After the General Election in May, many trans activists were looking at the prospect of defending rights and progress for 5 years in the teeth of what, at face value, appeared as though it was going to be an insensitive, unaware and potentially callous Conservative Government. Yet today, just 7 months later, a Conservative-led Commons Select Committee has produced a report which addresses lots of the main points campaigners have been fighting on for years. There is politics behind this, of which possibly more in a later blog post.
Bear in mind this is a report, so no legislation has yet been proposed by Government, but Governments do take such Select Committee reports very seriously.
The report makes the recommendation that the gender recognition process becomes an administrative one, not a quasi-judicial, medical one.
Currently applicants have to provide evidence of a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria and any related surgeries. You currently don’t need surgery to gain gender recognition, but you need to explain why you haven’t. The process can be frustrating, with reports that the Panel who determine whether an application succeeds or fails becoming more and more picky as time goes on. The result is that, as of June 2015, just under 4,000 people had received gender recognition certificates, reassigning their legal gender.
The replacement of the panel by a simplified (and more cost-effective) administrative process is to be welcomed, and brings the UK back into line with best practice emerging across the globe.
The report also hits the NHS hard. Bald statements such as “the NHS is letting down trans people” and “the NHS is failing in its legal duty under the Equality Act” pull no punches. A large section of the report deals with discrimination, poor training, lack of capacity, treatment protocols, and complaints. Even #TransDocFail or, more accurately, the woeful GMC response to it, gets a mention.
The actual issue in terms of the report is how accountable do the NHS actually have to be. MPs can give them a regular grilling, but ultimately the NHS is separate from government. One of the comments during Tuesday’s doctors’ strikes was that doctors value their independence and don’t take well to governments telling them what to do. But the report shows that there are now influential allies, and society is moving.
Non-binary issues also get a nod, with both changes to the Equality Act and X gender markers on passports proposed. It’s recommended that Government investigate the potential for non-binary recognition – in other words the ability to be legally recognised as something other than male or female.
There are also welcome recommendations for trans issues (and sexuality in general) to be covered in the PSHE section of schools’ syllabuses, recommendations for inclusion in sport, recommendations about monitoring and potentially acting on online abuse.
A report wouldn’t be a report without some shortcomings though, and there are a couple of areas where campaigners will be disappointed.
The first is the area of spousal veto. The report acknowledges that it could cause problems but merely recommends that the Government keeps this under review. What it actually shows is that, rather than equal marriage, we have two types of marriage – opposite-sex marriage and same-sex marriage. Government views these as different, so spousal consent is required to change from one type to another. Most people would view marriage as one thing – after all, you marry a person, you don’t choose a category.
There are other aspects to life which are also affected by these two types, like spouses’ survivor pensions and where you can get married. So it looks like the campaign to resolve this discrepancy actually is going to have to be a wider campaign around truly equal marriage.
A second area is gender recognition for children. The report proposes that 16- and 17-year olds should be able to gain gender recognition, but it won’t be available for those 15 and under. Studies show that those children who identify as trans at an early age don’t stop identifying as trans – the studies which did seem to show this have been found to have a very wide and flawed definition of “trans”. Given the issues around changing names on exam certificates, this could still cause many trans children an issue.
Finally, media representation. Personally I was pleased to see that this was largely a non-contentious issue. Even the Government minister recognised that trans characters are foregrounded rather than just treated as a person who happens to be trans. However IPSO, bless them, missed the point again, and this wasn’t picked up by the Committee. We made two specific representations about press regulation:
Firstly that IPSO hadn’t addressed the issues around victimisation of complaints that we raised during the Emily Brothers complaint. IPSO deny that they haven’t addressed it, but haven’t pointed out where they have addressed it.
Secondly we noted that the discrimination section of Editors Code only applies to pieces which name individuals, and that there has been a trend for opinion pieces to diss trans people as a group. IPSO’s response was that they do take complaints from groups – which isn’t the same thing at all. After all, they took our complaint, albeit that they insisted we had Emily’s backing. There’s a fundamental difference between accepting a complaint from a group, and accepting a complaint about a group.
Amidst the media circus that is in full flow as I write – it seems that I do, indeed, have the perfect face for radio – I’m very aware that this is not the end, but only (perhaps) the end of the beginning. Ahead lies a lot of work in contacting and educating MPs, peers and civil servants. I’m reminded that a similar report in 2000 was kicked into the long grass by the Blair administration until the European Court raised the issue again two years later.
But there’s hope – and I think it’s well placed this time. Trans people are on the social radar and media as never before – and being treated (by and large) as people. Focus is turning to the issues trans people face rather than the endless roundabout of transition stories. The climate is changing, and this report gives it another big nudge in the right direction.