THE BLOG

The Public Are Awakening to Trans Rights - And the Government Are Being Forced to Take Notice

14/01/2016 12:52 GMT | Updated 14/01/2017 10:12 GMT

In the past few years, the UK has become one of the most gay-friendly countries in the world. We have come on leaps and bounds in terms of legislation, representation, freedom and recognition. Even the House of Commons in which I sit now has the highest proportion of openly-gay MPs in any parliament in the world, according to a study by US academics. That is 33 members, if you are counting. Marriage is now equal, recognised and accepted; gay and lesbian relationships are normalised on every television soap; and members of the LGB community can safely feel an integrated, vital part of society. Yet although lesbian, gay and bisexual people across the UK are given the full protection of the law, the UK is failing on trans rights.

How do we know it is failing? Look at the suicide rates among trans people. About half of young trans people and a third of trans adults attempt suicide - nearly ten times the rate for the wider population. These are horrific, often hidden statistics. Transphobia is rife in the UK, impacting the career opportunities, access to services and quality of life for trans people.

The death of Vicky Thompson, the transgender woman incarcerated in an all-male prison made national news at the end of last year, and the outcry from people across the country was heard loud and clear. The Fawcett Society reports 44% of the UK population now believe that gender is not binary, but can be expressed as a range of identities.

The public are awakening to trans rights and the Government are being forced to take notice. Today the Women and Equalities Committee has published the first ever inquiry by the UK Parliament into Transgender Equality. The report follows months of witness testimony and calls on the Government to address the specific needs of trans people. The committee has produced over 30 recommendations, built around the principle of a universal right for individuals to determine their own gender identity and have this respected and recognised.

The inquiry centred around five oral evidence sessions, where the MPs heard testimony from members of the trans community who spoke about their experiences of the NHS, the criminal justice system, and everyday life. We heard from trans organisations, service providers, academics and Government ministers. Additionally, the committee received over 250 evidence submissions, many from individual trans people. What we heard was, roundly, that the quality of life for trans people in this country is not up to the standard we should expect from an equal society.

Perhaps the problem is the terminology: sex and gender are often conflated. Sex is the assignation of a new-born baby as male or female. Gender is different. Gender is a social construction, rather than a biological reality. Gender is, reductively, pink for girls and blue for boys. But for many within the trans community, gender has a far wider, more fluid spectrum of identity - as is the case for people who self-define as non-binary.

The report urges the Government to reconsider existing legislation, which considers gender on a far more rigid, binary basis than current research suggests is true for most trans people.

Take the process of transition, for example. In order for a person to be recognised in their chosen gender, they must show that they have lived in-role for a period of at least 12 months - otherwise known as the "Real-Life Experience". But if gender is essentially a construct, why must it have such an inflated impact on real life? Why is society so obsessed with gender and gender norms?

The UK could instead follow the example of a country like Sweden, where no gender markers are required in documentation and allows far greater freedom for trans people. I believe this may go some way to addressing many of the societal issues that arise from these gender stereotypes and tackling transphobic hate crime.

Today's report calls on the Government to take action to ensure full equality for trans people, provide tougher protection from discrimination, better service provision, a commitment to international best practice, and to review issues facing non-binary and non-gendered people.

Angela Crawley is the SNP MP for Lanark and Hamilton East