When Lily Madigan, a 19-year-old transgender woman, was elected as a Labour Party women’s officer and applied for the Jo Cox Women in Leadership Programme, social media squabbles between transgender activists and women’s rights campaigners exploded into the mainstream.
Guardian columnist Owen Jones predicted last week that history will damn anti-trans zealots as it has judged those who resisted gay rights.
I’m a trans woman, so for me this is personal. Transphobic keyboard warriors have called for me to be sacked from my job as a teacher and a supposedly respectable Christian charity misgenders me deliberately on its website.
Self-declaration of legal gender is a reckless proposal that would deny trans people the opportunity to have their gender externally verified and force them to rely entirely on their own assertions. While that might work in some parts of society, it could be catastrophic for those living in hostile environments where their motives may be questioned and their claims disbelieved.
Trans rights were thrust back into mainstream politics this week when Jeremy Corbyn offered Labour Party support to government plans to reform the 2004 Gender Recognition Act.
The law is in desperate need of reform, but introducing gender identity as a protected characteristic and allowing people total freedom to self-identify their gender may not be the best way forward.
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.
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.