According to recent reports, the Tories are about to scrap promised reforms to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) which would have allowed people to self-identify their gender, despite 70% of respondents to a high-profile public consultation expressing their support for the change.
The leaked paper also suggests that the government plans to introduce ‘protections’ which would ban trans women from using women’s refuges and public lavatories. While the details are not clear, this could represent a significant roll-back of existing rights under the Equality Act, which places a duty on public bodies to guarantee equal access to services for trans people. If carried out, these proposals would represent not only a failure to take trans rights forwards, but a calculated attack on the trans community, throwing the struggle for trans rights backwards by more than a decade.
Shamefully, despite his pledge earlier this year to “campaign to reform the Gender Recognition Act to introduce a self-declaration process”, Keir Starmer has signalled that he wants to “avoid being dragged into the debate”, and will stand back as the government stokes bigotry against one of the most oppressed groups in the country and further heightens their misery. This is just one more example of the Labour leader’s betrayal of progressive causes as part of a wholesale shift to the right in the name of “electability” as defined by the tabloid press. We stand in solidarity with our trans brothers and sisters and call on the Labour leadership to reconsider this reversal.
The proposed reforms to the GRA seek to remove the bureaucratic barriers trans people face to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). Currently, it is only possible to legally change one’s gender after a gruelling two-year process to convince a faceless medical panel. This process medicalises trans identity, requiring a diagnosis of “gender dysphoria” before a Gender Recognition Certificate is granted. In a bizarre Catch-22 scenario, it also forces trans people to live as their ‘acquired gender’ for 2 years before receiving their certificate, forcing trans people to conform to stereotyped behaviour and dress in order to ‘prove’ that they live as the gender they are transitioning to.
For many trans people this is a humiliating and traumatic experience which discourages many from applying in the first place, exacerbating the issue and furthering their suffering. Reforming the GRA to allow for self-ID will let trans people achieve legal recognition of their gender status through a much simpler process and without the need for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria.
We unequivocally support trans rights, including the right to self-ID. Trans women and men in our society suffer systemic exclusion from housing and work, the threat of sexual violence, and physical aggression in the household and on the street, which often leads to murders.
According to Stonewall’s 2017 Trans Report:
As the Tory government allies itself with far-right causes, promotes tub-thumping nationalism and a return to “faith, flag, and family” as part of its campaign to shore up support for a hard Brexit, hate crimes against LGBT+ people are on the rise. Trans people have also suffered disproportionately under the impact of Tory austerity, with LGBT+ services often among the first forced to slash staff and facilities.
In the case of women’s refuges, extensive research of such services in England and Wales has found they have already been supporting trans women for some time. Many of these services are already trans-inclusive and have said that GRA reform would not change how they deliver their services.
With regards to “cis impostors” who may take advantage of self-ID to access women-only spaces, these cases are vanishingly rare. More broadly, we reject the use of exceptional examples as a justification for a general curtailment of rights. Additionally, a study carried out in the US showed that allowing transgender people to access spaces of their choice did not increase assault or voyeurism crimes.
The law already states trans people can access single-sex spaces that match their gender and should not be discriminated against, this is protected under the 2010 Equality Act and self-ID would not change this. Attempting to gain access to changing rooms and toilets to spy on or assault women is already illegal, and women’s refuges already operate security measures and screening procedures to protect clients against violence. Anyone who is a threat to women, regardless of gender identity, must be excluded.
The entire Labour and trade union movement must organise to resist the Tories’ attack on existing, inadequate, rights and fight to extend trans rights to include self-ID. Not only is there no conflict between trans rights and women’s rights, but they are part of the same struggle against gender and sexual oppression which structure capitalist society. Trans women should be welcomed into the labour movement with access to women’s caucuses, shortlists and reserved places. We also call for additional funding to reduce inequality of access to NHS services, counselling, and housing for trans people.
The rise of the populist right reminds us that despite the progress we have won, reforms can always be reversed as long as the social system in which gender oppression is rooted remains. Conservative governments around the world, like Viktor Orban’s in Hungary, have shown that transphobia and misogyny are inextricably linked, and often come alongside wider attacks on democratic, labour and human rights. For socialists, the defence of socially oppressed groups is essential to the struggle to overthrow the entire unjust, exploitative social system which relies on a repressive sexual morality in order to sustain itself.
Photo: Steve Eason