The minister for women and equalities, Liz Truss MP, outlined her approach to the consultation on the Gender Recognition Act when she spoke to the women and equalities select committee in April.
The consultation was launched in July 2018 with the intention of addressing the low take-up of Gender Recognition Certificates. Surveys of the LGBT+ community revealed dissatisfaction with the application process, as many felt the process too intrusive and expensive.
The minister said that her priorities included “the protection of single-sex spaces, which is extremely important” and, “making sure that the under 18s are protected from decisions that they could make, that are irreversible in the future.”
These two statements have brought about fear amongst many LGBT+ people. Fear that hasn’t been seen in the UK since the introduction of section 28 in the 80s. They are concerned that this will start the kind of rollback of LGBT+ rights we are currently witnessing in Eastern Europe with some areas of Poland, for example, declaring themselves as “gay-free zones”, alongside bans on Pride parades and the introduction of laws banning the “promotion” of gay “lifestyles”.
The consultation has reignited accusations that some young people are being pressured into changing their genders and that so-called “experimental” drugs, such as puberty blockers, are being used on them. However, trans people can already obtain legal recognition of their gender identity without the need for surgery. The 2004 Act permitted these changes subject to a medical assessment.
There are indeed a small number of young people who regret the decision about their reassignment. Nonetheless, between August 2016 and August 2017, only 0.47 per cent of patients experienced transition-related regret.
Since the start of the consultation, opposition has also surfaced from groups bolstered by wealthy celebrities who have rung alarm bells based around fear of transgender people “invading” single-sex spaces. Their argument is that trans women will present an unacceptable risk to cis women, even though a recent poll has found that the majority of women support trans rights.
It is also not yet apparent what the minister meant when she talked about the “protection of single-sex spaces”. The Equality Act already allows providers of single-sex services to discriminate against trans individuals. If she were to decide to draw up a list of those facilities that would be restricted to persons by natal gender, then this could present serious problems for the trans community for two reasons:
Firstly, because those transgender persons are largely already using those facilities, such as public conveniences, and have done for very many years.
Secondly, it would mean we would have to refocus the police’s efforts on excluding trans men and women from conveniences in order to prevent violence from trans people (which, despite the alarmism, almost never happens) and away from protecting trans people from transphobic and violent attacks (which happens a lot).
What we do know about transgender people is that before their transition there is a high preponderance of mental health issues which tend to reduce once treatment is undertaken. Suicide attempts amongst those who wish to transition are substantially lower amongst those who have received hormone therapy and/or surgical care than those who were unable to receive such treatment.
It’s absolutely right that the health service should continually review their procedures for medical interventions for children in order to ensure that the child’s interests are at the centre of any decision made by them to minimise the tiny proportion of “trans regret”. However, a comprehensive study found that only 0.6 per cent of transwomen and 0.3 per cent of transmen who underwent radical surgery were identified as experiencing regret.
Blanket policies towards trans people could cause huge problems. For example, a centrally directed ban on medical interventions for those under 18 would override the interests of the child irrespective of the collective opinion of doctors, parents and the child themselves. Those who wish the child to wait until they are 18 can be condemning them to misery and may result in plenty of medical tourism and the concomitant legal cases against loving parents.
Transgender people are not looking to change their legal gender every day of the week. The realisation that you were born in a body that doesn’t represent the way you have always felt about yourself, is something a trans person has had to deal with. To deter frivolous applications for gender change there should be some rigour to the procedure but no more than marriage or divorce and, like those significant events in our lives, a trans person shouldn’t need a doctor’s opinion on those decisions either.
The process of medical interventions for young people should be under frequent review, but to ban such treatment would just be cruel to the vast majority who are crying out for help. Trans people are among the most vulnerable in our society as it is. 41 per cent have been attacked or threatened with violence in the past five years. 48 per cent have attempted to commit suicide at least once. And 84 per cent have thought about it.
It should not be the role of government to make this worse. Indeed, government is at its best when it aims to protect people and at its worst when it seeks to respond to a moral outrage based on misinformation. I expect them to be at their best.