In the last week, Government has issued some clarification about what the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) does and does not do in response to a petition. In particular they clarified that the protections for single-sex services were in the Equality Act, and that Government was not currently minded to amend this.
One of the recommendations from the cross-party Women and Equalities Select Committee report at the end of 2015 was that the wording “gender reassignment” in the Equality Act should be amended to “gender identity”, as this would considerably strengthen the law for non-binary people. However, I suspect Government is wary about opening up the Equality Act for amendment, as then that gives those MPs and peers hostile to the Act the opportunity to table amendments to the Act which would significantly water it down, as was seen when the Act was originally going through Parliament. However, the issue about equality for non-binary people remains.
Some of you may have noticed that there are a group of vocal women campaigning against reform of the GRA, and have now suddenly switched to exclude trans people from single-sex spaces. Their line appears to be, simplified down, that trans women are male (because of socialisation and chromosomes), that women have had to fight for single-sex services, and trans women should not be accepted into those single-sex services as they then lose that status (because trans women are, apparently, men).
I’ve written before that using socialisation to define women is a very strange way to do it. The assumption that all women have essentially the same socialisation is fundamentally flawed. Compare the upbringing and socialisation of Princess Beatrice of York to the upbringing and socialisation of a woman in a Bangladeshi sweat-shop. And neither of them have the same upbringing and socialisation as my own daughter. In any case, some trans women do transition as children, and it would be difficult to argue they would somehow be exempt from this supposedly comprehensive female socialisation.
Science is continuing to reveal that our current understanding of genetics and chromosomes is also quite limited. I recently read Adam Rutherford’s book, The History of Everyone Who Ever Lived. In it he gives several examples of how genetics is misunderstood, misapplied and how human life is much more varied than the reductive model (in our case, XX = female, XY = male) implies. One specific example is that a woman was determined not to be the genetic mother of her own child. It then turned out that the standard practice of taking a DNA sample (a swab from the inside of your cheek) gave a different DNA sample to if they took it from her cervix. She was a chimera, with two distinct sets of chromosomes in her body, and it seems that her reproductive system was different genetically to most of the rest of her. Another study published in the American media a few years ago indicated that women who had sons had XY chromosomes in some of their own cells. And that’s before you get onto all the various genetic variations which naturally occur.
I’ve never understood why what you’re taught at GCSE Biology suddenly becomes immutable fact, when it’s accepted that GCSE Chemistry and GCSE Physics are simplifications of a more complex scientific model. When I started A level Physics and Chemistry, many years ago, both courses started with statements along the lines of “we taught you this – well, that’s not quite right…” and I understand the same thing happened when degree courses started. In any case, when I looked at my son’s GCSE Biology book a few years ago, I noted that the existence of intersex and trans people was noted in it, and that there were exceptions to the simplistic XX/XY narrative.
In any case, the GRA states clearly that, on receipt of a gender recognition certificate, “if the acquired gender is the male gender, the person’s sex becomes that of a man” and vice versa. One particular conversation seemed to indicate that the acquisition of this (costly and intrusive) piece of paper was all important – that two people who had the same biology and medical interventions were somehow different if one had a GRC and the other did not, although they did have the grace to admit that the two individuals would not be essentially different.
However, you don’t have to have a GRC to have the protected characteristic of gender reassignment under the Equality Act. There, the law is written in terms of “having undergone, undergoing or intending to undergo a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person’s sex”. The Equality Act also makes it illegal to exclude a trans person from a single-sex service, in the same way it would be illegal to exclude someone from a single-sex service on the grounds of race, religion or disability, unless there is a genuine requirement to do so. Such genuine requirements are rare, and would need to be clearly arguable in a court of law.
What has been strange about the last week is how the anti-trans campaign has suddenly switched to trying to enforce a distinction between sex and gender in public bodies’ equality policies, as if they’ve won something from Government’s recent announcement, despite it being what trans people have been saying for years.
It’s worth noting here that the Equality Act, as all such legislation is, is a minimum basis. If an organisation wishes to extend protections, then they can do. What they cannot do is reduce the protections beneath those statutorily described.
It looks as though the misleading opposition to gender recognition reform will continue on a different and equally flawed tack.