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Discrimination against trans people - does the law go far enough?

MPs debating this issue is welcome news but what is needed next is Government action to ensure equality. Employment lawyer Alice Ramsay discusses today's House of Commons debate.

Posted on 01 December 2016

Earlier today, in the main Chamber of the House of Commons, MPs debated the Government’s response to the Women and Equalities Committee’s report on transgender equality  and passed a motion calling on the Government to review its response to the Committee’s recommendations and to give unequivocal commitments to changing the Gender Recognition Act 2004 in line with the principle of gender self-declaration and to amending the Equality Act 2010 to introduce a protected characteristic of gender identity.

MPs were debating the following motion:

That this House notes the UK’s status as a pioneer in legislating for equality for LGBT people; welcomes the Government’s announcement of a new trans equality action plan; and calls on the Government to review its response to the recommendations of the Women and Equalities Committee’s report on Transgender Equality to ensure that the UK leads the world on trans equality rights, in particular by giving unequivocal commitments to changing the Gender Recognition Act 2004 in line with the principles of gender self-declaration and replacing confusing and inadequate language regarding trans people in the Equality Act 2010 by creating a new protected characteristic of gender identity.

During the debate, various MPs highlighted concerns that the terminology used in the Equality Act 2010 is outdated and should be amended in line with the Committee’s recommendations. 

Amending the protected characteristic from ‘gender reassignment’ to ‘gender identity’, and ensuring that the scope of protection in relation to that characteristic is broad, would provide certainty that non-binary people, gender fluid people, non-gendered people and people born with an intersex condition are covered by the protections in the Equality Act 2010 against discrimination, harassment and victimisation. 

Unless and until concerns about the lack of clarity as to who is currently protected under the Equality Act 2010 against gender identity discrimination are addressed, the Government is failing to uphold its assertion (as stated at page 5 of its response to the Committee’s report) that "Nobody should suffer discrimination, harassment or bullying because of who they are."  

During the debate, MPs also discussed the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and concerns were raised that the process by which a trans person can gain legal recognition of their affirmed gender is overly medicalised and that the current quasi-judicial process should give way to a process of self-declaration.

The debate covered a broad range of issues, including hate crime, the need to tackle discrimination against trans people in the workplace, in education, prisons and in access to NHS services.

Closing the debate on behalf of the Government, Caroline Dinenage MP affirmed that "trans people deserve dignity, respect and a life without discrimination." 

She stated however, that although the Government is in the process of reviewing the Gender Recognition Act 2004, it wanted to see more evidence of a case for change before moving to a model of self-declaration of gender.  She also made clear that the Government is not proposing to amend the Equality Act 2010 along the lines recommended by the Committee. 

Today’s debate is a step in the right direction towards achieving equality for trans people.  There is, however, further progress still to be made. 

Towards the end of her speech, Caroline Dinenage MP said: "I hear comments that the Government…has not gone far enough or fast enough on trans equality and I say to that, watch us, as we deliver sustained and embedded change. We have shown that we can achieve major social reform, after all we are the Government that introduced same-sex marriage, a defining milestone in equality, and we will achieve the same milestone for our trans community by revising the Gender Recognition Act and other major initiatives."

Given the importance of the issues at stake and the urgency of achieving equality for trans people, the Government’s actions in this area should be scrutinised and, if it does not deliver the positive change it has promised for trans people, it should be held to account.