Comment Editor Asher Gibson on the UK government’s plans to pull back trans rights, and why he feels they must be stopped.
Pride parades are cancelled, COVID-19 cuts through the nation, and the public is rightly occupied with the BLM movement. Amid national disarray, the UK government plans to strip back rights for trans people.
In a leak to the Sunday Times, the results from a Scottish 2018 consultation on the Gender Recognition Act 2004 were released. Despite a 70% majority of those surveyed supporting removing the need for ‘medical approval’ to obtain a changed birth certificate (a Gender Recognition Certificate, or GRC), the government has decided to make no amendments to the act.
They justified this decision by claiming that an “avalanche” of responses from trans rights groups had “skewed” the result, according to the Sunday Times. Charities like Stonewall and Mermaids did draw attention to the consultation and provided guidance on what might be useful to prioritise, but this is because doing so was in the interest of the communities they serve. This justification also ignores “gender-critical” communities that have done the same, with the result still being a pro-amendment majority.
It should also be expected that those whose key political interests are up for debate would be more likely to respond to the consultation than the general public.
This combination of policies is deadly.
As it is, these clinics are the only alternatives to the often-inaccessible costs of private healthcare and extortionate 18 months to 4-year waitlists for NHS care, made so by a decade of austerity measures that continues to cripple all aspects of the health service. When you meet a trans person, there is a 2 in 5 chance that they’ve already attempted suicide. Without these clinics, people will undoubtedly die waiting to be treated.
The government’s stubbornness in medicalising our mere identities has legal implications too. Returning briefly to the rejection of the “self-declaration model”, the required “medical approval” amounts to a gender dysphoria diagnosis from a specialist at a Gender Identity Clinic – someone who can only be seen by a) paying for private care or b) waiting for NHS care. Legal recognition is even more inaccessible than healthcare under the current GRA, which is why trans people advocate for its amendment.
They also say “safeguards” will be put in place to protect “safe spaces for women” by “reaffirming” or changing provisions in the Equality Act 2010, which currently protects all people’s rights – trans and cis – to access the sexed spaces where they will be safest. Finally, the government expressed a desire to institute “new national guidelines for lavatory provision” – amounting to a crackdown on gender-neutral toilet provision that councils were once in control of.
This is anecdotal, but I was nearly attacked in a men’s toilet in Oxford last year. I am a white, mostly straight-passing man and around the world, most violence tends to be directed to trans women, particularly trans women of colour. If I was almost harmed by daring to urinate before this legislation was announced, you can likely guess what the consequences will be for other, more marginalised trans people after it.
Similar legislation in the form of the infamous HB2 “Bathroom Bill” was repealed in North Carolina in 2019, described as “a dark cloud hanging over our great state” by Governor Roy Cooper.
“It has stained our reputation. It has discriminated against our people and it has caused great economic harm in many of our communities”, he told CNN last year.
I do not aim to direct your attention away from the Black Lives Matter movement. To the contrary, there is room for solidarity between the trans and black communities, for we are victims of similar forces. Many of the laws that criminalise LGBTQ+ expression around the world stem from the British colonial era. Prior to imperialism, examples of non-binary gender expression were seen to be common, prevalent, and respected in indigenous communities worldwide.
Additionally, the rhetoric positioning transgender women in particular as “dangerous” and “invaders of women’s spaces” echoes the reasoning for introducing segregation into schools and women’s spaces in the USA during the Jim Crow era. Black men and women too were deemed to be “one to violence” and white women were deemed to need “protection” from them.
Lastly, it should be well-known that the Stonewall riots, recognised as the catalyst for the modern LGBTQ+ liberation movement, are widely regarded to have been instigated by black transgender women: Marsha P. Johnson and Silvia Riviera.
While black people are actively killed across the Atlantic, trans people here are threatened by the passive violence of the law. The history of these communities makes us natural allies.
I urge that you take this message on and, as I urged you to write to MPs for the BLM movement, write to your MPs for us. Urge the government to listen to democratic mandate; to act on the consultation’s findings rather than against them.