked about the education system that is often woefully inept at accommodating transgender people. It is estimated that currently only 5% to 10% of transgender people begin transitioning under the age of 18, but those who do are often failed by their schools, colleges and sixth forms. Carol Monaghan MP, a teacher, made the excellent point that the pressures can be subtle and simply excluding someone from activities or friendship groups is a form of bullying. The work done by ATL, NUT, and my own union NASUWT to raise awareness among their members in schools could not be more important.
Caroline Flint MP raised concerns about gender-neutral environments, and whether they posed a risk to women. Whilst that particular point was addressed by Mrs Miller, it is right to assess the impact of any proposed changes on other vulnerable groups in order to create robust and workable legislation that has widespread respect from all parts of society. In a powerful speech, Sarah Champion MP reminded the House that transgender people form a highly diverse community, with a number of different trans identities, including those who define as non-binary and non-gendered. Sadly, however, more often than not, what brings the trans community together is stark experience of inequality, discrimination, transphobia, abuse and violence. Legislation needs to offer explicit protect them all.
In response from the Government, Caroline Dinenage MP (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities) acknowledged comments that the Government have not gone far enough or fast enough on trans equality, but she pledged to deliver sustained and embedded change. She thanked the Women and Equalities Committee for its report, and promised to continue to listen to all the voices on this important matter and deliver positive change for the trans community.
Trade Unions represent almost 5.8 million workers. That would include 58,000 trans workers according to research by GIRES that suggested that trans people may comprise 1% of the population. The voice of trade unions therefore needs to be heard by this Government. Unions have the knowledge and expertise to contribute to the development of robust legislation to protect transgender people in the workplace and in society.
This article was first published by the TUC Touchstone Blog on 9 December 2016: Trans equality debated in parliament for first time is slow but sure progress