Firstly, an admission, this isn’t part 13; it’s the first piece I’ve written on the subject, though my telecoms provider did supply me with enough material for a dozen articles when I changed my name four years ago. That process was relatively painless, though my enthusiasm waned rapidly. Eventually, however, only two organisations eluded me: the Land Registry and the delightful people who supplied me with telephone and broadband.
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.
On 1st December 2016, the House of Commons will debate the motion:
That this House notes the UK’s status as a pioneer in legislating for equality for LGBT people; welcomes the Government’s announcement of a new trans equality action plan; and calls on the Government to review its response to the recommendations of the Women and Equalities Committee’s report on Transgender Equality to ensure that the UK leads the world on trans equality rights, in particular by giving unequivocal commitments to changing the Gender Recognition Act 2004 in line with the principles of gender self-declaration and replacing confusing and inadequate language regarding trans people in the Equality Act 2010 by creating a new protected characteristic of gender identity.
As a transwoman, I am delighted that Parliamentary time is being devoted to trans rights. Trans people continue to face systemic discrimination and bias, so it is timely to review the legislation. However, the more I reflect on the two specific proposals in this motion, the more anxious I become.
On Transgender Day of Remembrance we remember trans people who have lost their lives in the face of ignorance, oppression and violence. I remember Lucy Meadows, a teacher who took her own life on 19 March 2013. Three months earlier she had transitioned in the full glare of the media after Richard Littlejohn wrote an infamous article in the Daily Mail: “He’s [sic] not only the wrong body … he’s [sic] in the wrong job”. Coroner Michael Singleton had no doubts about the role of the press in Lucy’s death. “Shame on all of you” he said, as he accused them of ridicule, humiliation, and a character assassination.
Unbeknown to the Mail, another teacher transitioned at exactly the same time. On 20 December 2012, the same day they published Littlejohn’s article, my news was shared with the pupils in my school. Despite months of planning, I was at my most vulnerable. I knew my career hung in the balance; my job would have become untenable had I lost the confidence of my pupils and their parents.
Unions: not them; us.
“Think not what your union can do for you but what you can do for your union.” Actually when I went through gender reassignment, my thoughts were very much with what my union could do for me. I am a secondary school teacher, so my journey from he to she happened in front of hundreds of people. I’m grateful for the support of many people at work, but my union were superb. I knew that they were on my side because they were my union. That is what unions do, and their advice about the law and the various practical issues that I had to navigate was second to none.
What can be done to increase the number of women in physics? This question keeps committees busy and researchers funded, but the solution seems as elusive as squaring the circle. Four years ago, however, I did my bit: I transitioned from male to female. As this also meant that the number of men in physics was simultaneously reduced by one, it was, as they say in football, a “six-pointer”.
The Government has finally responded to the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee Report on Transgender Equality that was published in January 2016. This wide ranging report recognised that, despite welcome progress in recent years, our society is still failing to support the rights and interests of trans people. The Committee noted that the earlier 2011 Advancing Transgender Equality action plan remained largely unimplemented, and they required the Government to agree a new strategy, which it can deliver with full cross-departmental support, within six months.